After yesterday’s brief overview of mixing drums, let’s jump into EQ.

Intro to EQ

Before we get too far, if you haven’t already watched my Intro to EQ video, you should. It’s a great overview of what EQ is and what it does. It’s 16 minutes long, but it’ll be time well spent.

Match the Overheads

In yesterday’s post I encouraged you to listen to the overhead tracks first (often labeled “OH”), before anything else. Why? Because these two little tracks captured the entire kit. They tell you what the kit as a whole sounds like.

In a sense, the overheads set boundaries for you. If the drum kit sounds very bright and happy through the overheads, then that’s how you should mix it. It’ll be near impossible to make that bright-sounding kit sound dark and ominous.

EQ is not meant to change the tone of the instrument, but to enhance it.

That’s why it’s so important to start with the overheads. Once you have a good idea as to what the kit sounds like, you can begin to make changes in the individual components to make it sound even better.

At this point, I would apply EQ to the overheads, oftentimes rolling off some of the low end to make room for the kick drum and the toms.

Dealing With the Rest of the Kit

Now that you’ve dialed in the overheads, it’s time to bring in the individual pieces of the kit one at a time, starting with kick, snare, then high-hat and toms.

As I mentioned yesterday, don’t solo these individual tracks. You need to make your EQ changes while listening to everything else. What sounds great on a solo’d snare may sound awful when blended in with the rest of the kit.

Conversely, when you dial in the perfect snare sound while listening to all the drum tracks together, you may find that if you solo that snare, it doesn’t sound that great at all. This is not a problem. Who cares if it sounds bad by itself? As long as it sounds good in the mix, you’ve done your job.

I leave you with a couple EQ tips.

High-Pass Everything But the Kick

If you read The Best Mixing Tip, then you have heard this once already. One of the best things you can do for your mix is get rid of excess low end. This applies to drums as well, and it bears repeating.

In a drum kit, that means put a high-pass filter on everything except the kick drum (and maybe the floor tom).

How much you roll off depends on the song and, of course, your ears. Sometimes you may want to get rid of all low frequencies in your overhead tracks. Other times, you may want to leave most of them in there. Let the song direct you.

Getting rid of the low frequencies in these tracks will make the kick drum stand out so much more than simply cranking up the kick drum fader.

Cut 400 Hz

I’m not a big fan of giving out hard and fast rules, but this seems to be something that almost all top engineers I read about are saying. Cut 400 Hz out of your drum tracks.

400 Hz is a funny frequency. It’s not super low, but it’s not super high either. It accounts for the “boxy” sound of your drum tracks. Boxy is usually not a good thing.

Besides, every other track in your mix is going to have a ton of information in the 250-500 Hz range. Carving out space in the drums for all that stuff will be very beneficial.

It’s hard to explain, but I would suggest just trying it. Pull up a kick drum in your DAW, and put an EQ on the kick drum and cut 400 Hz. Suddenly the “thud” is more powerful and the “snap” is more clear and defined.

Is it magic? I don’t think so, but it sure is cool.

Want to dive into EQ even deeper? Check out:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

  • GI Holm

    This blog is amazing. I’ve been banging my head against a the wall for the past week trying to get the drums to sit in the mix right. Everything was sounding kinda boxy, then I read the 400Hz rule… DONE! Wow, that’s great. And With the starting on the overheads, I’ve always started EQ-ing and Compressing the kick, then snare and theN adding in the Overheads. Then I have to go back and adjust all the processing that was done before. Such a time saver!

    Awesome blog man. I’ll be following it for sure!

  • rama

    If you start with the OH’s how would you set the fader according to the pk in the master fader? Would it be a good idea to add the bass guitar when you start to eq the bass drum?

    • Not sure what you’re asking on the first question.

      For your second question, I usually get my drum sound first before adding bass, then I make the bass sit well with the kick drum.

      • rama

        Thanks for the answer, what I meant in the first question is that people that start mixing with the bass drum usually sets the bass drum level at -6db pk, starting with the OH’s how would you do something similar like this so when you start adding the other channels your mix doesn’t start to clip?

        • I don’t have any set level. I start my mix by turning up ALL the faders, getting a static mix, and making sure the mix isn’t close to clipping the master bus.
          THEN I start with individual plugins.

  • Frank

    Hey Joe! Sorry to bump, but how does one find the overhead mics (OH) after I’m done sequencing my drum pattern?

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  • If the frequency of equalization that the fall of the drums can also find some more in the equalization rate that shares part of that frequency. I do not know any way around that, but maybe someone else has heard of something.

  • If the frequency of equalization that the fall of the drums can also find some more in the equalization rate that shares part of that frequency. I do not know any way around that, but maybe someone else has heard of something.

  • Andy

    Maybe I missed it, but have you mentioned phase/polarity? I always check the polarity of the snare against the overheads.

  • I just came across your goldmine of a blog…damn dude! great information here.

    i’ve never heard of the 400Hz EQ cut before…definitely going to try this tonight while mixing! Thanks for that nugget.

    • Thanks Chris! Nice to meet you. Yeah, I have very few “rules” when mixing, but that 400Hz cut happens almost every time on kick at LEAST.

      By the way…thanks for the tweet!

      • anytime…im a fellow blogger…and understand the value of a retweet 😛

  • adam jagger

    yo joe that 400 hz tip u said really works almost all the time.

  • Tim

    Typically everything will have a high-pass filter, correct? Just depends where its set. Even the kick should be high-passed, just really low, like 25-30hz. Speakers aren’t going to reproduce that energy in most cases anyway. Also, for the 400 hz rule. Should that apply to the snare as well? Sometime I’ve found a nice bottom end to a snare around there. Just some thoughts.

    • Hi Tim. Like I’ve said before, there are no rules or “shoulds” to this. If 400 Hz sounds good to you on the snare, then you don’t need to worry about cutting it. And if rolling off the very bottom end sounds good to you, then go for it!

      I don’t use a high-pass on everything, but just about everything. 😉