So you just successfully tracked drums and everything is going well, but when you play them back in your DAW they seem stale and lifeless. So what’s next? Mixing the drums is the next step and, while this is more difficult, this is also where you get to take full control of the sounds you want.
Here are a couple basic techniques that will offer huge benefits for your drum recordings.
Dealing with phase
Since drums use many microphones, phase issues always arise. Phase is quite simply the misalignment of audio wave forms which results in conflicting and sometimes cancelled out sounds. I like to group the overheads together and then look for a kick or snare hit to sync up with.
By zooming in on your wave forms and lining up the hits, your drum sound will sound much bigger and more clear.
Here is some more information about phase.
Panning is essential for all instrument tracks within a mix, but the drums especially benefit from it due to, once again, the many different parts of the drum kit that have been recorded. Panning is the amount of stereo signal going into the left or right speaker. My favorite drum sound is produced by panning each of the overhead tracks 90% onto their respective sides. Then I pan the rack tom usually about 40% to the left and the floor tom 40% to the right, to give the illusion that the drums are surrounding you. With this little bit of panning, the drums are given much more space and room to breath.
Check out Ask Audio’s 5 Mistakes To Avoid: Using Panning.
Before you add any plugins to your drum tracks, you must make sure you like your volume levels. This is when you change the level for each recorded track in order to get the foundation of your drum kit’s sound. These settings are always different for every project, since different styles require different sound balances, but most people like use the overheads as the base of the sound. Then you can drag each remaining drum level up until you find a nice balance. Having well balanced levels is integral to giving your drum recording a good sound.
After that you should start adding plugins and effects, like compression, EQ, and reverb, to really personalize your mix and to bring your drums to life. Check out my introduction to these tools here.
In case you missed it, check out part one where I cover the basics of recording a drum kit.
What are your drum mixing secrets? Are there any things I should try? Let me know in the comments below!