Drums play an essential role in modern music production, providing rhythm and energy to the tracks.
Often, they are recorded separately so that the mixing process can be controlled and flexible. As a result, mixing drums can also seem daunting.
It can be difficult to know where to begin when balancing and blending so many individual parts.
Today we'll look at mixing drums step by step, providing tips and techniques to make your drums sound punchy, powerful, and polished.
We'll show you how to get the most out of your drum recordings, whether you're a beginner or an experienced producer.
But before that, here are a few important things that you need to do before mixing drums to make sure that you get the best sound.
Although tuning is something that has to be done by the recording engineer and producer, it’s worth mentioning because you could find yourself mixing drums that are not well tuned.
I wouldn’t recommend tuning live drums; this is something that needs to be done during recording.
So, it’s always better to re-record the drums to get the correct pitch straight from the source.
However, if you can’t re-record, then you can tune live drums; just make sure that you’re not pitching them too much.
One or two semitones should be enough. Anything more than that will change the character of the drum(s).
In electronic music, tuning drums to the key of the song is a common thing. But don’t overdo it because you can simply replace the sample.
The same rule applies: if you have to pitch more than three semitones, then you’re overdoing it.
Also, use the scale from the key of the song. Your drums don’t have to be playing the root key of the song.
This will cause frequency masking, so place the drums in different keys of the same scale.
Lookout For Phase Issues
When working on live drums, you’ll need to always check for phase issues before applying any processing.
To do that, you simply solo the overheads, then engage each drum sound one at a time along the overheads and flip the phase of that particular drum sound.
For instance, while the overhead track is playing, you’ll engage the snare, flip its phase a couple of times, and choose the best sound.
You could also look at the waveform to make sure that everything is in phase.
Each waveform has positive and negative half cycles, and if those don’t match between tracks, then you know one of those tracks is out of phase.
So you'll need to flip the phase of one track to match the two tracks.
When you’re mixing layered electronic drums, you should also check that the positive and negative half cycles are in sync.
They don’t have to be perfectly in sync, but they shouldn’t be too far off either.
This also applies if you’re mixing live drums with samples. For impact, they must both be in phase.
This is the most time-consuming part of engineering, which is why most beginner engineers skip it.
Editing is one of the most important parts of mixing drums. It can make or break your drum mix.
Without proper editing, a drum performance will usually sound sloppy, out of timing, and lack impact.
Audio editing involves fixing tuning, timing, and cutting out silence (rather than relying on gates).
In some cases, you might need to fix clicks and do some automation to reduce annoying loud peaks.
Basically, all you need to do is fix any unwanted problems that might creep up when applying compression or boosting frequencies.
How To Mix Drums
Mix preparation can be time-consuming, and it drains a bit of energy. This is why it’s crucial to take a break after editing your drums.
This guide is designed to help you learn at your own pace and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
So, you’ll basically select a chapter and dive into it. When you’re done, you come back and do the same with the rest of the chapters.
This gives you flexibility, and it helps me go in-depth with every topic to make sure that you get the desired results every time you mix drums.
Chapter 1: Mixing Kick Drums
Speed up your learning curve.
Go from beginner to pro mixer with my step-by-step refresh on the core fundamentals for getting the best kick sound on every mix.
>> How to Mix Kick Drums
Chapter 2: Mixing Low End
One of the most frequently asked questions in the audio engineering community is how to mix kick and bass.
Beginner mixing engineers seem to struggle a lot with getting the kick and bass to work well without any masking.
Learn to master the art of getting the perfect low end in my previous post titled:
>> Mixing Low End
Chapter 3: Mixing Snare
For true beginners.
Learn how to get a punchy snare drum sound. Get access to the EQ and compression cheat sheets as well to avoid guesswork.
>> How to Get a Punchy Snare
Chapter 4: How to Mix Toms
This chapter is all about getting the best tom sound by understanding the three most crucial frequency ranges.
It also includes panning techniques, balance, reverb, and compressing for impact.
>> Mixing Toms
Chapter 5: Should Drums Be Mono or Stereo?
For the most impact, it’s crucial to keep your main drum sounds in mono. These are usually the kick and snare.
But it’s also crucial to have contrast and fill up the rest of the stereo image for a bigger sound. Access the detailed guide:
>> Should Drums Be Mono or Stereo
Chapter 6: How to Pan Instruments
Once you know which drum parts should be mono or stereo, you could get stuck not knowing which ones should be panned left or right.
This is important for creating space for the mono sounds so that they can dominate the center without being masked by everything else.
>> Instruments Panning Cheat Sheet
Chapter 7: How To EQ Overheads
An essential part of getting a great drum sound is getting the correct tonal balance for the overheads.
This chapter is all about learning how to avoid harsh cymbals and add punch.
>> How to EQ Overheads
Chapter 8: Using Saturation on Drums
Saturation is one of the most fun effects to play around with, if you know what you’re doing. In the wrong hands, it can make a good mix fall flat.
In this section, you’ll learn the best way to add saturation to your drum tracks to get that desired analog warmth and depth.
>> How to Use Saturation on Drums
Chapter 9: Saturation Plugins for Drums
It’s crucial to understand that not all saturation plugins are built the same or for the same purpose.
Some plugins can sound good on a guitar track and horrible on a drum track. This is why it was crucial for me to put together a complete list of the best saturators for drum sounds.
>> Best Saturation Plugins For Drums
Chapter 10: Bus Compression
Bus compression is a powerful tool for getting your entire drum kit to sound glued together. Without it, drums can sound isolated and feel as if they were recorded in different studios.
This also helps with making the movement of the drums cohesive and helps them sound like a kit instead of a drum loop.
>> How the Pros Apply Bus Compression
Chapter 11: Drum EQ Cheat Sheet
Drum EQ can have a significant impact on the quality of your drums.
To help you achieve a professional-quality sound, I've put together the ultimate cheat sheet, covering everything from kick to cymbals.
Check out our latest blog post and elevate your drums to the next level with these essential tips and techniques.
>> Drum EQ Cheat Sheet
Chapter 12: Mixing Hi-Hats
Check out my latest blog post on how to mix hi-hats for a pro sound!
From EQing and compression to creative effects like reverb and delay, I'll walk you through all the tips and techniques you need to make your hi-hats stand out in the mix.
Plus, I'll share some common mistakes to avoid and provide a handy cheat sheet for quick reference.