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Mixing Live Drums: EQ, Compression & Gating

Kade Young
Kade Young
Chief Audio Guru

Drum EQ Cheat Sheet

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.

Simple EQ Techniques for 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

Kick Drum

  • Low Cut: 30Hz (only if subs are prone to overloading)
  • Peaking Filter: 200-400Hz / Q: 1.5 / -12dB (to remove boxiness)
  • High Shelf: 5-7kHz / +3dB (to hear more attack)

Snare Top

  • Low Cut: 50Hz
  • Peaking Filter: 100-150Hz / Q: 3 / +6dB (to feel the snare in your chest)
  • Peaking Filter: 400-600Hz / Q: 1.5 / -9dB (to remove boxiness)
  • Peaking Filter: 5-8kHz / Q: 3 / +3dB (to hear more of the attack)

Drum EQ Cheat Sheet

Snare Bottom

  • Low Cut: 50Hz
  • Peaking Filter: 100-150Hz / Q: 3 / +6dB (same frequency as snare top)
  • Peaking Filter: 400-600Hz / Q 1.5 / -12dB (same frequency as snare top)


  • Low Cut: 50Hz
  • Peaking Filter: 80-150Hz / Q: 3 / +3dB (only if you need more ‘thunder’)
  • Peaking Filter: 400-600Hz / Q 1.5 / -9dB (to remove boxiness - frequency will be different for each tom)
  • Peaking Filter: 5-8kHz / Q: 3 / +3dB (to hear more of the attack)


  • Low Cut: 80Hz
  • Peaking Filter: 400-600Hz / Q 1.5 / -9dB (to get rid of nastiness)
  • Peaking Filter: 4-6kHz / Q 1.5 / -9dB (only if the acoustic energy from cymbals is overwhelming - this removes the harshness but leaves the sparkle)
  • High Shelf: 8-12kHz / +3dB (for more sparkle/sizzle)

Only use compression with inexperienced drummers.

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:

  • Ratio: 3
  • Attack/Hold/Release: 5ms/0ms/200ms
  • Set threshold to where average gain reduction is around 3-6dB

Most importantly, only use compression to solve a problem with volume inconsistencies. Don’t use it just because it is available.

If gating isn’t needed, don’t use it.

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:

How to Make Drums Quieter (without a drum shield)

So, when should you use gating?

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

  • Attack/Hold/Release: 5ms/1ms/~650ms
  • Range: 20dB
  • Set threshold so that light hits still come through, but any low frequency feedback is gated

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

  • Attack/Hold/Release: 0ms/.05ms/150ms
  • Range: 40dB
  • Set threshold so that light hits still come through, but any ringing afterwards is gated

Drum Gating Cheat Sheet

Wait...there's more.

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

Drum EQ Cheat Sheet


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8 comments on “Mixing Live Drums: EQ, Compression & Gating”

  1. Hi Kade,
    We use electronic drums, a Roland TD11k to be exact. We have Soundcraft EFx 12 for mixer and yorkville Ps12 speakers and ps12 p for sub. The low end is a bit muddy. Any thoughts?

    1. Hey Ted - thanks for the comment. There are many things that can make the low end muddy, so it'd be hard for me to tell you exactly what is going on here. But, here are some things for you to try.

      1. Use a Frequency Analyzer to see what is going on your room. It's quite possible that a small range of low frequencies is sticking out above the rest, causing them to sound muddy. Learn more here.
      2. Make sure the crossover is set correctly on your mains and subs.
      3. Use a low cut filter on all vocals to help clean up the low end from things that don't need to be there. Learn more here.

      Hope that helps!

  2. I appreciate what you guys put out, they're great articles to send to volunteers and students. However, the "Only use compression for inexperienced drummers" line is painting with a really broad brush... You can't achieve the "modern worship" sound without well-used, sensical compression on the kit. I feel like the "compression is dangerous, only use it if you have to" mentality keeps a lot of folks from learning and exploring what compression is actually doing to the source material. Compression is a tone control and a transient shaper as much as a "volume inconsistencies" tool. Teaching the ARRT and ¼ wave ideas helps guys understand WHAT they are hearing and WHY, and how they might want to use compression in their mixes.

    1. Great thoughts, Zach. I agree, we should all dig in and learn how to use compression. Yet, most who read these articles are volunteer sound techs with limited time available, so I try to stick to the things that will make the greatest impact. Compression is a great tool, but if you have a controlled drummer, it is 'icing on the cake'.

  3. Dude! Thank you so much for all of your articles on EQ and sound. I’m a worship pastor at a small church, not a sound tech but we don’t have a trained sound tech and it turns out I know the most about sound (which isn’t much) in our church. I’ve always had my brother who is an amazing sound engineer with me but since he’s awesome, he’s advanced and is now the sound and media pastor at a large church in Austin, Tx. So I’ve had to step it up and learn more which is a great thing as a worship pastor to do since we are over every aspect of worship. But I’m trying to grow in this area and you have been such a huge blessing! Thank you for all you do.

  4. Thank you for this guide Kade!
    Your posts have been such helpful guides towards learning eq, compressor, and gate.

    Some questions,

    A lot of the harsh cymbals are coming in from the kick mic, so I opted to gate it and succeeded to achieve punchy sound.
    Is there anything that I should be cautious about?

    And also when I gated the floor tom, the drummer said that low frequency was not heard. I am assuming this is the case because the gate closed the sound after the initial hit.
    Do you have any suggestions?
    Just longer decay?

    Again, thank you so much for your help!

    1. Hey Ben! With the kick, I'm surprised that you are having too much cymbal bleed. Maybe it just needs to be further in the port hole of the kick drum? Either way, if you are getting the sound you want by gating it, then I wouldn't worry about a thing.

      When it comes to the floor tom, increase the decay until it sounds natural. You want to hear that low in fall off after the hit, it's what makes the floor tom amazing. 🙂

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