Cleaning Up Your Tracks – Tips for Natural Sounding Drums

Are you tired of having to deal with a lot of bleed when you’re mixing drums that were recorded live? You get the kick sound perfect – you add the snare – and your kick sound goes to heck.

What happened? Well, there’s a few things that probably happened. One – the engineer didn’t mic the drums well. Two – the bleed from the kick in the snare mic is affecting the sound of the kick. Three – you haven’t done anything to fix this problem.

So you try to gate out your snare. You set the gate really high, take out all of the kick drum, and you go on mixing your track. Then, you add the overheads. Oh boy – your kick sound got changed again. What to do? Have no fear – just roll off everything below 500 Hz and your kick sounds great again!

Now, you take a quick break – make some tea – and come back to admire your amazing kick sound you got when mixing your drums.

And you are so shocked by the sound, you drop your mug. It shatters all over the floor. Your drums sounded so good! But now…what…

Your mix sounds so unnatural. Your drums are crazy sounding – and not in a good way. What went wrong – and more importantly, how do you go about getting a natural drum sound?


Think about how you hear drums. You don’t hear a kick drum by itself (most of the time, at least), and you don’t hear the snare by itself. You hear them all together. So why do we like to solo out each track and make them sound good individually when we are ultimately trying to make them sound good together?

Here are steps you should consider when trying to get a great, natural drum sound:

1. Start with all of the faders up and get your levels set first. Once you’ve got the balance of your tracks set up, then move on to individual tracks.

2. Never go from one soloed track to another. This is key. It’s fine (and usually important) to solo out your tracks when applying EQ, compression, etc. But don’t go from a soloed kick to a soloed snare. Process your kick drum, then listen to what it sounds like all together. Adjust, then move on.

3. Always remember – drums are a lot of sounds that we hear together. Get them to sound good all together, and they’ll sound natural in your mix.

Try this out on your next mix and you’ll be surprised at how natural your drums come together – and it usually saves a lot of time, energy, and mugs. 🙂

3 thoughts on “Cleaning Up Your Tracks – Tips for Natural Sounding Drums”

  1. Nathan, this is good advice. For me, my “drum sound journey” has been long and twisted.

    Back in the day, in the 1980’s, I learned to record on an 8-track Scully which meant the drums were recorded either stereo or mono, and that’s it. No mas. (That old Scully now lives in the Stax museum in Memphis.) Our idea of affecting the drum sound during the mix was a little compression and using our nice Orban 8-band parametric to clena things up a little. Our real plan was to use good drummers, properly tuned drums and good mic-ing strategy. And we hit the tape HARD.

    Since then, I have my nice set of drums all tuned nicely, and they live in a good room with ten mics on them. Those are “the right” ten mics going thru high-end pre-amps. For awhile I made myself crazy fiddling with all those drum tracks during a mix. Ten tracks, eleven sometimes.

    Now, most of the time, I find that I usually just use my two kick mics tracks (one close to the head, one 8″ from the back head), the two overheads, and a little bit of one of the two snare mics, and that’s pretty much it. If the toms got struck, I usually erase everything on those tom tracks, except the actual hits.

    This is my technique now on most big-blues rock tracks, most western swing tracks, most jazz tracks. Every now and then, you gotta do something really different for some screwy song, but most of the time, this simpler approach is better.

  2. Hi Adan,
    Nice advice, although I think the main problem in this scenario is the phase. If you added a paragraph on using any plugin with a phase reverse and how to get the whole kit pumping in the same direction, the drums will sound fatter and more natural and the article would be even better.

    Have a good one,


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *