Drum Mixing Advice
The mixes I use for the stereo and mono mixes of my Isolated Drums are the same microphone balances as The Beatles would have used at the particular time that track was recorded, however a sixties mix isn’t always appropriate for modern records. Once you dive into the stems and multitracks, it can certainly be overwhelming looking at a whole bunch of drum microphones, particularly if you haven’t done any kind of drum mixing before. I’ve found that often even the most accomplished songwriters haven’t had much experience handling drum stems, and why would they!
For that reason I have put together this article, to give you a few starting points and ideas based on some of my go to microphone combinations, as well as some other bits of advice to help you get the exact drum sound you’re looking for.
My first piece of advice would be relax, have fun and experiment with all manor of microphone combinations, you might just surprise yourself! You’ll be glad to know that as with anything in music, there are no rules.
Remember, these are only my suggestions, not hard and fast rules, and there are a plethora of opinions out there on the subject of drum mixing. A good teacher will point you in the right direction and encourage you to learn and discover for yourself, this is what I have tried to do here.
Kick In - Lewitt 640 REX (Dynamic)
Kick Out - Lauten LA220 (Large Diaphragm Condenser)
Snare Top - SM57 (Dynamic)
Snare Bottom - Rode NT5 (Small Diaphragm Condenser)
Rack Tom - Beyer Dynamic M201 (Dynamic)
Floor Tom - Beyer Dynamic M201 (Dynamic)
Stereo Overheads - AKG C451 (Small Diaphragm Condenser)
Mono Overhead #1 - Coles 4038 (Ribbon)
Mono Overhead #2 - AKG D19 (Dynamic)
Stereo Rooms - Reslo RB-1 (Ribbon)
Mono Room - WA47jr (Large Diaphragm Condenser)
Alternative Snare Top - LEM M83E (Dynamic)
Alternative Room - Philips EL 3750 (Dynamic)
Often two kick drum microphones are used in combination, the ‘Kick In’ produces the hard attack of the drum, whilst the ‘Kick Out’ give us the weighty low frequency of the drum. These can be balanced to give you more attack/punch or a thicker/richer low end.
Again, two microphones are often used in combination on the snare. The ‘Snare Top’ gives us the stick attack from the snare, and in my studio it is compressed through outboard on the way in for extra punch. The ‘Snare Bottom’ gives us the crispy sound from the thin bottom head of the drum and snare wires, I bring this up to give a little bit of life to the snare sound.
Both toms have a close microphone on them. I don’t often have these too loud in any of my mixes, I get enough of the tom sound through the overheads, however if you have a particularly tom heavy track or like that close tom sound then get these involved!
We have three sets of overheads here and it is not my intention for these to be used all at once (although there are no rules!). The stereo AKG 451s are usually set in an X-Y technique on my drums, and give a very crisp, clear sound, great for more modern sounding drums. The two mono overhead options are there because both microphones offer very different flavours, and were both used extensively through The Beatles’ recordings. The D19 has more top end and a bit more life to my ears, and the Coles is much thicker and has a more rounded sound. I tend to favour the Coles, but I change my mind depending on the situation!
My room mics are usually set up in Blumlein technique a few feet in front of the bass drum, I love the sound of the kick through room mics! Room microphones bring a bit of life into a mix of close mic’d drums, depending on the song you might only need a touch of rooms or they might be the first set of mics you build your mix around.
I have a few microphones (that change every so often!) that I have dotted around that add unique bits of flavour. I won’t comment on these too much, use your ears and if you like the sound of them, use them! One thing I will say, is that these mics are great fun to process heavily with some kind of effect (delay, reverb, saturation, anything!) and add a little to the main drum mix.
#3 - Joe’s Vintage Modern
Snare Bottom (just a tad)
Mono Room (just a little and heavily compressed)
This is the combination I naturally gravitate towards when I’m following my ears. I love the warmth of the kick out, with just enough definition that you get on the kick from the stereo rooms. Modern mixes tend to want a bit more snare and I also love the fat warmth from the Coles. The compressed mono room gives the mix some excitement and life.
#4 - Joe’s Modern Mix
Kick Out (just a little)
Snare Bottom (just a little)
Stereo Rooms (just a little)
My room, kit, gear and playing style all have a weighting on the vintage sound that I love, and all of those little percentages add up to have a naturally vintage sound. However, that’s not to say you can’t create a modern mix with a vintage sentiment. Favour the close mics, and bring a little life in using the rooms, don’t be afraid to lean heavily on EQs to get the sound you’re after.
#1 - Early Beatles
Mono Overhead (Coles or D19)
I use this combination all the time. If the drummer is well balanced themselves, as Ringo was and many of the other great 60s drummers such as Bobby Graham and Clem Cattini, then minimal microphones are all you need.
#2 - Late Beatles
Mono Overhead (Coles or D19)
Essentially this is just a slightly padded out version of #1, with a little more definition coming in from the toms through their close mics, and some added crisp on the snare from the snare bottom mic.
Hopefully these will give you some ideas to get started with, I could rabbit on forever about the nuances of drum microphone combinations!
My final parting advice would be to start small (as in #1) and begin adding more mics into the mix as you get more confident, the more you experiment the more you’ll build confidence and find a sound that you like. Using plugins is fine and lots of the stock plugins that come with DAWs these days are fantastic. Don’t feel that you need to rush out and buy lots of expensive plugins, get used to stock plugins first then upgrade (or a better way of putting it might be look to add different flavours with new plugins) when you are ready.
I will say it for the third and final time - THERE ARE NO RULES - that’s why music is so beautiful, enjoy it.
If you have any questions at all about any aspect of this article, or anything else drums, 60s music, recording related then please give me a shout here: