This article is excerpted from Bobby Owsinski’s “The Drum Recording Handbook.”
Once you’ve miked your individual drums in a way you like, it’s time to listen to the kit as a whole.
First, stand about five to ten feet (2–4 m) before the kit and listen acoustically while the drummer plays.
Listen to the balance of the kit. Next, go back in front of your speakers and listen to the drummer play.
Does it have the same balance as when you were standing before the kit? Try to balance the microphones mix so that you achieve the same blend that you were hearing acoustically.
Step 1: Drum Kit Balance Technique 1
The best way to approach getting a drum sound is to think of the drum kit as one instrument, not seven or eight separate instruments.
Listen for a unified overall sound with no one element standing out from the rest. Hearing “lead hi-hat” or “lead tom-tom” can be very distracting to your audience and take all the pleasure out of listening to your recording.
The drum mix is all about balance—balance between all the drum mics and then balance of the drum mix itself against the rest of the band.
There are several schools of thought on where to start your mix from. I usually start from the kick first, although some engineers start from the overheads and some start from the toms.
Wherever you start, the idea is the exactly the same—to blend all the different drum mics into a cohesive single drum sound.
If the kit was recorded with the overheads miking the cymbals more than miking the entire kit, I’ll bring the fader of the kick drum up first so that the meter reads about -2 on the peaks.
At this point, you might want to add a little compression (1dB or so) to even out the peaks. If you want a more aggressive sound you can add more later after the entire kit is balanced.
Try to refrain from adding any EQ at this time. This is another thing that’s best left until you have the whole kit balanced.
Then, bring up the snare until the level is about the same as the kick. Again, you can add a little compression to even things out a bit, but this is a matter of personal taste.
You can bring up the hat and toms to a level that matches what you heard in the room, being careful to make sure that the level is the same on each drum fi ll. You might have to automate some of the fills to even things out.
Next, bring the overheads up until you just start to hear them. You want to make sure that the cymbals are not overpowering the rest of the kit, and the only way to know that is to have all the mics in the mix since they all have a little cymbal in them.
Lastly, bring up the room mics to the point where you can just start to hear them. This will fill in the sound a lot and glue together the kit balance.
It’s popular in rock music to heavily compress the room mics, but you should be careful about doing this without considering the sound of the room. This only works well when the room really sounds great to begin with.
Heavy compression also changes the balance a lot as the cymbals come to the forefront and can become too loud.
Now it’s time to add the EQ. You should only add some if you want a little more definition. You might want to attenuate around the 4–500 Hz range if anything sounds a little boxy. But don’t feel inhibited by our suggestion here. If you believe a lot of EQ works well for you, by all means, use it!