Mixing your drums right gives you a good foundation to build the rest of your mix around. More often than not regardless of the type of beats you create the drums are gonna play a prominent role. Think about it, listen to some of your favourite beats, particularly the drums. Where do they sit in the overall mix? What is their purpose? Drums are key to not only the track in question but also to your ability to define your sound as a producer. Check out our quick guide to mixing drums and bring some extra weight and punch to your drum mix.
It might seem obvious but lets route the drums before we start to mix them. Having a multi output kit gives us greater control of our drums. Creating individual channels for each of our drum parts is essential in order to be able to manipulate each stem of our drum mix. Next we want to take the individual channels and route them to a drum bus. In doing so we can now manipulate elements individually and collectively in a group.
As you can see in the example above, we have all our drums on separate channels using a multi output version of Native Instruments Battery. This will work with any multi output VST / AU device or with audio drum stems on separate channels. Each sound from our drum kit is then re-routed to our drum bus (Bus 1).
Levels / Volume
Once we have our drums correctly routed lets focus on the levels. Build your drum mix around kick and snare, typically the most prominent parts of the drum mix. Get your peak levels set at -0.3 to -0.6 for the Kick and a little lower -0.9 for the snare. These more often than not will be the loudest elements of the drum mix but be aware there is always exceptions to the rules and it will be up to you to decide which of your drums are the lead. Once the kick and snare are dialled in you can add the remaining drum parts track by track adjusting the level accordingly. The focus here should be complementing the foundation drums not overshadowing them.
Compression on the individual drum elements can help bring some consistency to the hits. If there are discrepancies between how hard and how soft some parts are being played you can use a compressor to even this level out if you desire. limiting the dynamic range with a simple fast attack with a slow release setting should do the trick however It should be pointed out here that compression might not solve the problem entirely. It could be depending on your source material that a transient shaper or chopping some of the individual hits could be a better solution.
We can add some mix bus compression to our drum mix to add some punch, smoothness or thickness. When used correctly compression can act as glue (coherence) to your drums. Be careful not to choke the mix here and focus on the groove of your drums when adjusting your attack and release settings. Compression can also be used as a creative effects plugin, greatly influencing the tone or shine of the drums as well as the groove. We will have a more in depth look at mix bus compression in a future post.
Using an equaliser we can clean up our drums, cutting away any frequencies that don’t sit well in the mix. We can then shape and adjust the tone to our preference. Using a graphic EQ can give us some visual indication of what our drums are actually doing and where they reside on the frequency spectrum. Below are some points of reference to consider when EQing your drums. As always there is never a one stop fix for all especially in the art of mixing and your ears are really the greatest tool you have. These reference points should help assist in getting you into the right ball park then its up to you to find the sweet spot.
Panning / Stereo Imaging
Space / ReverbReverb can bring our drums a greater sense of depth. Using a send FX we can send our individual drums to the same reverb. This helps give the impression the drums are recorded in the same space. Having the ability to adjust the send amount of each drum channel individually gives us far greater control than adding an insert FX on the whole drum mix. For example reverb tends to work really well on Snares and Tom drums but you will probably want to use it more sparingly on the kick. This way you can adjust the amounts accordingly. You may also wish to experiment using multiple reverb patches. For example reverb plates work really well on snare drums. So you could use a reverb plate as an insert on the snare drums channel and still bus it out to our reverb send t give it the same spatial continuity as the other drums in the kit.
Taking these simple steps enable us to get a punchier, tighter drum mix. Our end goal here is to create an amazing drum mix that works as the foundation of the beat we are working on. There are obviously more complexed and creative manipulations you can perform whilst mixing your drums but its usually a good practice to build on these mixing fundamentals first. As always remember there are really no rules and these are just some guidelines to work with when building your core drum mix. You may well have your own techniques and we would invite you to share in the comments section below.