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How To Mix Your Drums

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A drummer that can mix themselves will be a better sounding drummer. Gabe Wilson walks you through how much being a controlled drummer affects how you sound in the mix and in your band.

What's In This Session?
  • Introduction (0:00)

  • Know the frequencies of your drum set (0:36)

  • How to mix your cymbals (1:54)

  • How to mix the whole kit (2:23)

  • Dynamics (3:40)

The Full Transcript
"Hey everyone I want to talk to you about mixing yourself as a drummer. A lot of times we leave it up to the sound guys to mix us. We think, ‘Hey, every drum has a microphone, and you should be able to mix me just fine.’ But in reality, a drummer that can mix themselves will be a way better sounding drummer; front-of-house, no matter how many microphones are on the kit. Also, for you drummers that don't have a microphone on every drum, because maybe you play in a room there's only a hundred people or less, and there's not even a kick drum mic. It's great to know how hard to hit the snare, and how hard to hit the kick, and how hard to hit the cymbals and the toms, in a way that mixes yourself. So as a drummer, it's important to understand the frequencies of your drum set. Obviously, your kick drum, that's low end - that has all the low end force. Low end isn't harsh; it's actually somewhat comforting. Really, if you think about low end is warm as a sound. So low end is warm, and a kick drum is a punchy version of that warm tone. A kick drum should be one of the things you hit the hardest, in respect to the rest of the kit. Your snare drum: this snare is a deeper snare; it's not a thin snare. So I would say, the deeper your snare is, the harder you can hit it and still have it feel warm out front. Because in a lower, or I should say a deeper snare, there's more low-end. So, as you're hitting the kick, being able to mix those hits and understanding that: even if you're at medium dynamic, you're gonna hit your kick a little more solid than you will your snare, because you need more margin of dynamics in the high end to get your snare. When the song goes loud, let's say when you go to like the big bridge or whatever, you would want a little bit more ‘oomph’ out of your snare. So you would hit it a little quieter in respect to your kick, and always elevate those elements together. When it comes to your cymbals: cymbals, they are so loud. Like, seriously, cymbals are the loudest part of the kit; and you can even hear this in records. Sometimes hi-hats are the loudest thing in a mix. They’re louder than a vocal, because those hi-hats get into everything. So the way to play in control, first off, always have darker cymbals - because then that gives you a little bit more margin for dynamics. And then, I would say, you want to hit, if you're going percentages, you want to go about 50% of the strength of your hand on your hi-hat versus where your snares at. So for instance, my snare is here, I'm gonna hit it with that, with my right hand now. If I hit the same dynamic with my right hand on my hi-hat, that’s loud. That's so gross! No way I would ever do that, unless it was called for it, and an accent in the music. So when I'm hitting - I'm playing like that - I'm barely hitting my hi-hats, compared to my snare. Having that kind of control allows you to mix the groove really, really nicely. If I didn't mix it, this is what it would sound like. First off, it's hard to even pocket like that; and I'm being a little bit obtuse just for comedy. But in reality, if you can pocket your performance, and also mix yourself, the groove sounds even. Notice when I'm hitting my snare, and kick, are actually a little bit more present than my hi-hat is; but my hi-hats there. It's not like you can't hear it. It’s not like, it's super quiet, right. So, just understanding how to mix yourself is great. And then, as you're bringing the dynamics of the song up, that gives you some margin. You never want to play 100% of your full capacity throughout the whole song, even if it's a big rock song. Because at the end of the day, you need margin for dynamics. Even in a loud, rock song, the verses will probably be a little bit quieter than the choruses. So just understanding how to mix yourself, not only within your kit, but then in respect to the players that are around you. Listening how hard is my worship leader hitting his piano or guitar, if they're leading with an instrument. How loud is my worship leader singing. How loud is my lead guitar player going. If you're soaring above everybody, that's a bad sign. You don't want to do that. So you want to listen to where the lead singer is, and play about 10% underneath his dynamic, so that the vocal can be heard. You want to listen to the people around you in the worship team, and just understand that: not only are you mixing your kit and the individual elements of your kit together, you’re also mixing your kit and those elements in with the rest of the band. And if you do that, you are one step closer to being a great drummer."