EQ prescriptions for
any song style
BY GINO ROBAIR
THE SOUND of the kick and snare helps set the
mood of a song and often becomes a signature
element. When it comes time to mix, it is
handy to know which frequencies to focus on
when you want to enhance a drum track for a
specific musical style or when you’re looking
for certain kinds of effects.
Oh, Snap! The snare is the most complex
drum in the kit, primarily because of the
wires stretched against the bottom head. Its
tone is a blend of high and low frequencies
that make it perfect for marking out beats 2
and 4. As the all-important backbeat, a snare
track needs to have weight, though not at the
expense of upper-harmonic content. From
the solid smack of a Motown track to the
high-frequency ring found in ska, there are a
number of EQ settings that will lend the right
attitude to a snare part.
In terms of the drum’s EQ, your magic
numbers are 1, 3, 5, and 10kHz—easy to
remember. At the other end of the dial,
200Hz is your target. Because of the nature
of the drum, you won’t have to boost these
frequencies much to get good results; a dB or
two is usually all you need.
Pop When you literally want that snare to
pop, start with a boost around 1kHz. It’s a
frequency that gives the drum character and
focuses its sound in a mix. Wooden snare
drums sound particularly good with a boost of
a decibel or two in this range.
Crack Solid backbeat? No problem. Push 3kHz
up a bit to propel your track like a gunshot.
Snap Snap it up by adding a bit of 5kHz to
bring out the harmonics of the stick hitting
Sizzle When you want something in the
air-band, a touch of 10kHz will do it. But be
subtle; you will add harshness if you push
this band too far.
Punch To add meatiness to the snare,
try a small boost at 200Hz. This range is
particularly useful when you want a solid
backbeat that doesn’t call attention to itself.
If your original track is too boxy, cutting this
frequency by a decibel or two will help.
Four on the Floor The bass drum is also a
somewhat complex instrument when it comes
to recording, thanks to its blend of low-mids
and the high-frequency tick of the beater
striking the head. There are many bass drum
mics available, and each model emphasizes
different parts of the frequency spectrum to
suit different musical styles. Nonetheless, there
are certain characteristics you can enhance or
diminish with judicious amounts of equalization.
Boom If you’re looking to push some air,
808-style, 80Hz is the ticket. But be careful that
the results don’t cause the kick drum to compete
with the bass or other instruments. Often, you’ll
find that rolling off a bit of this frequency will
help the definition in the rest of your mix.
Wallop When you want to feel the kick drum
in your chest, a touch of 220Hz will do the trick.
Thud To add some punch, dial in a bit of
1kHz. If you’ve close-miked the drum from
the inside, you’ll find a lot of richness in this
frequency band, and a few decibels is all
you’ll usually need.
Attack A boost at 5kHz will enhance the
impact of the bass drum beater on the
head—perfect when you want to add clarity
Click Put a bit of sting in that smack with a
slight boost in the 12kHz register. Just a touch
is all you need when the drummer is playing
16th-note parts on the kick.
Further To add intensity while recording a
kick drum, boost the signal at 100Hz and add
a touch of compression set to –10dB with a 2:1
ratio. Follow this with a gate that shuts down
the tone a few milliseconds after each hit. The
result will be a well-articulated punch that
makes everyone in the room smile.
Get it Down Ultimately, EQ should be
the last resort when it comes to tone
sculpting. Instrument choice and tuning are
important, of course, but savvy engineers
start by selecting a mic that yields a drum
sound appropriate to the song and musical
style. Think of the microphone as your
primary filter in the recording chain: How
does it change the frequency spectrum of
the kick compared to how the drum sounds
in the room?
First and foremost, however, is a killer
take. Before you get into processing, you
should have a groove that provides a solid
foundation for the song. No amount of EQ
or compression is going to save a weak
or sloppy drum part. So, don’t waste time
tweaking the mic placement at the expense
of a performance. If the drummer is ready to
go, place the mics and start recording as soon
as possible. Don’t sap his or her energy with
endless soundchecks so you can home in on
the perfect sound. Performance trumps mic
placement, period. Be ready to capture that
perfect take when it happens.