Drum EQ: 7 Simple Equalizer Tricks for Powerful Percussion

Mixing & Mastering
a drum with eq faders

Drum EQ is one of the most important tasks in mixing percussion.

If you’re looking for smooth yet powerful drums that punch but leave plenty of room for the rest of the mix, EQ is essential.

But learning how to EQ drums can be challenging. After all, it’s easy to do more harm than good with aggressive equalization.

Even so, you can grasp the basics of drum EQ with a few general pointers.

Here’s my basic guide to common EQ moves from drums in 7 tips.

1. Scoop out the bass drum

One of the most common recommendations for drum EQ concerns the kick.

The extreme low end energy captured by a bass drum microphone often radiates up to the low-mids.

This can cause muddiness in a mix since many other instruments occupy this frequency range

Many mix engineers use a wide EQ cut in this range to scoop out the unneeded frequencies.

Try a broad Q cut anywhere from 300 Hz to 450 Hz to see if this technique works for you.

🧠 Hot tip

Some kick drum mics have this EQ profile built into their design. You may find you don’t need additional cuts when capturing the kick with this type of mic.

2. Add air to room mics

Room microphones add a sense of space and depth to drum recordings.

Room microphones add a sense of space and depth to drum recordings.

To really shine, these tracks need a sense of airyness that extends to the upper frequencies.

If your room mics sound dull or too bassy overall, you might consider a gentle lift to emphasize the high end.

Drum patterns to kickstart your creativity.

Drum patterns to kickstart your creativity.

Try a smooth shelving boost beginning at 8-12 kHz to hear this drum EQ technique.

3. Make the snare less boxy

Dynamic mics like the SM57 are among the top choices for capturing snare drum in the studio.

At a close distance, this mic type can sometimes give the snare a concentrated quality in the mids.

It’s a strange mixing term to use, but many engineers refer to this quality as “boxy” sound.

Try reducing some energy in the area between 700 Hz and 1.5 kHz for a broader, more balanced sound.

🧠 Hot tip

Many engineers like to emphasize the “crack” of the snare in the upper midrange. Try a narrow boost between 5 and 7 kHz to bring out this quality in the mix.

4. Thin out the overheads

Overhead microphones are essential to building a clear sonic picture of the drum kit.

But they can sometimes capture an unflattering perspective of the low end of the kick, toms and snare.

If blending in your overhead mics brings up too much bassy, far-away sound in the drums, you might consider shelving or high-passing them to compensate.

Start anywhere from 500 to 250 Hz with a shelf or gentle high-pass filter and shape it until your close mics are providing the majority of the low end power in the sound.

🧠 Hot tip

Try a tilt-shelf EQ for this application if you have one. Tilt EQ creates a pair of shelving filters that boost and cut in opposite directions around a central corner frequency. Increasing the highs can create the illusion of decreasing the lows, and doing both at the same time can have a powerful effect. You might find you need less EQ than you think!

5. Add snap to toms

Toms can be difficult to hear in a dense musical texture.

If they’re tuned low and struck softly, they can be a pain to mix!

One EQ move to help them stand out is to emphasize the upper mids.

This helps the stick impact stand out so that the listener’s ears can fill in the rest.

Try a narrow boost between 2.5 kHz and 4.5 kHz and sweep to find the area that livens up the attack.

6. Remove bleed from snare mics

When recording snare it’s common to use two microphones to capture both sides of the drum.

Mixing the two together can give you a nice blend of body, sustain and crack that works in a mix.

Mixing a snare top and bottom mic together can give you a nice blend of body, sustain and crack that works in a mix.

But positioning a mic underneath the snare drum to capture the bottom head puts it in close proximity to the beater side of the kick drum.

You may end up with excess bleed from the kick that doesn’t contribute positively to the overall sound.

One solution is to high-pass the snare bottom mic to avoid the lows from the kick causing issues.

This is usually OK since most of the snare’s weight comes from the top head mic.

Try a steep 24 dB/octave high pass filter at frequencies up to about 400 Hz to eliminate it.

Your guide to classic drum fills

Your guide to classic drum fills

7. Boost the kick’s fundamental

Finally, some drum and mic combinations won’t have quite enough low end force for your mix.

After all, you need solid low frequency energy to anchor the rest of the mix to the beat.

To emphasize the main thrust of the lows in the kick try a narrow boost between 50 and 70 Hz.

🧠 Hot tip

Vintage style EQ’s based on the iconic Pultec EQP-1A have a unique property that works well to boost the fundamental. By increasing the boost and attenuate controls at the same time, this EQ type creates a unique curve that adds fatness without mud.

Drum EQ frequency sculpting

Drum EQ is a big part of creating a balanced mix.

In the end there no rules and the suggestions I’ve given above are just basic guidelines to get you started.

Even so, if you try these tips you’ll have some basic techniques to experiment with.

Now that you know the basics of drum EQ, get back to your DAW and keep mixing your masterpiece.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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