How To Produce Great-Sounding Drum Tracks - EQ
This is a part 5 of the tutorial on how to process individual raw drum tracks into a finished product. Make sure to read all of the parts.
Part 1: Introduction / Approach
Part 2: Editing
Part 3: Track Time Alignment
Part 4: Gating
Part 5: EQ
Part 6: Phase Alignment
Part 7: Compression
Part 8: Ambiance (Reverb)
You can greatly manipulate characteristics of a sound with an EQ. It is one of the most precise sound-sculpting tools. When it comes to EQ'ing, your ear will be the best judge in what to do. The actions will vary upon your taste and desired results. You can use the EQ to remove any unwanted ringing or offending frequencies and to enhance a range of frequencies (eg. add hi end or bottom end). However, don't use the EQ just for the sake of using one. If you think that the recorded drum sounds good and natural the way it is, leave it like that.
A word on the low-cut (hi-pass) filter:
there is a phenomena that happens when you apply a low-cut filter to a track- it shift the phase of the track. Therefore, even though tracks may look like they are phase-aligned, because we manually sample-aligned them, once we apply a low-cut filter, they may not be phase-aligned.
So, until we phase-align the tracks, you need to listen to individual drum tracks only in solo mode while EQ'ing. Make sure that low cut filters are placed in the plugin chain before the phase-alignment plugin (that we are going to use in a minute).
There are two main frequencies concerning the snare drum: the fundamental pitch of the snare drum (between 200-250Hz) and the attack/clarity (5KHz and above). I never find a need to boost the lower frequencies of the snare drums, as it always contains more than a plentiful. We want to hear the clarity of the drum and we'll achieve that by applying a "hi-shelf" from 5KHz and above. This will raise all frequencies from that point and above. You ear and taste will be the judge. You can do this same step on both top and bottom snare microphones. Don't go overboard with EQ at this point, as the overheads will play a major roll in shaping the snare drum sound.
Tip: Getting rid of unwanted snare drum ringing.
Slightly raise mid-range freq and narrow the Q (increase the value of Q). Now increase the gain of the frequency and start sweeping slowly across the freq range until the ring gets louder. Once you notice that the ring has become louder and is very resonant, you have found the trouble frequency. Lower the gain for that freq well bellow zero until the ringing has gone. When doing such a process, listen to a loop of a single snare drum hit, so that the ear doesn't get distracted with varying musical material.
Depending on a kick drum recording you are working with, there may not be much EQ'ing needed at all. Again, all of this will depend on the type of sound you would like to achieve and the raw recording you are working with. If you use low-cut filter on kick tracks, you may want to leave the fine EQ'ing for after the phase-alignment.
Reducing the lower mid range centered around 400Hz will produce a deeper, warmer sounding kick. It will reduce boxiness and open up the space for vocals in the mix. Fundamental of the kick is usually around 70-90Hz, with low end extending all the way down to 20Hz, depending on the size of the kick. The important bass frequencies are around 50-60Hz. The slap is anywhere from 2.5KHz to 5KHz. Punch is around 200Hz.
Whenever you are increasing frequencies, use a wider range (wide Q= low Q value) and when reducing, use a more narrow Q. For surgical removal of offending frequencies you can use a notch filter (high Q).
While the hi-hat mic is capturing the crispness of the hi-hats, it is also capturing a whole lot of unwanted low-frequency mud. With hats, you want to apply a low-cut filter set all the way up around 1.5 Hz with a more gentle slope. This will remove muddiness and make the hi-hats sound more like hi-hats, as well as open up the necessary frequency range for other instruments. You may want to increase the top end, bit it may be unnecessary.
These mics are vital in presenting a drum set recording as a drum set. They are the most crucial element in the puzzle and we have to make sure that they sound as natural as possible. If you had to use only 2 mics for the entire kit, those would be the ones. It is imperative that good mics were used for recording and that those mics were positioned well. In such a case you'll have very little to do with them.
Some engineers roll off all the bottom end and low mids from the OH, but through the years of trial and error, I have come to conclusion that the overheads must carry the entire spectrum of audio frequencies. This is, of course, if you are trying to get the fullest, fattest natural drum sound. Cymbals, as well as drums, contain important low mid frequencies necessary for them to sound natural and well-balanced. Combining the low end of the overheads with the close-miked toms will produce bigger, punchier and more open results.
However, if the drums recorded were not well-tuned, cymbals were harsh and not balanced and over-head mics were not positioned properly, the job will become a salvage rather then sculpting. You want to insert a steep low-cut filter on the overheads and place it around 50- 60 HZ. This will only eliminate the rumble, but not the body of toms and snare. Keep in mind that by doing so, we are shifting the phase of OH and will have to listen to them solo-ed for now.
If you find any harshness in the cymbals, those can be softened by finding the offending range and lowering it with a narrow filter (try between 1.5KHz- 3KHz). You may want to do a hi-shelving if you desire more hi-end. You can start by positioning it around 6.5K. Be gentle with it, unless you want the recording to sound “digital” instead of “analog”. Remember that overheads are a mix of all of the elements, so when trying to sculpt a sound of one drum set element, you are also altering other elements. It is all a compromise. I've had to deal with some pretty dreadful drum recordings as an engineer and making them sound great is impossible. You can only make the best out of what you are given which results in the best version of poor result.
Q: How do you get the best-sounding tom sound?
A: By recording great drums with good heads, tuned well and using the right choice of microphones! The same goes with recording of anything.
Depending on the mics used, there may be frequencies that are accentuated due to close proximity of the mics to the toms. That will need to be remedied using an EQ. EQ each tom individually. You will generally be removing low mid frequencies around 450Hz-700Hz. Be careful not to go overboard, as those frequencies that sound harsh when listening to solo'd toms may not sound bad once combined with the OH's later on. They may give punch and presence to the toms. Only remove particularly nasty frequencies. If you want more presence, that can be achieved by adding around 2.5KHz or 5KHz and above, depending on what you are after.
The body (tone) of the toms is found at their fundamental frequencies: from 90Hz-200Hz.
This is a good time to set a low-cut filter bellow the fundamental frequencies of the toms. The real magic will happen when we later combine those individual tom tracks with the OH's. You will have to experiment to achieve the sound you are after with toms. Lastly, don't forget to pan the toms in a stereo image. You should follow the sound of the toms through the overheads and pan the toms accordingly.
Next up is phase-alignment.
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