Professional Sound - Indepth

Equalizing the Drums by Tim Crich

Last time we conquered microphone setup of the drums, now let’s look at equalizing those drum sounds. Equalizing drum tracks can be tricky because you don’t know how the rest of the tracks will sound until mix time. Equalization, or simply EQ, is often used in tandem with compression or limiting. Drums are often the pillars of a song, and must be sturdy enough to carry the load. Equalization and compression can bring out the natural crack and boom.

When getting drum sounds, set the monitor mix at a reasonable level. If the drums sound full and clear at a lower level, imagine how great they’ll sound when the volume is turned up. Plus low drum levels delay ear fatigue.

Don’t set the equalization and then leave it, but tweak the sounds with other instruments in the monitor mix. For example, if you are adding 5 kHz on the snare, check that you aren’t also adding 5 kHz on the guitar, the bass and the kick drum, or all will lose distinction.

Of course, the following are for reference only, and every situation is different. No matter what your settings are, they will change when the rest of the instruments are introduced into the mix.

Kick Drum Equalization
Proper Q settings can help define each drum by minimizing frequency overlap.

Starting points might be:
· Pull below 40 Hz.
· Boost around 60-100 Hz to bring out the thud of the kick, maybe even lower in certain circumstances such as some dance mixes. Set the kick drum frequencies in tandem with the settings on the bass guitar. These two instruments carry the low end of the song and each should be distinct. Add a frequency on one and pull the same frequency on the other. Note that a tight kick skin won’t have the low end of a looser skin.
· Pull around 164 Hz in the kick drum to bring clarity to the bass track. 164 Hz is a harmonic of the bass guitar’s fundamental low E note, 41 Hz.
· Add up to 200 Hz for body and fullness. Watch overlap.
· Pull from 200-600 Hz or higher to remove unwanted cloudiness and to open room for other instruments.
· Boost around 2.5-5 kHz for solid thwack.
· Boost at 5-8 kHz for crispness or a clicky sound. With faster tempo songs, the kick may need more click to be heard, while slower tempo songs leave room to allow solid lows to come through.
· Pull 8 kHz and up. These frequencies contribute little. Pulling them won’t affect the sound much and may reduce hiss.

Snare Drum Equalization
· Roll off up to 100 Hz to reduce muddiness.
· Boost somewhere between 100-300 Hz for the body of the snare drum to come through.
· Boost somewhere between or around 500 Hz-1 kHz for that nice woody crack sound.
· Boost around 1 kHz for a “tink” sound.
· Boost between 5-10 kHz for crispness.

*Tim Crich wrote the bestseller *Assistant Engineers Handbook. He has over 20 years of experience in the recording studio, and has worked on records by Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, KISS, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, Cher, Bon Jovi and many more. This article is excerpted with permission from his new book Recording Tips For Engineers, available through For more information, see

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About Andrew King
Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief at Professional Sound. He is also a co-host of Canadian Musician Radio and NWC Webinars’ series of free music and entertainment industry webinars.
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