Mixing Drums Effectively
Imagine the feel of that strong drum beat resonating through your body as you listen to a powerful rock song. Think of the energy in the air as the sounds come together just right at the song’s climax. Now, picture yourself as the drummer holding the beat, that powerful sound, in your very hands.
This same sound can be manipulated and configured in such a way that it affects the quality of the sound being produced. As a drummer, can the mix of your drums and how it sounds in your ears change your playing for better or worse? The answer to that question is a definite ‘yes.’
The ability to control volume provides a better listening experience for the audience, including those with sensitive hearing (a widespread issue).
There is something to be said about the confidence of a drummer when his or her mix is right on target. If you sound like a rock star in your own ears, you’re more likely to play like one. If a mix is thin and one-dimensional, only your instincts and the feel of the drums will be your guide. Personally, I tend to play less confidently when a mix doesn’t come out right (even when it is done correctly) or it just seems off. Today, we are going to talk about things you can do as a drummer to improve your ear mix. Let’s begin by discussing the differences between stereo versus mono.
Stereo vs. Mono
The term mono means that you are receiving the exact same sound in both ears. This makes the job of carving a good mix much more difficult, because every drum and instrument being used are also sharing a single space. When doing this, you need to be intentional in carving the EQ in a way that allows the different instruments and vocals to stand out. This means everyone will need to sacrifice some EQ to improve sound quality and balance. For example, your drums may not get as much high-end definition as you would like in order to give more to the vocals. As a result, the finished product is not what it could be.
When it comes to stereo mixes on the other hand, the pallet is opened up to not only pan the drums, keys, stereo guitars, etc., but also the use of stereo verbs. Stereo can give your mix separation by placing things left, right, center, or somewhere in between. This allows for further separation of the mix, and gives people their own lane to drive in (so to speak) without having to compromise as much on EQ.
The ability to have a larger drum sound will contribute to your level of confidence and also aids your fellow musicians in locking onto you as well. A must-have on my own mix is a stereo verb on the snare. The way a stereo verb fattens the snare is more than any EQ-ing or mono verb could ever do.
Another aspect to consider is how one can use EQ to shape the drums. Some people are what we call minimalists. This philosophy is where they try to EQ as little as possible. I am not from that school of thought. Some of the best drum sounds you hear on records have been EQed drastically. In some situations, having the ability to EQ may or may not be present. Some churches give the band the house EQ and some get no EQ. In the house they are mixing for the room.
All rooms have their own unique challenges, whereas the ears have no challenges to overcome as far as dealing with what a poorly treated room does to a mix. There are some rooms that a cut or boost of EQ is more drastic before the difference can be heard in the house. If you have a console with enough channels to copy all of your inputs to another set of channels, they can be EQed separately.
My favorite way to do it is to have a separate monitor console dedicated to just those on stage. This gives you ultimate flexibility. With the M.E. from Allen and Heath, Aviom A360, or the Roland M-48 live, you have the ability to EQ and add verbs as well. It is nice to have these mixing engines if you can’t do any of the other things suggested.
All and all, though there are many things to consider as a drummer, when you have a strong mix and a solid sound in your ears, you will experience a drastic change in the way you feel and play. Happy experimenting.