EQing Drums – If it Doesn’t Fit, You Must EQ It
If your mix includes drums, it’s a good bet you’ll spend a considerable portion of your mixdown time EQing them. Because drums cover such a wide tonal range, there’s plenty of other stuff in the mix that can compete with those frequencies. Kick and snare in particular tend to be prominent parts of the song’s sonic fabric, and when it comes to helping them play nicely with other instruments and vocals, EQ is your best friend.
Of course, assuming you’re working with a live drum kit (as opposed to isolated drum samples), you’re not working in a vacuum. Since every drum track also contains leakage from other mic, boosting a frequency on one track can also bring up the off-axis sounds of adjacent mics, potentially creating more problems than it solves.
For a dull sounding kick drum, adding a slight boost anywhere around 80 Hz to 120 Hz will produce more boom and a more rounded “thud.” (Typically, the kick tends to compete with the bass guitar for that frequency range, and it’s a good idea to decide which of the two should occupy the lower and upper edges of that zone. See the section on bass later in this article for more on this.)
Adding a tiny bit of 500 Hz can bring out the “click” of the beater hitting the drum head, and can be helpful in preventing the kick from disappearing once your track hits the listener’s earbuds in the inevitable low-fi MP3 version.
Snares come in such a wide range of sizes and materials, it’s a bit tough to generalize about frequencies. But the sound of the snare wires rattling lives in the 5 kHz to 10 kHz range, and a bit of gain there is great for brightening up a dull snare. If you’re plagued with a boxy sounding snare, try rolling off a bit of 300 through 800 Hz.
With toms, a common mistake is to try boosting low end to make them stand out. Adding a couple of dB at 100 Hz will increase their power, but at the expense of muddying the mix. A better strategy for perking up those tom fills is to leave the bottom end alone and add a tiny bit of 5 kHz to bring out the attack. And as with the snare, play around with rolling off that same 300 through 800 Hz range to eliminate boxiness.
Almost every tom has a resonant ring, and some can be problematic. Of course, the basics apply: tune the toms first and foremost to reduce or eliminate ringing. Whatever problem resonance remains can be addressed using a surgical approach with a multiband EQ. Select a narrow Q and boost the gain as you sweep the midrange band. When you locate the offending frequency, apply a few dB worth of cut to make it go away.
Overhead mics can be a mixed blessing. Their position and relative distance from the kit makes them great for adding air and ambience, but loud cymbals can overpower the mix. Try adding a bit of 10 kHz to brighten the track, and then backing off the overall level to get the air without too much metal.