Quick Tip: Drumming Meters


I’m still working on at least one more post in the Simulating Analog series, but here’s a quick tip in the meantime.

I get asked about drums a lot. A big part of a good kit sound is to have everything sounding like it’s part of one instrument. That usually means each drum is equally weighted and balanced in the mix. While I have been known to favor the snare at times, for the most part I don’t want individual drums jumping out relative to the rest of the kit.

So here’s a quick tip for you. Meters can actually be your friend for this.

Something I recently started doing is to use the gain reduction meter on the compressor I’m using for parallel compression to check my kit balance. I suppose you could also just check the output meters on the drum group the same way, but for some reason I just tend to prefer using the compressor since I’m usually already working on it a bit.

Assuming the system is right and the drum sounds are good, when the kit is balanced each drum will probably compress about the same amount in the parallel compressor. If a single drum’s level is fluctuating a lot in here, that might also be an indicator that it needs some dynamic control.

The biggest two drums for me to focus on with this are the kick and snare. If I’m going to check them I use a section of the song where there aren’t any fills. The problem with fills is drummers often hit them a little harder, and this is also where less experienced drummers can be all over the map which the compression will often help.

I find that once I have kick and snare balanced, it’s relatively easy to get the toms right because I can easily push them in relation to the kick and snare so that drum fills feel balanced.

Of course, you can’t go by meters alone because we are dealing with sound and not lights or video. In my own workflow, I still always balance the drums by ear first, and when I’m working on my parallel compression I might tidy up the balance if something is way out of whack compared to the rest of the kit. However, I’ll always adjust individual drums to taste within the mix as necessary to make sure everything can be heard in the balance I believe sounds best. As I mentioned, I have favored the snare before a time or two…or three….

David Stagl

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