Why Your Drums Sound Weak In The Mix

2011 Aug 01, 2011

Have you ever been mixing drum tracks in a session thinking they are sounding so huge and raucous, only to find once you bring in the other instruments in the mix that they disappear and sound weak as a baby? Yeah, I thought so. I used to get so frustrated with this phenomenon. Thinking for a moment that I finally had a killer drum sound only to have my dreams dashed when I un soloed them. The solution, my friends, might be simpler than you think.



Via Breezy Baldwin

What You Don’t Hear Will Kill You

There is a reason why EQ plugins (and outboard boxes) exist. Not every instrument needs every bit of frequency information to be as prominent as the next. In a very specific way, all of  your guitars, keyboards, and even vocals are pumping out sound at certain frequencies in the low mid range that are dominating your mix, even though you don’t hear it.
Your guitar may sound perfectly fine by itself, and it likely is. But that’s not the goal of a mix (to have a great guitar sound by itself). The chief aim of a mixer is to get all the tracks to sound huge and exciting (and clear) when played together. So how is this relavant to your weak drum sound? This unheard, extra low mid build up in your tracks is actually what is covering up your drums and sucking them dry.

Wield Your Trusty High Pass Filter

That’s right. If your drums sound dominant, punchy, and full of impact by themselves, but then with the rest of the band in the mix they seem to die out, it is usually because of too much low and low mid information existing in the remaining instruments. Simply fire open any EQ plugin you like, engage the high pass filter curve, ramp it up until the track (guitar, piano, vocal, whatever) gets noticeably thin, then back it off a touch. Do this for all your tracks (except maybe the bass guitar, but that’s up to your ears), but the drums.

What you will have basically done is freed up a TON of headroom and space in the low end of your mix that the fatness of the drums can be heard beautifully and all the while the rest of your tracks (albeit thinner) sound just the same in the mix. Brilliant! Your once weakened drum tracks can now sound like the way you had them when soloed. With your confidence restored it’s time to get back to mixing the rest of the track!

More Than Just Better Drums

And lest you think the High Pass Filter is only helpful for clearing up your drum tracks, your tracks will benefit in many more ways with a HPF on every track. All that low and low mid information buildup is what makes most amateur mixes sound muddy. And with everyone looking for a magic plugin fix for their mixes, honestly the fastest (and cheapest) way to clean up your mix is to use your HPF like a mad man.

So how about you? Do you use High Pass Filters in your mixes?

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