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Learn Drums | Everyday Snare and Kick Tweaks

September 1, 2011
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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 the head.

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 and definition.

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.

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