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)

Bonus: Download the 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)

Toms

  • 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)

Overheads

  • 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: 2.5
  • Attack/Hold/Release: 60ms/30ms/300ms
  • 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, I recommend using a drum shield and putting sound absorption panels behind the drums. This should provide enough control while keeping the drums from sounding isolated.

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: 60dB
  • 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

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

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About the Author

Kade Young

Kade Young brought Collaborate Worship into existence with a dream of helping worship leaders around the world fulfill their calling with excellence. He has been leading worship since 2005, is a graduate of Rhema Bible Training College, and currently the worship leader at NoLimits Church in Owasso, Oklahoma.