Live Drum Mixing - Part 1


Introducing part 1 of our new 2 part live drum mixing series.  With an accompanying video, we'll go over the basics of mixing a live drum kit, what to look out for, how to get a great balanced sound and some advanced techniques to solving problems.  Each kit is different but the principles remain the same.  So here's our top live drum mixing tips..


First Things First! 

Right.. so you've been given a multitrack drum recording but don't know what to do with it?!  Worry not, we're here to help!  We've created a series of steps that I always follow to give you the best results.  There's no point getting deep into compression and random plugins when we don't truly understand what we're dealing with.



Before anything else I always start by balancing the kit.  I need to see the big picture and not get bogged down in the small details.  The overheads provide the main kit image and the other mics offer support.

Faders - Lets bring these up to a reasonable level that's not clipping our mater or each individual channel.  Around 0db would be lovely if possible.

Pan - Starting with our overheads lets pan these are they were recorded.  More often than not you'll have a L & R (Left & right).

IMPORTANT: By listening to our overhead mic's we can get an idea of how the kit was laid out.  We're looking for where the Toms are in the stereo field and also where the hi-hat is.

Once we've figured this out we can pan the other drums to match.  In our example the rack tom was to the left, the floor to the right and the hi-hat slightly to the left.

Note: Make sure your panning matches across the overheads, rooms and individual mics.  Failure to do this will result in a blurred, confused final mix.




Often spoke of but often under appreciated.  The phase relationship between the mic's is crucial in getting a full sound that has impact and detail.

Below the image shows how we want the waveforms to line up.  This example is perfectly IN phase.  Microphones that record the same source (like a snare top and bottom) will be completely out of phase so we'll need to 'flip' these.  This can be done with a utility tool or on many EQ's / channel strips.



By solo'ing the kick then adding the snare we can check to see if any strange tonal change is happening which could be down to phase.  Go through each mic checking the against each other to see if the individual channels need 'flipping'.


No we have an overall feel for the kit we can start looking at individual elements.  Remember though, always check your work against the full kit. There's no point spending hours on a snare channel if it sounds terrible when the solo is turned off.  BIG PICTURE!!


Overview - I like to mix using Slate Digitals Virtual Mix Rack as it's really useful to see my gates, EQ & compression in a row but any plug-ins will do a similar job.



In our example I noticed a few things.  The kick had lots of bleed (other drum sounds) from the snare,  the consistency of kicks needed addressing with compression and some EQ was needed for tone shaping.  So:

Gates -  Gates allow the audio to pass through when a threshold / certain volume is achieved.  When it's below that level the gate will close and stop sound coming through.

Because our kick drum is much louder than the snare bleed I used the gate to only allowing the kick sound through.  By doing this I am able to process just the kick and not effect the sound of the other drum parts.




In my recording the kick was relatively solid but fluctuated a little in gain and could do with some reinforcement.  For this I used a compressor (red one) with a slow-ish attack and a fast release at 2:1. 

The slow attack aloud the transient to get through then clamped down on the tail of the kick beefing it up as well as controlling the dynamics. 


Eq wise I made a few specific moves: 

1- Low Boost - I wanted to add some weight and bass to the kick so I boosted 50Hz.  This felt like the area that had the most impact.

2 - Low Mid Scoop - I scooped out 4db at 200hz.  This area felt lumpy and muddy to me.  Removing this area can 'clean up' the kick making it feel more focused and less floppy. 

3 - High Mid Boost - 4db at 1.5KHZ for extra click and impact.  



As with the kick drum, I'll be using the Slate mix rack again for consistency and ease.  You can also see the I used a gate again but slightly changed the threshold.  This way I've been able to just process the snare on its own without affecting the other drum sounds. 


Snare EQ - 

  1. 2db at 1.6KHZ - Adding extra snap and to end sizzle. 
  2. -2db scoop at 200HZ - I felt this was too boomy and muddied up the whole kit. 

Compression wise the same principle as the kick was applied letting the initial transient through but grabbing the tail, lengthening the hit. 





Possibly the most important part of the overall image, the overheads give the overall picture of the kit, add top end sparkle in the cymbals and also provide depth and space by picking up the sound of the kit in the room. 

All processes were applied with the whole kit playing so I could get the full picture. 

Getting the compression right for the overheads can be tricky and sometimes it's best to apply non.  For this I wanted a little control so a 2:1 ratio and little reduction ensured things remained controlled yet natural. 

EQ - Here I'm shaping the whole kit sound.  So: 

1- 50HZ boost - add weight to the kick.

2 - Cut at 200HZ.  remove unwanted build up and mud. 

3 - Boost at 600HZ - Add some weight to the snare and toms. 

4 - Top end boost on the FG-N - Add 'air' to the cymbals. 



A second EQ was also added to tame a few more low mid frequencies seen below:



In part 2 we'll go into greater detail covering problem solving, parallel compression, master bus processing and advanced use of sends. 


Be sure to check out this pack and the rest of our Live drum sample packs.


The Touch Loops team.