snare drumOne of the things I love most about recording music is that there are no rules. One guy decides to use a cardboard box as his kick drum sound…and it sounds awesome. Another guy decides to sample in the sound of a screaming cat and blend it with the cymbals. (Okay, I’ve never seen that, but I bet it’s awesome.)

You’re free to do whatever you want. Maybe that’s why so many people record music as a hobby. They spend 40 hours a week being told what they can and can’t do, but in the studio they can do whatever they want. The only real rule is that it needs to sound good. Ah, recording…

But there is one “rule” I almost always follow when mixing drums…and it almost always works. So, of course, I want to share it with you.

It’s really simple. Suspiciously simple. Cut 400 Hz.

I’ve heard it over and over again from mix engineers. Drums sounding boxy? Missing that definition you need? Cut 400 Hz.

It’s hard to explain. You just need to go try it, but it’s especially effective on kick drum and toms. Grab an EQ, do a cut at 400 Hz and nothing else. Then compare the different sounds. What I hear is that the low end becomes more pronounced and has more punch. I can also hear the high-end detail much more clearly?

This is all without boosting the lows or the highs. That’s why I always suggest that you cut before you boost. Emphasize one frequency range by DE-emphasizing another one. It’s kinda like budgeting:

You’ve got a set budget for the month.

You’ve got a set number of frequencies to work with.

You decide you want to spend an extra $200 on a piece of gear.

You decide you need more low end in your kick drum.

You take $200 out of ANOTHER part of the budget to pay for the gear.

You cut 400 Hz to bring out the low end down at 80 Hz.

This doesn’t ALWAYS works, but you’d be surprised how much a simple cut can work better than a boost.

Hear it for Yourself

Here’s a kick drum track, dry without any EQ:

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And here’s that same track with a 400 Hz cut:

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I did a fairly exaggerated cut to make it easier to hear. Even so, it’s not a super obvious change in sound. What I hear is that suddenly the low end beefyness of the kick is much more prominent than before. It sounds like I boosted the lows, but I actually just did a single cut to the low-mids. Funny how that works.

Side-note: Obviously 400 Hz might not be the EXACT frequency you need to cut, but it’s a great starting point.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

And if you want to learn my process for effectively EQ-ing anything, plus a killer ear-training technique, check out Understanding EQ:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

  • Deakin Denzil Bentzon

    hahah it works cant get my head round it =)

  • joe

    Hi, i always like to take away lots of stuff from drums and instruments in the boxiness area, but what do you keep?? my master eq curve will have a large dip in the low mids, and thats not how other popular songs eq curves look?

    • Hey Joe,

      I wouldn’t worry about how EQ curves look. That really doesn’t mean anything. Let your ears tell you if it sounds good or not.

      • Joe

        well, its really just to put a bandpass on a track and put in in the right area, and you find out what they keep there..;)

  • SHUTAYOURFACE

    Yeah, this is like what you learn in mixing kindergarten. Cut 300-500hz, works every time. Not just on drums, either. For clean sounding EQwith as least colouration as possible, cutting is always better than boosting. With that said, in most electronic music you want that colouration, so boost away.

    • Mixing kindergarten. That would be awesome. 🙂

    • Stone Xavier

      you are a piece of shit die

  • covert gryn

    men dis some juicy blog i knw i will enjoy it.

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  • Skeebo

    I liked thiks post. with the Kick Drums I use, TYPICALLY the 450 range is where this will fall…Not ALWAYS and every time though. The 350 -450 range is typically a GREAT place to start since the “Muddiness” of  a kick drum lies in the 250 – 800 Hz Range.  Great tip! 🙂  happy Music Making everybody!

