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How To Mix Music (Part 4):

Mixing Drums & Mixing Bass


heroic.academy

H
ow To Mix Music is our essential guide to becoming a
music mixing professional. With this series I help explain
and teach music mixing to you – musicians, producers, and
aspiring mixing engineers. I share our years of experience and insight
on mixing and mastering. Covering the necessary preparations, tools,
underlying physics and insider tips and tricks to achieve the perfect
mix and master.
The first episode covers setting yourself up to become a great
engineer. We discussed monitoring, DAWs and plugins, composition,
and stem preparing.

The second episode covers organizing your mixer, setting up your


signal flow, and understanding the essential plugins (EQ, compressor,
reverb, and delay).

The third episode covers how to improve your stereo image and
make your mix sound wider. Also, we covered how to use the
essential plugins to mix kicks and snares, the backbone of a song.

In this part I reveal our best techniques to mixing drums and mixing
bass. I explain step by step how we place these different elements in
the mixing space, go over our compressor settings, and give
equalising tips to achieve a clean and crisp mix.

If you are looking for quick fixes for your mixing problems in regard
to drums and bass, feel free to grab my personal drums and bass
cheat sheet. It outlines easy solutions to the 11 most common issues:
Cheatsheet: Quickly improve your Bass and Drums.

Mixing Drums & Mixing Bass

Mixing Claps

Placement: Claps are often added as either a replacement of snares,


an addition to snares, or as miscellaneous effects.

With this in mind, and the fact that claps most often don’t have low
frequencies, you can place claps at different locations in the mixing
space. You have the opportunity to be creative here.

EQ (cut): The base frequencies of claps are often somewhere in


between 350Hz and 500Hz. Add a HPF to cut away all unnecessary
frequencies right before that base frequency.

Claps often need their high frequencies to cut through the mix.
Therefore, we apply a LPF at around 15kHz to 20kHz to specify its
frequency range.
Compression: With claps, same as with kicks, snares and other
drums, we set the attack time of the compressor to occur right after
the attack time of the clap to enhance the punch of the sound. This is
often somewhere between 6 and 20 milliseconds.

The release time can be short, somewhere between 20 and 100


milliseconds often sounds great.

We compress claps often by 2dB to 6dB, with a ratio around 4:1.

EQ (boost): We rarely boost frequencies of claps. If we do, it is most


often to increase the higher frequencies a tiny bit to enhance its
brightness.

Reverb: Depending on what sound you are going for, claps often
sound great with either drum reverb or the reverb of the overall
space.

Mixing Toms

Placement: Even though toms have low frequencies, if equalized


properly, they can sound very interesting on the sides of the mixing
space. By doing this properly, you also create more space for the kick
and the bass in the center of the mixing space.

EQ (cut): It is very important to cut away the low frequency rumble


of toms. By doing this, you vastly improve your mix by making it less
muddy.

The base frequencies of toms are often somewhere around 100Hz and
200Hz. You want to set a HPF right before these frequencies.

The highest frequencies of toms often differ, this could be between


500Hz and 15kHz, set a LPF according to the sound you want to
achieve.

Cheatsheet: Quickly improve your Bass and Drums.


Compression: Same as with the other drums, we set the attack of
the compressor right after the attack of the tom. This is often
somewhere between 10 milliseconds and 25 milliseconds.

The release time of the compressor on a tom can be experimented


with as the tails of toms often differ. Though, make sure that the
compressor is back to 0dB before the next tom occurs.

We compress toms most often by 2dB to 6dB with a ratio between 3:1
and 5:1.

EQ (boost): To make toms sound rounder and give them more body,
try boosting their ringtones with a notch filter. Read how to do this
effectively in the previous episode.

Reverb: Toms often sound great without any reverb. Though, if they
are rich in mid-high frequencies, they might also sound great with a
little drum reverb.

Mixing Percussion

Placement: Placement can be experimented with. If the


percussion is a vital part of the core beat, it might sound best in the
center of the mixing space. However, placement of miscellaneous
percussion on the sides can create an interesting stereo image.

EQ (cut): The base frequencies of percussion are often somewhere


between 300Hz and 500Hz. Add a HPF right before these frequencies.

On percussion we apply LPFs often around 15kHz, this way we still


keep some high frequencies, but leave enough space for hi hats and
crashes to come through in the mix.

Compression: Same as with the other drums, we set the attack time
of the compressor right after the attack time of the percussion. This is
often somewhere between 8 milliseconds and 20 milliseconds.

The release time of the compressor on percussion can be short. It


often sounds great to set this somewhere between 25 milliseconds
and 90 milliseconds.
We most often compress percussion by 2dB to 6dB with a ratio
around 4:1.

EQ (boost): With certain percussion sounds you could enhance the


ringtones with notch filters, which might give more body and
sometimes more definition.

Reverb: Percussion often sounds great with drum reverb, and in


some occasions with an emptier or more minimalistic mix, with
reverb of the overall space.

Cheatsheet: Quickly improve your Bass and Drums.

Mixing Hi-hats

Placement: Hi-hats sound great in the center as well as on the sides


of the mixing space. If you have multiple hi-hats in a song, it can
widen your mix by placing them differently on the sides.

