My Top 10 Drum Tone Tips

Drum tones are one of things I get the most questions about. I haven’t cracked some magical code or think that I have the perfect drum tones or anything like that. If you ask the people that work closest with me, I am always tweaking, working and trying new things to make them sound better. However, I do know there have been some things that I have shared with people in the past that have been helpful. So here a my top 10 things I am doing to drums today, tomorrow this could all change. ūüėČ

1. Dark Cymbals

Bright trashy small cymbals are really difficult to deal with in a mix, especially if the drummer is young or just hits hard. Find something dark that sits in the mix well. This has been a key for me to help cymbals not kill you and not lead as badly as well.

2. Low Snare

Tuning a snare lower helps to get a bigger more studio pop sounding sound. I usually ask drummers to get the snare to a medium tension point and then totally loosen one lug all together. From their compress and add top end.

3. Overheads

Overheads are just that…Overheads. They aren’t cymbal mics. My mixes always start with overheads. This how you get this best stereo image of the kit and add the most air to the kit. I also don’t apply hi-pass filter very high. I normally hi-pass around 120hz. From there pull some things out of the 600hz to 2k and pull anything in the high end that may be too piercing.

4.¬†The “Junk” Range

There are usually some pretty prevalent frequencies that make drums sound “boxy”. I call these the “Junk” frequencies for drums. Now here’s the thing, this does not hold true all the time as well as should not be pulled aggressively out of the tones or else the drums will sound a bit fake. The junk frequencies usually live around 400hz-2k. Sometimes it may be less of a range than that, the question you want to ask here is, “How little can I pull while still making more drums sound polished?”.

5. Snare Mic Placement

A lot of times you’ll hear a lot of hi-hat bleed in a snare mic, this is usually pretty easy to avoid as long as your drummer will work with you. I always try to get my snare mic directly under the hi-hat shooting away from the hi-hat. This usually helps avoid this issue.

6. Bottom Snare Mic

Bottom snare microphones are a big deal to me. Always need em. This is how you get nice crispy top high end rattle on your snare drum. Simply put a mic under the snare drum about 3 inches away from the bottom of the drum shooting straight at the snares. On the console reverse the phase of the mic, hi-pass at 200hz and mix to taste!

7. Tom Mic Placement

There are 2 pieces to this: Rejection and Tone. Rejection has to do with trying to avoid as much cymbal bleed in your mics as possible. This is very similar to the snare mic placement idea above. Try to get cymbals directly behind them rather than to the side of them. The tone piece of this is all about where you point the mic on the drum. Further to the edge the less attack (stick hitting drum) you will get, the closer you get to the center, the more attack you’ll get. There is no right way to do this, it’s all about preference. I usually start with the microphone pointing directly at the center of the drum on a 45 degree angle. From there I’ll tilt further in to remove attack if needed.

8. Microphones Matter

Unfortunately there are a lot of people who get misled or just plain lied to about microphones. Good microphones will make your drums sound better, simple as that. A couple recommendations for you are below, I will preface this by saying I don’t recommend anything I haven’t used with success and I am not endorsed by any of these companies currently. But… I’m always down to chat about that with a manufacturer I believe in. ūüėČ

9. Drum Heads

There are hundreds of options when it comes to drum heads and a lot companies advertising different features. Here is a simple rule of thumb. Clear heads are usually going to have more attack to them and longer resonance. Coated heads are going to be more round, meaning less attack and the resonance will not sustain as long. Thinner ply heads will usually have a wider tone range, meaning you can get them higher or lower while still maintaining tone, downside here is they won’t last as long. I prefer thinner coated heads.

10.¬†Don’t Give Up

This is not easy. Drums in my opinion are the most difficult thing to get sounding good but also can have the most impact on a mix. So keep trying, keep listening to drums that sound good and shoot for that sound. Never settle. Always shoot to be better!



Drum Mics:

Toms: Heil PR30s, Sennheiser e604

Snare: Shure SM57, Heil PR20

Kick: Audio Technica AE2500, Audix D6

Overheads: Shure KSM27, Heil PR30s, Rode NT5





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