    • Yep, the specific frequency changes with every mix, but the concept of removing some boxyness in the lower midrange is a SOLID technique. 🙂

  • Jerry

    i know this is old but i always love to come back to all of these little tips and reread them great tips i can hear the difference to me it really helps clear up kick its subtle but that’s what i find works alot great tips hope you the best

  • Xan

    Cutting in that range can be good for a lot ov things if you is getting too much “mud”. 🙂

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  • Anonymous

    The budget comparison is frickin hilarious

  • I tried this on the top mic-ed snare, sounds better. Thanks.

  • x jeremy jarratt

    If you check the source code, the audio player is grabbing two different file names. It’s encoded and the names are very similar except for a small stretch toward the end. “Track #1” is probably just the title ID tag for an MP3 file, which can be the same, even with different actual filenames.

  • Yes, it’s sort of the same, but the BIG, HUGE difference is that you’re not adding any additional gain to the signal.

    Also, from a simplicity perspective, doesn’t it make more sense to make one move (400 Hz cut) than two moves (low boost AND high boost)? It does to me.

  • I thoroughly agree with Joe and everyone else that scooping the lower mids is a super helpful move. Just wondering… y’all ever find a place when boosting those frequencies really made something work? For example, I’ve had rare instances where I’d cut those freqs from the kick and give them over to the bass. Soloed, I wanted to pull them out of the bass again, but in the mix they thumped together nicely.

    • Eric Mata

      That’s called complimentary EQ! cutting unnecessary frequencies out of one instrument to make room for another.

  • Yeah, a wide-ish cut around 400 works well but surprisingly more and more i’ve found that i’m boosting the mids a little to get the kick to sound good. A little higher though 1-1.5k I think its because so many kick drum mics have a huge scoop of 1k taken out in their response…

  • Anonymous

    Great tip! I find that the frequency to cut often varies with the drum kit – usually 300Hz to 600Hz. 

    I’m struggling to hear a difference between the 2 kick samples though.. 

  • Anonymous

    Hey Joe,
    I’ve heard from some people that its 300Hz. But I know what you mean, its about playing around with those low mids!

  • David Schlotterback

    I hate to say… I hear no difference. It must be so subtle, you must have a trained ear to catch it? 

  • Works.. Amazing !

  • Awesome tip..! Need to get into studio and test this out asap.

  • Frank Adrian

    The perceived loudness of any audio signal is the average of the energy in all of the signal’s frequency bands over a given time period (actually, it’s a non-linear function of the integral of the audio energy over frequency and time, but we’re quibbling here). If you remove particular frequency bands, to get the signal back to its original volume, you have to increase the volume of the remaining frequency bands. This allows the mixer to focus the listener on the frequency bands that are not cut. Think of it as the use of a manual multi-band compressor with make-up gain applied to the whole frequency range of the signal. Cutting out useless frequencies is a critical tool that most engineers underutilize.

    As far as mixing goes, I find the octave from ~325-650 Hz to be pretty much useless. It’s one of those bands where a little bit will help fill out the sound, but too much will really kill the sound. Things just sound cluttered and diseased here.

  • B b

    Um, Joe. When I play back each file they both display the name “Track 1”.

    • x jeremy jarratt

      If you check the source code, the audio player is grabbing two different file names. It’s encoded and the names are very similar except for a small stretch toward the end. “Track #1” is probably just the title ID tag for an MP3 file, which can be the same, even with different actual filenames.

    • It’s two different files.

  • I love this. I just started trying this when Graham Cocrane did it on every track in a video. Sometimes I do closer to 500 sometimes its as low as 350 but that around 400 range just almost never needs to be there. except on instruments that are fundamentally there I guess

    • I also do this a TON on acoustic guitar. get rid of the low mids. In a live environment I do it straight from the guitars preamp.

  • B b

    I’m listening to both samples chained together and I hear absolutely no difference whatsover. Not even slight. They are exactly the same on my Frequency Analyzer also. Maybe you uploaded the same file twice?

    • Nope. They’re two different files. I just listened again. The difference is subtle, but it’s there.

  • Absolutely works every time. “Scoop” the mids and bring out the low and highs, gets rid of that boxiness every time