EQ (cut): The base frequencies of hi-hats are often somewhere in


between 500Hz and 2kHz. Apply a HPF right before these frequencies
to keep a clean mix.

Hi-hats are important in defining the high frequencies of a song.


Therefore, we add a LPF at the peak of their frequency range at
around 20kHz.

Compression: The attack time of hi-hats is often somewhere in


between 5 milliseconds and 15 milliseconds. For a defined sound, set
the attack time of the compressor right after that moment.

The length of the sound of a hi-hat is short, so can be the release time
of the compressor. For a right sound, you can set this often
somewhere between 20 milliseconds and 60 milliseconds.

We compress hi-hats often by 2dB to 6dB, with a ratio between 3:1 to


6:1.
EQ (boost): We rarely boost the frequencies of hi-hats as this often
results in a messy sound. If necessary, you can boost the high-end of
hi-hats slightly around 10kHz to increase its definition.

Reverb: The reverb of hi-hats depends completely on the style of the


song. For a clean and tight sound, do not apply any reverb on the hi-
hats. For a more natural sound, add a little drum reverb on the hi-
hats. For a spacious sound, add reverb of the overall space.

Mixing Crashes

Placement: Crashes often consists of solely high frequencies and


therefore sound great at the sides of the mix.

EQ (cut): Crashes often do not need any frequencies below 500Hz or


1kHz. Apply a HPF in this area and find the sweet spot.

Crashes, same as hi-hats, are important in defining the high


frequencies of a mix. Crashes need to be able to utilize their highest
frequencies to have impact on climaxing moments in a song.
Therefore, we apply a LPF at around 20kHz, the peak of its frequency
range.

Compression: You can set the attack time of the compressor on


crashes depending on what kind of sound you want. If you want the
attack of the crash to come through, you should set the attack of the
compressor right after (often around 5 milliseconds to 20
milliseconds).

If you do not want to give an extra accentuation to the attack of the


crash, you can set the attack time of the compressor before the attack
of the crash.

As crashes often have a long tail, it often sounds great to set a long
release time for the compressor (around 100 to 300 milliseconds).

We compress crashes often by 2dB to 4dB with a ratio between 3:1 till
5:1.
EQ (boost): We rarely boost frequencies of crashes. Though, if
necessary, you can slightly boost frequencies above 10kHz to enhance
the brightness of a crash.

Reverb: Depending on the sound you are going for, crashes often
sound good with and without reverb.

For a clinical sound, do not use reverb. For a spacious sound, you can
use the reverb of the overall space.

Mixing Bass

Placement: A bass is rich in low frequencies and it is therefore


important to place it in the center of the mixing space.

EQ (cut): To get a defined sound for a bass, and get rid of the mud,
it works great to set a HPF right before the base tone. This is often
somewhere between 20Hz and 80Hz.

Some basses contain only low frequencies, others are also rich in mid-
range frequencies. If the bass has only low frequencies, set a LPF
right after the highest tone.

If the bass has also mid and/or mid-high frequencies, you want to
define its highest frequencies according to other synths or
instruments that might need those mid or mid/high frequencies to
come through in the mix, or vice versa.

We often find that it sounds best to set a LPF on a bass with mid and
mid/high frequencies somewhere around 500Hz to 1kHz. However,
this depends solely on the bass and the song.

Compression: As basses are rich in low frequencies, we often


compress basses more than other elements to increase the
possibilities on a louder master. We do this with a compression of
2dB to 8dB with a ratio around 3:1 to 6:1.

Cheatsheet: Quickly improve your Bass and Drums.


To maintain the impact of the bass we set the attack of the
compressor often around 30 milliseconds.

The tails of basses often differ, therefore you have to play around
with the release time of the compressor and listen what sounds best.

EQ (boost): We rarely boost frequencies of basses, as that often


gives a muddy result. Sometimes however, if the mix allows, we boost
frequencies between 200Hz and 500Hz to improve the sound of the
bass on laptop speakers.

Reverb: We do not use reverb on basses to create a sense of space,


as a reverb with low frequencies sounds muddy. Only in some
occasions you might want to use reverb on a bass as a creative effect.

Pro Tip: In the low frequencies of a mix there is almost always a


battle between the kick and the bass. To keep the mix clean it can
help to determine that only one of the two elements is allowed to
have frequencies below 60Hz. It depends on your judgement of the
song which element that is.

Also you can figure out on which frequencies the key tone of each
element is, and cut a little away from those frequencies of the other
element.

That concludes this episode of Our


Essential Guide To
Becoming A Music Mixing Professional series. You can
comment and ask any questions below.

Did you grab my free cheat sheet how to fix the 11 most common
mixing issues for drums and bass? If you haven’t yet, grab it here:
Cheatsheet: Quickly improve your Bass and Drums.

Next episode we continue with how to mix: synths, instruments,


vocals, sound effects, reverbs, and delays.

Thanks again for reading the articles and sharing the message.

I am Tim van Doorne, it’s an honour to serve you. Stay motivated


to improve your sound, every single day!