Mixing Home Studio Drums In 3 Steps

| Audio Example, Mixing, Plugins, Tips, Video

Are you trying mix drums recorded in a home studio that just don’t hit hard enough or sound big enough?

Don’t fear, there’s a lot you can do – even with your stock plugins.

Today I’m going to show you three simple steps to bring flat boring drums to life in any DAW. Let’s do it!

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28 Responses to “Mixing Home Studio Drums In 3 Steps”

  1. Jasper Boeke

    Two OH tricks:

    1. Add a bit of saturation on the OH, it’s a way of compressing them in a very pleseant, musical way

    2. What really helps the ‘chorus-feeling’: lift the OH track 2dB (with automation). The whole song gets a subtle lift

    Reply
  2. Graham A

    Hi Graham, great stuff, but while everyone always talks about how to make things bigger and more prominent, I often want to make them flatter, less prominent, less dynamic, yet still retain depth, detail and clarity. Sure I can just stick a compressor on them, but its a totally different game calming things down. So, any tips in that please? Oh, and by the way, I’m most often working with loops or samples, so I have no control over what’s already recorded. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. Tony Hall

    Hi Graham, using all 3 NOW! Not really got into phase before, immediate benefit.

    Reply
  4. Roland Peter Zimmermann

    Hi Graham, thank you again. A very good lesson. In general, I have the same approach. The biggest problem – and it’s the same in your example – is the kick drum. The process you have shown forces a very dominant kick drum with a long sustain and thus a hollow sound. Like in a cellar. To avoid this, I use either a gate or an Eq. Regards from Germany. Roland

    Reply
  5. Mark Jacson

    Graham,
    Yes, We use all three of these techniques. We also use limited gate in the past but with the new drum room, we eliminated a bunch of the distorting ring from the larger room. Phase is one of the biggest cures we found but also using fewer mics and allowing the room to do its job was a huge help. If a drum room is not available, hang blankets or other absorption to get a good tight sound. We also try to match the sound of the drum to the music so sometimes we might need distortion or ring to bring harmonies and energy to the sound. This video is great for adding richness and body to a kit. BTW, great song. The group has a good groove and a solid sound.

    Reply
  6. Ken Miller (Jump Frog Music Studio)

    Hi Graham,

    Great shop on drum work.
    I want to get better at phase checking. I do sometimes when they are obviously thin sounding but your video helped keep me in check for first phase.

    I also like to use a saturation plug in on the drum buss such as Eddie Kramer tape or soft tube saturation. Beefs up my drums hugely.

    I also like to side-chain gates to mimic transient design type plugs only because I don’t own any.

    Thank you for constant training.

    Reply
  7. Ryan Douglas Rose

    Hey Graham! Thanks for making these videos. I only have one microphone, so I did one take of the drums which I used as the “base.” Then I made copies with all but one drum piece cut out via eq. This way, I had individual drum tracks to work with while maintaining the integrity of the whole.

    It’s not a perfect system, but it was quick and easy, and many people have asked if I used loops or went to a pro studio to do the drums.

    You can see the final result here:
    https://m.soundcloud.com/winterrye/temple

    Reply
  8. Dave Kerwood

    Oh, my gosh, I chased a lucklaster kick drum tone for HOURS on a track I did before Christmas. I tweaked with EQ and compression on the close mic; sounded good. I’d solo the OH and tweak there; sounded good. Even together, it sounded pretty OK. In the mix, however, it just wouldn’t cut through.

    Finally, after I had already posted it to a few home recording forums for advice, I realized that I hadn’t checked the phase. Flip the switch on the OH mic and voila! The kick was suddenly exactly what I was looking for. On top of that, the snare went from OK to great (I just assumed that’s how my snare sounded in the room).

    Reply
  9. Marc Greene

    In addition to what you’ve outlined in this video, I like to sidechain the very aggressively compressed subgroup with a seperate pre-fade mix. This allows me to control how that compressor reacts to different drum elements. I might want the snare to really hit that compressor hard, but not have the kick make the cymbals pump. I feel like it just adds a level of control that I find useful.

    Also, you need to be careful of using different plugins on the parallel subgroups, if your DAW doesn’t have or use delay compensation. That will mess up the phasing big time.

    Reply
  10. John Warrener

    Hi Graham
    Excellent video (as usual!) – have been using EQ and compression but only using phase correction on snare mics so will definitely be looking at phase issues on other drum tracks from now on.
    I’ve been using both a sub-kick mic (converted small guitar practice amp) and 50/60 Hz tone to beef up lack-lustre kick drum track.
    Thanks for all the great tutorials!

    Reply
  11. Ricky Long

    Thanks Graham, As usual your tips are spot on and very useful… I knew phase could be an issue but hadn’t really gone into my recordings to address this..Great idea! I’ve been setting up my kit so that the overheads actually point away from each other to try to minimize phasing and in many cases I simply mute the sections in the overhead tracks which contain drum bleed. I use gates on my other mics so that I only have to use limiting and EQ for the actual drums and most of the Pro-tools stock plug-ins seem to do a pretty good job. I’ve also used set-ups where the overhead mic’s are placed under the cymbals and pointing up at the bell or one mic above on the left and one below on the right…

    Reply
  12. Jasper Boeke

    GREAT trick to get some extra sub out of the kick during recording:

    -Find the place in your room with a nice ‘boom’ (even the best studios have bass-build up issues in the deep low, 40-80 Hz)
    -Stick a single mic in that place and cut all frequencies above 100 Hz in the mix

    It produces a much more natural en pleasant BOOM than all the other tricks (samples, synths, sub-bass plug-ins etc)

    Reply
  13. Brennan Stuart

    Would moving the OH track to fix the phase issues with the floor tom not also mess up the phase with the snare mic and the OH? Or was the snare similarly out of phase already?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  14. Jay Atherton

    Totally forgot phase issues on my last mix and it showed. I agree with the extra saturation on drums but I try not to over do it. I also have been experimenting with the SSL faux drum room trick I ran across on a you tube video. Thanks for all your help.

