Applying a deep mid cut at around 400 Hz will remove the 'boxy' sound of a drum mix
Ah, there’s nothing quite like a properly balanced track. The only problem is, it’s easier said than done. With all of the little intricacies that can go into recording bass, guitar, vocals, etc., there are innumerable little mistakes that can be made, and if you’re a new to the world of home studio producing, some of these mistakes can be made without even realizing it – many of which can lead to headaches during the mixing and post processing phase. This is why we here at PAL have been focusing on the art of mixing and yes, mixing is most definitely an art. Yes, there is no truly wrong way to go about it, but by understanding some of the inherent principles of the beast, such as any bass frequencies below 40 Hz is felt more than it is actually heard or that vocals reside in the all important high mids, you can carve your masterpiece while avoiding some of the more common pitfalls of recording. Yesterday, we introduced you to the art of mixing drums along with a few tips and techniques to get you rolling in the right direction. We gave examples on how we would go about leveling everything on the drum kit and although our way might not be the most mainstream – such as starting out the leveling process with the overhead mics instead of the more common kick drum – it is set up in a way that we feel would benefit newer home studio producers get a good grasp on the bigger concepts of the project, such as always treating the drum kit as one instrument instead of several. In case you missed it, you can check out yesterday’s article on drum mixing right here.
Before We Begin
In yesterday’s article, I suggested that you start working out your drum levels with the overhead mics simply because these mics capture the entire sound of your kit. Once you have more experience with recording and leveling out full drum kits, you might prefer (as many pros do) to start off with the kick drum since it carries the all important back beat but for now, I suggest starting with the overheads because having the entire sound of the kit to work with early on will make adding the other pieces that much easier as far as finding the right levels are concerned. Also, it should help you lock down the concept of proper leveling a bit faster which should make certain problems such as clipping (output overload) a lot less common.
What To Think About When EQ'ing Drums
From my own personal experience – along with feedback from various other players – I can tell you that EQ is probably the hardest concept for newbies to grasp. A lot of times, they confuse it for something else such as compression or even worse, have the misconception that it works more like an insert effect – able to drastically change the tone of your guitar as you see fit. First off, EQ is not meant to change a guitar’s tone but rather, helps you sculpt and smooth out your frequencies in order to enhance the tone already present. Also, it can help cut out the “bad parts” of an instrument’s frequency, such as the excessive low end on an acoustic guitar. The reason I bring this up is because once you have your drum kit all leveled out, it is time to work with some EQ.
Pros tend to start mixing with the kick drum
Just as with leveling, I suggest you first apply EQ to the overheads until you feel they sound right. I personally normally roll off some of that low end on the overheads in order to make room for the frequencies in the toms and kick drum. Once you have dialed in the EQ for the overheads, you can start bringing in each individual track starting with the kick drum, snare, then high hats and toms. As your work on bringing in each individual track, remember to apply EQ to each track while listening to the entire kit together. EQing a snare drum by itself for example might make that track sound awesome by itself, but there’s a chance things will sound off balance when introduced with the entire kit. So avoid unnecessary problems and approach EQ with the entire kit in mind. On the other hand, you might find that after EQing a certain track, it sounds great in the mix but not so much when played by on its own. This is an irrelevant problem. It doesn’t matter how bad it sounds by itself as long as it sounds great in the mix.
And in case you're thinking about using that solo button while trying to EQ a certain track – DON’T DO IT! Well, you can use it and it is certainly helpful when trying to quickly single out certain tracks in a mix but for the sake of getting your mind used to seeing all of the drum tracks as one single instrument, EQ each track while listening to the entire kit, that way you can avoid headaches when trying to balance all the tracks together. Remember, you will still need to add your vocals, bass, guitar, keyboards, etc.. Once you have more practice, you can hit as many buttons as you want.
Get Rid of Excessive Low End
A common EQ cut for removing unwanted frequencies
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, when it comes to EQ, you have to treat each project like its own beast – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some pretty common aspects of EQing that can work for almost anyone. One such tip is getting rid of excessive low end. When it comes to frequencies, anything below 100 Hz comes off as a bass rumble that we feel more than we can hear. You will want to get rid of excess low end but you don’t want to completely remove it. How much will depend on your track and how it sounds to your ears. Applying a High Pass Filter on all of the drum tracks except for the kick drum (you want to keep the low end on this one and maybe the floor tom depending on what sounds best for your mix) should take care of the job. I usually dial it in at about 60 or 70 Hz but again, do what sounds best for your project. You might even find that a track or two already sounds good without the need for of a high pass filter. Great, that’s not a problem as long as it sounds good to your ears.
Apply a Deep Mid Cut
Another one of these “almost but not quite” universal rules – if the pros are anything to go by – is cutting the 400 Hz frequency off of your drum mix. I have read about several of the top recording engineers doing the very same and it makes sense when you start looking into the nature of that certain frequency. The reason 400 Hz stands out is because it’s not really low enough to be considered low and not high enough to be considered high. As far as the drums go, this frequency is responsible for that “boxy” sound of the drum track and in case you can’t tell – boxy is not usually a good thing. Also, when you consider that by the time you add all of your other instruments, you are going to have a huge amount of frequencies between the 200 and 500 Hz mark. Cutting around the 400 Hz mark will help carve out room for the rest of the frequencies and ultimately will make the track sound balanced. Go to your DAW software or other means of EQing and completely cut out the 400 Hz on the drums. Afterwards, the low thuds should sound more powerful and the high snaps will be clearer, brighter and more defined. Just one of the many miracles of good EQ techniques!
One more thing; keep in mind that your track may need the mid cut as high as 700 Hz (but just one cut like in the image at the very top, not the range from 400 to 700 HZ) if a cut at 400 Hz doesn't get rid of the initial boxy sound. Don't be afraid to experiment!