How to Mix Your Drums for a Bigger Sound
In every style of music, producers want to make their drums sound big and polished. Once drums have been programmed, there’s a little behind the scenes work that needs to be done to create massive drums. Here’re a few tricks of the trade for mixing your drums for a bigger sound.
Start out with the drums on individual tracks in your DAW and label each one with the name of the drum hit. (e.g.,. Kick, snare, hi-hat, hi tom, low tom, clap, etc.) We’re going to be creating something called a top-down mix, as we’ll begin mixing the top end of the frequency spectrum and move downwards.
Drum Bus Mix Tips
Group your drums together by sending each individual drum track to a stereo drum track. Begin by creating a new track (or stereo bus track) and call it Drum Bus. If you’re using a DAW like Ableton, on each individual drum track, set the ‘Send Audio To’ to the new Drum Bus track. On the Drum Bus track, set the Monitor to In and be sure the Audio To is set to Master.
Begin with adding an EQ to tone the shape of the drums. You can use an EQ like Waves Equalizer, Sonalksis SV-517Mk2 Stereo EQ, or Slate Digital’s FG-N ‘BRIT-N’ EQ, available in Slate Digital’s Virtual Mix Rack. If you don’t have any of these, use the four band EQ included in your DAW. The EQ on the Drum Bus should help to add clarity and punch. To achieve this, try adding a bit of a high shelf, boosting the upper mids around 3.2 kHz and upper lows around 80-90 dB.
Next on the chain should be a compressor to add tightness and definition to the mix and glue the bottom end together. A few examples of compressors that would work well here would be The Glue and Slate Digital’s FG-Grey.
The compression settings can be set with a ratio of 4:1, attack 10 and release 0.3. Turn the threshold slightly up to taste, but be sure to not to over compress at this stage.
Loops or Stereo Room Mics
Next move onto mixing any loops or stereo room mics in the track. If your drum loops have a lot of high-frequency content, use an EQ and take the high shelf down, add extra upper mid range, scoop out around 600 Hz and engage a high pass filter around 100 Hz or so to clean up the low end. Next add a limiter to the loop/stereo room mic track with a ratio of 20:1 and the fastest attack and release setting. The purpose of the limiter is to make the loop sound more exciting. Finish by backing off the mix on the limiter to around -60 percent.
Treating Each Track Individually
Go through each of your drum tracks and sculpt their sound using EQ and compression. The goal should be to bring out the best frequency spectrum(s) in each of the drum hits, and to cut away any frequencies that don’t sit well in the mix. It might be a good idea to add a plugin like a virtual tape machine to snare or percussive hits to add personality and vibe.
Here’s a simple trick that will add depth and make your drums sound bigger. Send each individual track to a stereo aux and add a stereo delay to the aux track. Program 30 ms of delay on the left, and 40 ms of delay on the right-hand side. Next, stack a reverb on top and choose a medium room, approximately 854 ms of delay and set the wet control to 30 %. On the aux track, move the left pan to nine o clock to compensate for the left side of the stereo delay. Try out different room settings and make the room as large as you’d like it.
Next, add a compressor with a medium attack and full release and set the mix to 100%.
Bring this aux channel fader all the way down and gradually bring it up into the mix. Instantly the drums should sound more spacious and bigger. Just the way you always wanted them!