    Reply
  15. Steve viggiano

    Graham,

    I am a drummer who Can get pretty obsessive about phase and timing of the individual waveforms for the 9 mics on my kit.

    I am not a fan of 12 foot wide drums ala Bonham. As such, to conquer phase issues, I use an xy configuration for my overheads. Phase in the overheads, a non issue. I also, tend to make sure phase is set in the tracking process to yield a positive going waveform as the first part of the wave cycle when any drum is hit.

    All mics are time and phase aligned to the overheads in the editing process. The two most critical are the top and bottom on the snare and the HH mic… depending on the amount of bleed this can be a real challenge to get right. Not so much the alignment but the sound with all the phase stuff going on…. I try to minimize the bleed as much as possible. I track in a smaller room.

    I tend to HPF on snare starting at around 80hz, BD@35hz, and OH can go as high as 150hz depending on what I am shooting for….

    All tracks go to a drum bus which an instance of slate grey, maybe vitiman, and slate tape….or both…

    This is my starting point where things can go uphill or downhill….depending on the day.

    You nailed it, to even have a chance you have to deal with the phase and timing issues…

    Good video.

    Reply
  16. Kevin Le Vern

    Great great tips round here graham, thank you. I love the ” p drum tip”, what are adding to that sub group exactly ? is that bass drum \ bass tom and snare ? Sounds great anyway in addition to the regular group, that’s definitely a good tip. On the equing to do just do it according to the feeling or you target specific stuff ?
    Abou the phase , would you recommend ALWAYS checking it ?

    thank you for the video and the tips very useful !

    Reply
  17. Jay Woolcott

    Print a selection of the drum tracks to a stereo audio track with a nice sounding room reverb to simulate a room track. Compress quite a bit with an 1176 (plugin) and make it pump quite a lot, then blend it to taste to get a bit of a Bonham sound.

    Reply
  18. Julian Gold

    Some of my weaponry:

    1. A parallel distortion send for kick and snare can add quite a bit of power to an otherwise weedy recording. Mixed in at a low level, you get a bit of harmonic niceness.

    2. A tiny bit of phaser on cymbals adds to their width and diminishes harshness.

    3. I use 2 (serial) compressor inserts on the drum buss. The first is for peaks, and will trim off some of the more excessive spikes. The second is for RMS and squashes the overall volume for evenness.

    4. Parallel compressor buss. Used for drums, bass, and chuggy guitars. Use a big, wide EQ cut at 1kHz. Before activating the compressor, mix the 3 using the send levels till they sound right. Then activate the compressor and raise the send channel level till you get the required fattening.

    Everything should be subtle. If it’s at notthe take is bad and you might need to dump it. If that’s not an option, use a drum replacement tool (I use Cubase’s “hit point -> MIDI” tool) on kick and/or snare to generate a new track which can either be used in its own right, or mixed in to augment the existing sound.

    Reply
  19. Ken Kaires

    Great video . Will concentrate on phase more when using more than one mike. Thanks for the tricks of more than one way to fix. I use two compressors at the end, one gentle and one all buttons in and blend. Keep up the good work

    Reply
  20. Jack-E Wilson

    Great advice.
    I always consider phase before touching any comp or EQ.
    The worst drum kit I was ever given to mix was a double-whammy (cheap kit recorded in a bad room). Triple whammy: drums poorly tuned.
    After phase adjustments, I used a transient shaper to deaden the tracks, did some pitch shift to tune elements of the kit, then used select cut EQ to remove the warty room sounds.
    Some light bus compression followed by a touch of a nice “studio drum room” convolution reverb and the result was pretty darn good.
    A great learning experience, but if this were today, I’d spend time re-recording (properly) as opposed to polishing the turd…….
    Jack-E

    Reply
  21. Alex

    Hi Graham.
    I notice that all the replies pertain to a drum kit being recorded in the home studio. However, what if the home studio is sooo small that a drum kit wouldn’t fit into it and one is therefore obliged to use drum software, in my case, Ezdrummer, could similar steps be used to ‘fatten’ the sound? Although the programme is supposed to have been eq’d etc already, I find that the drum track needs – something! Hope there is an answer somewhere.
    Keep up the great work of teaching.

    Reply
  22. iz

    Sometimes nothing more than slightly nudging your hats kicks and/or snares up or back can make all the difference in the world. Layered hats, 1 or both, slightly panned , can can make drums sound fuller without even touching them.

    Reply
  23. jessada sookdhramorn

    Hello Graham, My name is O (my full name is Jessada Sookdhramorn) from Thailand. i use 2 technics, EQ and PARALLEL COMPRESSION. i’d never use PHASE FLIP and going to try in a song i’m working now. I have some of my own tricks to share with you and friends. 1) i duplicate snare track then use hi pass filter at 1k or around then insert distortion to this track, i blend this track with original snare track.

    Reply

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