It doesn’t have to be overly complicated to get good drums in your mix. There are plenty of small tweaks and automation that can happen to give you perfect drums, but what about a quick and easy drum mix that’s aggressive enough to blow most home studio & hobbyist mixes out of the water? Well that should only take about 5 minutes…
It Starts With Tracking
This may be cheating my 5 minute timer a bit, but starting with good source audio saves hours of cleaning and tweaking before a mix. Take the time to find proper mic placement when recording live drums. If you’re programming your drums, find samples that work with the rest of the song when you start.
By spending the extra time up front, you’ll not only improve your mixing workflow, but you’ll grow as an engineer as well. You’re learning what works and what doesn’t in real-time, meaning the next time you go to track drums you’ll know what sounds best (and what mistakes you can avoid).
Presets Are Your Friends
If you’re on a time crunch, presets can do the bulk of the heavy lifting for you on a quick mix. That’s not to say you should load up all of your plugins with presets and call it a day – you’ll still need to dial them in.
The preset approach is more to get the less mission-critical parameters in line. For example, an EQ on your snare drum might not need a lot of tweaking, but common mixing suggests that you’re probably going to roll-off the low end and boost the low-mids for a bit of body.
That translates to at least 6 adjustments right of the bat (select low-cut filter, choose frequency and slope, then adjust the gain, frequency & bandwidth of the low-mid). Instead, a Snare preset will usually load something close for you, where you might just need to tweak the frequencies and move on.
Pro Tip: Make Your Own Presets
Most DAWs make it super simple for you to capture all of the settings within a plugin and store them as a preset. If you find yourself going back to the same combination of setting within a plugin mix after mix, consider saving them as your own personal preset. It’s likely these types of presets will be way more useful to you in the long run than any stock presets will!
Use Group Processing As Much As Possible
Any time you can process things in a batch you’ll be saving time. If you took the advice from step one, you’ve probably got a pretty good balance between your top and bottom snare mic. Setting up a Snare bus and routing both tracks to it for processing is efficient and can save you the hassle of processing both tracks independently.
The same can be said for your overall drum bus. Time-based effects and multi-band processors both work wonders on bussed instruments, and their use makes sense since you usually want the drums to sound like they’re coming from the same space.
Things like multi-band transient designers or compressors let you treat frequency ranges instead of individual pieces of the drum kit. When you’re short on time, limiting your mix elements from a 12-piece or larger kit to 4 frequency bands is going to save you more time than any presets can.
Use Peak Clipping To Enhance Your Drums
Using a clipper on your drum tracks is one of the fastest ways to bring out an aggressive, biting tone. In our 5-minute scenario, peak clipping is the best way to add compression and saturation without getting caught up tweaking ratios and thresholds track-by-track.
JST Clip gives us a simplified but powerful set of controls perfect for the quick mix. We can dial in the amount of saturation we want, match the output level and determine how much of the dry signal passes through the plugin. These 3 controls lead to massive, dynamic drums with their transients intact.
Think you can do better?
If you can pull off an aggressive drum mix in 5 minutes or less, we want to hear it. Send us a link to your 5-Minute Mix video or share your mix and the approach you took on the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum for a chance to have your technique featured in a future how-to.