Drums (and bass guitar) are the foundation of a great mix. If the drums aren’t right, the mix lacks energy and loses its impact.
With all the signal processing available to us (EQ, compression and gating), it is easy to get overwhelmed. The most important thing to keep in mind is to never use signal processing just because it is available, only use it to solve a problem.
Let’s go through the foundational EQ, Compression and Gating techniques for mixing live drums.
For great sounding drums, you first need to make sure your drum heads are properly tuned, mics are placed correctly and gain is set properly (more on that here). Then, a few simple EQ techniques will take your drums to a whole ‘notha level.
Note: For all filters listed below that contain a range (i.e. 200-400Hz), use frequency sweeping to find the most appropriate frequency setting for your situation. Learn about frequency sweeping in this post: The Most Important EQ Techniques for Church Sound
It is common for sound techs to put compression on almost every drum mic, but this is not necessary unless you have an inexperienced, uncontrolled drummer. Even in this case, you will probably only need light compression on the kick drum and possibly the snare.
The kick drum is something you want to stay pretty steady throughout the mix, so if you have a drummer that is inconsistent, use the following compression settings:
Most importantly, only use compression to solve a problem with volume inconsistencies. Don’t use it just because it is available.
When talking to an audio engineer, especially one that works in a studio, he will recommend that the drums be fully isolated with proper gating so there is no cross-talk between the microphones.
I am not going to say this is wrong altogether, but it is not the right solution for church live sound.
When the drums are fully isolated and gated, it is tough to get them to fit with the rest of the mix.
Think about it… When isolating, you are putting the drums in another room, so to speak, yet trying to make them sound like they are in the same room as the rest of the band. This takes some serious skill and finessing which only full-time audio techs can master.
If the acoustical energy coming from the drums is too much, you have options. Check out this post:
When the floor tom is mixed so that you feel it in your chest, even the slightest head vibration will be amplified through the sound system as low frequency feedback. This is a great use for gating. Simply set the gate so that the vibrations in-between hits are not heard.
Sample Gate Settings for Floor Tom
If too much hi hat is coming through the snare mic, you may want to use gating. However, a better solution is to communicate with the drummer, asking him to lighten up on the hi hat.
Gating the snare is tricky business - do so with caution. Currently, I am gating the top mic of the snare so that it is nice and punchy without ringing afterwards. The bottom snare mic is left wide open (no gate) so that soft snare rolls are still heard even when the gate on the top mic remains closed.
Sample Gate Settings for Snare Top
There is more to know when it comes to an amazing drum mix. Get all of my tips in this post: 5 Tips for an Amazing Drum Mix