Drum Mixing

Feb 19, 2024

Drums are the backbeat of most modern and popular music...

providing the rhythmic foundation that drives the entire song, yet a beautifully crafted drum mix is becoming something of a lost art.

All too often these days, modern mixers opt for the easy way out by slapping their favorite samples across the drum inputs rather than taking the time to properly capture a great-sounding acoustic drum kit. 

Replacing great-sounding acoustic drums with bland and generic samples can quickly turn a mix flat. If you really want your mix to stand out and have an impact, learn how to get great acoustic drum sounds. Acoustic drums will set your mix apart and instantly add depth and life.

Capturing the essence of a dynamic drum performance and achieving a great drum mix is an art form in itself.

In this blog, I'll dive into some of the intricacies of recording and mixing drums, exploring techniques and tips that will elevate your drum mixes to new heights.


Part 1- Before We Begin 

Preparation is Key

As I’ve said many times, start with great sounds. Before hitting the record button, ensure that the drum kit is well-tuned, and all hardware is in optimal condition. Loose hardware that is rattling on the kit can ruin the perfect take. Experiment with different drumhead tensions and microphone placements to find the sweet spot for your desired sound.  

Drum tuning makes a big difference in the sound of the drums. Hopefully, the drummer will be skilled at tuning their drums but if not, a good drum tech can certainly handle tuning. It’s a skill worth learning if you work with acoustic drums.


Choosing the Right Microphones

Selecting the appropriate microphones is crucial for capturing the nuances of each drum element. Consider using dynamic mics for close-miking the snare and toms, while condenser mics can bring out the details of the cymbals and overheads.

Dynamic microphones can generally better withstand loud sound sources than condenser mics and they are more rugged and suited for the physical abuse of live performances. They make good choices for drums.

Condenser microphones are better at capturing high frequencies with a smoother and more natural sounding response. Therefore, they are a good option for cymbals and some percussion. 


Mic Placement

Experiment with various mic placements to find the perfect balance between capturing the individual drums and achieving an overall cohesive sound.

If you are recording drums, you have a lot more freedom with microphone placement and often mic choices. Take some time to try different distances and combinations to capture the best sound. Room mics and various configurations for overheads like the XY or Glyn Johns method can yield nice results.

In a live mixing situation, mic placement is a bit trickier. It is ideal to use close micing on drums and you must be conscious of where you put the microphones so they are not in the way. You don’t want the drummer accidentally whacking tom mics when they’re powering through a fill.

When mixing a very complicated kit in large venues, you might opt for individual microphones for each cymbal depending on the drummer and type of music. In small venues or where channels are few, you might be limited to microphones on the kick drum, snare, and overhead. In this situation, place the overhead mic to pick up the toms and cymbals. 


Room Acoustics

Take the room acoustics into account when recording drums. A live room can add a natural ambiance to the sound, while a dead room may require additional reverb in post-production. 

Room acoustics also factor in when mixing live performances. In a very live room, you may need less of the snare drum in the mix. In a very dead room, a little reverb on the drums can add some life to the mix. 


Isolation and Bleed

In a live show with loud stage volume in a small space, you may have a lot of instruments bleeding into all of the microphones on stage. Baffles can help with isolation. For example, to help keep an extremely loud guitar out of the drum mics or the drums and cymbals from bleeding into the vocals.  

When it is not possible to isolate the drums and you find a lot of extraneous noise in the individual inputs, you can use some subtle gating to remove it. 


Part 2- Mixing Drums

Organize and Edit

Begin by organizing your drum tracks in your digital audio workstation (DAW) or on the soundboard if you are mixing a live show.

It’s helpful to create a drum group that includes all the drums and cymbals. The benefit of this is that once you find the correct balance between all of the drum inputs, you can adjust the overall level of the drums with one fader. You can also easily apply processing across the group.

Edit out any unwanted noise, this can be done in your DAW or by applying noise gates to individual inputs. In the DAW, you can also adjust timing issues, and ensure that each drum hit is well-defined.


Adjust the Stereo Image

Use the pan to create a stereo image of the drum kit. In recordings, you can play with where the drums sit in the mix by panning elements at different degrees from center.  

In a live situation when mixing in a large venue, be cautious of wide or hard panning to one side or the other because it can throw off the mix for audience members standing on the outer sides.


Balance the Levels

Establish a balance between the different drum elements. Pay attention to the kick, snare, and hi-hat relationship, as they form the backbone of the rhythm section. Balance the tom levels so that they are clear and present but not jumping out from the drum mix. Some light compression can help to smooth inconsistent levels of individual tracks. 



Apply EQ to shape the individual drum sounds. Clean up any unwanted low frequencies from drums and cymbals where it’s not needed. Apply EQ to enhance the attack of the snare, and add some punch to your kick drum, etc. Use a high-pass filter on overheads to eliminate unnecessary low-end rumble.  

In a live situation, you may need more aggressive EQ to create impact. A little boost in the sub frequencies and a boost in the presence on a kick drum can turn it from something dull to a drum that hits you right in the chest. 



Some light compression on individual drum inputs can help control very dynamic signal levels. Once you have good sounds and the balance is set, a bit of compression across the drum group can help to create a more cohesive mix. Creative compression can be used to add impact.


Reverb and Ambience

Experiment with reverb and ambiance to create a sense of space. Add subtle room reverb to simulate a live environment or use plate reverb for a classic sound. Be cautious not to overdo it; subtlety is key. Typically the reverb time should be adjusted so that the reverb dies off before the next snare hit.


Creative Effects

Once your drum mix sounds great, don’t be afraid to get creative with effects. Experiment with various effects to add character and uniqueness to your drum mix.  A well-placed reverb on the hi-hat in a ballad can be a nice touch.  



Use automation to add movement and excitement to your drum mix. Automate the reverb sends during fills, create dynamic panning effects, and experiment with filter automation for a more dynamic sound. You can also execute movements and changes manually when mixing live drums to create a more interesting show.


In Conclusion

Recording and mixing drums is both a science and an art. Embrace experimentation and work to continuously refine your techniques. By combining technical know-how with a creative mindset, you can unlock the full potential of your drum sounds and create impactful, engaging mixes that elevate your music to new heights.





By: Michelle Sabolchick