Finding Room For Hi Hats In Your Drum Mix

Hi hats get shoved back in the mix pretty frequently when engineers can’t get the right sound from them. Often, the kick and snare take center stage and hi hats become a bit of an afterthought. Maybe you’re in a situation where you’ve close miced hi hats and aren’t happy with the results. Maybe you’re struggling to isolate them from your snare or get them to sit right in your overheads.

No matter if you’re programming your drums, recording hi hats independently, or using their presence in the overheads/snare mics, there are things you can do to make them sound clear and consistent in your drum mix.

All Aboard The Bus

Since we’re going to focus on things you can do to make your hi hats stand out regardless of the tracking session, all of the tips we’ll cover today are focus on one track: your drum bus.

If you’re not already familiar, a drum bus is a stereo aux track you should be creating in your sessions where all of your drums can be routed and treated as a single, cohesive instrument.

When approaching the drums this way, you should already have a decent drum sound mixed before you start adding any processing to the drum bus. Any tweaks made to individual drum tracks once processing is added to the bus will change the way those tools interact with the incoming audio. By adding your drum bus chain toward the end of your mix session, you can reduce the risk of this happening.

Compression for Expansion

Many people seem to forget that compression is a balancing act. They’ll reach for a compressor to pull down the peaks, but they neglect to think about how compression can bring levels of softer sounds up. The latter is the perfect reason to start with compression if your hi hats are buried in the mix.

Compression tends to bring some room to life when pushed hard enough, especially bus compressors like BG-Drums. By selecting a “boomier” option with compression just below 50%, hi hats begin to come out of sessions. Even when compressing in parallel, you’ll often hear a cleaner, polished high-end from your cymbals and overheads that were masked before. It’s like pulling a blanket off of the drum kit.

Using the output gain in the plugin, you can level-match your post-compression volume to the input to make sure you can make a true comparison of your before & after sound.

Adding A Limiter To Your Drum Bus

Limiters like Finality Advanced are a natural progression for many individual tracks if compression isn’t enough, but have you ever considered what it could do on your drum bus?

For a lot of old-school engineers, this just wouldn’t be feasible for most sessions. Analog limiters in traditional studios tended to be single-channel or would need to be chained together to use on a stereo source. Considering all of the places these great tools come into use (vocals, snares, guitars, bass, etc.) the drum bus tended to fall pretty low on the priority list, instead just getting a stereo compressor treatment.

In the box, we don’t have those restrictions.  We can load up an instance of a limiter after our bus compressor and it will immediately go to work on the stereo signal. If it doesn’t fit, we just swap it out for something else, no patching required.

Your limiter should act on your drum bus to further glue everything together. By compressing them limiting, you set yourself up with a very consistent and clear drum sound for any song.

Check out how Nick’s able to use this awesome one-two punch in this In The Studio clip:

More Consistent Drum Mixes

Engineers and mixers shouldn’t just strive for a consistent drum tone within a session – they should be developing their own, instantly recognizable drum sound with every project they work on. Think of all the great mixers and the work of theirs that you admire; don’t they have that consistency?

JST VIP members have access to both the tools and resources needed to develop their own signature approach to drums. Between the members-only plugins, drum-focused eBooks, and mixing cheat sheets, anyone can get the sound they’re after just by following our process.

Join JST VIP here.