This article is to follow-up to Brad Pack’s great article on Equalizers, I’ll be providing an overview of EQ-ing drums along with a downloadable Drum EQ Cheatsheet at the end of the article.
I used to be against cheatsheets, but then I had an epiphany. Even though every mix is slightly different than any one you have worked on previously, mud is always mud, harshness is always harshness, and each quality resides in its respective frequency range. Cheatsheets help point you in the right direction. If the cheatsheet says “cut at 300Hz to get rid of muddiness”, that specific value might work for your mix, or it might be close, but it’s great to have a checklist of starting points close at hand. Remember, the frequency ranges listed here are guidelines that apply to most situations and you may find that modifying the frequency range slightly may improve your results.
Balance is key
It’s important to remember one thing: the balance of all the tracks in the mix is the backbone of your mix. Anything else you do (EQ, compression, spatial effects, saturation, etc) is standing on the shoulders of how you balanced your mix. Superstar mixer Billy Decker has been quoted as saying “I’m all about balance. If something is out of balance, everything is out of whack.”
Keep in mind that every tiny change you make affects the tone of your mix. Generally when working on EQ, think about cleaning up the problem frequencies first (they’re usually resonances), then do whatever it takes to enhance the tracks. Only after a clean tone has been sorted out should you consider doing your final EQ moves.
Stay away from the solo button
A word of warning: don’t EQ individual drums in solo. The main vocal is the only element of your mix that you may want to EQ in solo. If you were to EQ the close drum mic tracks by themselves, you’d notice a lot of resonant frequencies, but clearing those up will kill off the mojo of your tracks. This may possibly make the individual sounds clearer, but the overall drum sound would be lame. You want your drums to kick down the door, not politely knock and ask for permission to enter.
What’s the matter, honey?
Before you unleash your EQing skills on the mix, think about the root of the problem. Often one frequency range will mask another. If the snare sounds dull and lifeless, there could be a strong resonance in the mids, detracting from the high end detail. Cut that midrange resonance and you’ll most likely hear the snare come to life.
Another classic example is a kick that “has no body” (is that a ghost kick?). There’s a strong chance the problem is too much low mid energy, which masks the low frequencies. Once you carve out the low mids, you’ll suddenly unleash the kick’s strapping low end.
Phase Check Before EQ
Make sure all the drum tracks have the optimum phase (polarity) relationship between them. Failing that, equalizing will be a nightmare, and the end result will still sound weak. Choose one mic (or pair of mics) like the overheads and listen to the overheads along with each close mic, one at a time. Flip the phase on each close mic and see which phase setting helps the close mic “fit in” with the overheads, resulting in a full and powerful sound. Close mics that are out of phase and added to the overheads typically result in drum sounds that sound weaker or more distant than close mics with the proper phase setting. Also be sure that any two mics on one drum, like snare top and bottom, add together with the best phase response, usually resulting in more powerful low frequencies.
Finding Nasty Frequencies
When it comes to subtractive vs additive EQ, think of it this way: cut out the bad and enhance the good. Here is the easiest way to determine what frequencies to cut: Create a narrow band EQ and apply a large boost. Then sweep around the spectrum until you hear something horrible, and cut the EQ until it sounds better. Don’t be afraid to boost 9 or 10 dB to find the resonant frequencies and you can begin with a wide Q until you find a problem area. Then narrow the Q to fine tune the precise problem frequency. Watch your monitor/headphones volume as resonant frequencies can jump out at very high volumes during this exercise.
Jump on the Bus
A great way to chisel out the ideal tone for your drums is to bus or subgroup them together. Insert a stereo EQ on the group fader and sculpt away. You can easily clear out the mud from all the drum tracks this way, or add a bit more sparkle or attack. Just keep in mind that you’re affecting all the drums at the same time. Once you’re done with EQing the drums bus, examine the individual tracks to create the best tone. Remember, the balance and tonality of the entire drum kit will make or break the sound more than any individual tracks, so get a good balance before you grab the EQ.
General tips for Drum Tones
– You can fine tune your low frequencies by applying a high pass filter and also pushing some low end around 50 – 100Hz. This provides a resonant boost without blowing up your subs.
– Boxiness lives between 300 – 400Hz, so cut that gently, if needed.
– 500Hz will add some body to the entire kit
– Try reducing 2.5kHz to get rid of harshness and make room for guitars and vocals.
– Kick drums can be high pass filtered at around 30Hz. Anything below that is all rumble, which is something you want to avoid if you want a tight low end. Be careful about electronic drums as 808-style bass drums may have their fundamental as low as 30Hz.
– Cut the low mids-mids at around 300-600Hz to get rid of boxiness. Sweep around to find the boxiest frequency and rid your life of it. Nasty!
– Boost highs for attack. Metal needs the highs boosted between 4-8kHz for some click, whereas indie, rock, and pop may boost at 1.5-2.5kHz for some smack.
– If you want to reduce bleed from the rest of the drums (especially the cymbals) in the kick drum track, you can achieve this by low pass filtering from 5kHz and up, but be careful not to lose the click or smack of the kick drum. A gate may be more effective than simple EQ for noise reduction.
– If the kick drum is bleeding into the snare mic too much, it may be introducing nasty low end into the mix. In order to combat this, you can filter the snare track(s) below 100Hz with a steep slope (The SSL high-pass filter is 18dB/octave).
– Make your snare grow chest hair by boosting in the “body” range, between 100Hz and 250Hz.
– Add more attack to the snare by bringing up the 1.5 – 3kHz range.
– Add more rattle to the bottom of the snare around 5kHz
– If the snares of the snare drum are too loud, but the drum isn’t bright enough, use a high-shelf boost at 9kHz-10kHz. This can make the drum brighter, without emphasizing the snares.
– Snare drums are prone to have nasty resonances, so sweep around and get rid of ‘em.
-Hi Hats may have too much snare or tom bleed and can be high pass filtered at 300 – 400Hz.
– Thickness can be added around 600 – 800Hz, while clarity and openness can be found from 6kHz up to 12kHz.
– Clearing out the range from 800Hz – 2kHz can remove the nasal harshness of some hats.
– Different genres use the overhead microphones for different reasons. Metal, for example, uses them as purely cymbal mics, while blues and rock styles may achieve most of their drum sound solely from the overheads. Genres that need the full drum sound should be high-passed more gently (if at all) as compared to genres that use overheads mainly for cymbals.
– Cymbal harshness resides at 2.5kHz. Sweep around for the exact spot where the ear-breaker lives. Cutting in this area will not dull your cymbals. In fact, they’ll sparkle in the mix without burning your eyebrows.
The bottom line is: cheatsheets are inherently good. Balance is important. Checking phase is vital. What works for mix 1 might not work for mix 2.
Download your free Sonarworks Drum Cheatsheet Here