How to Mix Drums: 7 Steps to a Powerful Drum Sound (The 6th one is our personal favourite!)

Updated: May 5, 2021

One of the most enjoyable aspects of music making is mixing drums.

Drums drive a song's rhythmic motion, and having them just right is a wonderful feeling.

However, when you're just getting started, mixing a good drum sound can be difficult.

Even so, if you know how to implement a few main strategies, you will get results.

In this post, I'll show you how to make a strong and punchy drum mix in just seven simple steps.

Let's get started!

1. Make buses to help you arrange your tracks.

Setting up your tracks correctly is the first step in successfully mixing drums.

This necessitates the construction of buses to arrange the tracks and process them in the appropriate locations.

You'll need a main stereo bus for the entire drum mix to begin.

Setting up your tracks correctly is the first step in successfully mixing drums.

You'll be able to apply processing to the entire drum sound and change its overall level if the output of your individual mics is routed to this aux channel.

Here’s a diagram of drum tracks properly bussed out for mixing.

2. Use expansion to add oomph.

Most engineers position microphones in the room, over the drummer's head, and up close on each individual element of the drum kit while recording drums.

Near mics are used to boost individual sounds such as the kick and snare to make them function better in the mix.

Drum close mics, however, can pick up some bleed from the other sounds in the pack, no matter how well they're put.

You won't be able to force the near mics up in the mix without adding distracting background spill from the cymbals if the bleed is too loud.

You may use extension to minimise it.

An expander works in the opposite direction of a compressor, lowering the signal's level as it falls below the threshold rather than increasing it when it rises above it.

In most situations, you don't need to fully eliminate background noise; simply reduce it to the point that it doesn't interfere with your mix.

Try expansion on your close mics if you need cleaner, punchier sound from your kick, snare or toms.

3. Add weight by compressing in parallel.

Compression is essential for mixing drums, but it's easy to overdo it.

When the drums are soloed, heavy compression sounds amazing, but it can make them vanish in a complete mix.

So, how can you get the sonic advantages when maintaining the punch? The safest choice is to compress in parallel.

For your compression tone, you'll need a compressor plugin with a mix knob or a separate send and aux return channel.

You can use an aggressive setting that adds weight and strength to the sound when blending in the natural transients with the compressor set up in parallel.

4. Use reverb to add atmosphere and depth.

Drums are acoustic instruments that are typically heard in reverberant environments. That means they'll need some background noise to make it sound more realistic and three-dimensional.

To achieve these qualities, many engineers use microphones mounted at a distance. However, if you don't have those, reverb plugins can suffice.

To submit the drum tracks to a reverb plugin, you'll need to build a new bus. You must be careful about the mix of sources you give to make it compelling.

Just sending the near mics to the reverb was popular in the past, but this can create an odd ambience texture.

5. In order to stand out in the mix, use saturation.

So far, the drums sound nice and loud, with plenty of power and a compelling atmosphere.

Even then, it can be difficult to move them forward in the mix. Harmonic saturation is one way to get the drums to the forefront.

This is the subtle distortion that gives the sound more complexity and presence in the mix by adding complex harmonics.

The majority of plugins that produce this form of distortion use analogue hardware. The sound of vintage electronic components like tubes, transformers, and magnetic tape is legendary.

Engineers used these processors to add saturation to their mixes.

This is a great example of how a tape machine plugin can boost the midrange and add a pleasing amount of saturation to a tone.

6. Add texture by blending in samples.

Engineers now have access to a plethora of new technologies to improve their mixes thanks to the advent of digital audio workstations (DAWs).

To alter the sound of the drum mics, it's popular in many genres to substitute individual hits with samples.

If you've followed this guide and your drums still lack effect, you may want to try this method to help you out.

You'll need a sample replacement plugin to enable samples with your drum mics.

When the volume of the incoming audio reaches a certain threshold, these plugins detect the transient and play a sample back.

Replacing each and every hit in your drum mics is a little drastic, but mixing samples in with your actual drums is a perfect way to strengthen them.

7. Fit the EQ of your drums to the rest of the mix.

You'll notice that I've saved EQ for last in this tutorial.

However, if you can get your drum mix to sound nice using the techniques in the previous measures, you can not need to use much EQ.

Besides, every mix is unique, so it's difficult to offer advice on the frequencies you should focus on in yours.

Despite this, there are a few areas where EQ is commonly used when mixing drums:

  1. To clean up the lowest frequencies (40 Hz), use a high-pass filter on the main bus.

  2. To make space for the bass, carve out the woofy 250-350 Hz region of the kick drum.

  3. To bring out the "crack," boost the snare between 5 and 8 kHz.

  4. To pull out the fundamental, raise the kick about 55-65 Hz.Gently boost the overheads between 10-12 kHz to bring out the “air”


The sounds of powerful drums

Everyone needs a punchy, bold drum sound that propels the track forward.

You'll have a good head start on getting your drums correct if you use the strategies in this post.

Return to your DAW and continue working on your mix now that you have some ideas for mixing drums.

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