How to EQ Drums for Live Sound

How to EQ Drums for Live Sound

We hope that with this article you will have a better understanding in how to EQ drums for live sound.

In a nutshell, you have to always start by keeping your kit in perfect condition and tuning it before the session. Choosing the right mic and doing a soundcheck before you start EQing is always a good idea because when done in the right way, it’ll save you a lot of time. When applying an equalizer, you have to bear in mind that no drum should sound too harsh and muddy as well, try to keep the golden middle.

Equalizing

EQ is a powerful tool that lets us increase the volume of specific frequencies or take it away. It doesn’t really matter which equalizer you would choose, as long as it does its job with or without adding a peculiar feel and flavor.

Before you begin EQing your drums, though, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. You can skip down to read about the preparation process, but for new we’ll just get straight to it, starting from overheads and moving from top to bottom.

Overheads

Generally speaking, there are only two ways how overheads can be equalized, such as using them as a key point on which you’ll build the whole drum kit’s sound or using them only as cymbals.

First, let’s overview the so-called Master EQ aimed at creating the best possible sounding overall EQ. In order to do that, you need to place a low-cut filter somewhere around 70-100 Hz, which will result in a clean sound. If that doesn’t help and the overheads still sound muddy, you can cut a bit more somewhere around 200-300 Hz, but try not to overdo it. If the overheads sound too harsh, the best solution would be cleaning up somewhere around 1-2 kHz. And finally, consider adding presence by putting a high-shelf boost at 5-10 kHz.

If you want precisely the sound of cymbals and nothing more, then consider using a high-pass filter to cut somewhere around 500 kHz. It might sound a bit extreme, but it will do the job alright.

Toms

Tom drums are said to be the most straightforward piece of drum kit because if they are properly recorded, then you don’t have to spend much time EQing them in order to achieve the perfect sound. But if you didn’t have the chance to record tom drums properly, any amount of EQ won’t save you.

That being said, when applying an equalizer, you should start with applying a low-cut filter somewhere around 80 Hz to cut off any rumbling and add more headroom. After that, we need to add more body to the sound by applying a slight boost of around 150 Hz. As a final touch to emphasize and make tom drums sound more present, add more 2 kHz.

Hi-hats

It’s not a secret that hi-hats are present in every song you have ever heard and, therefore, it’s crucial enough to know how to EQ them properly. As with all other drums and other instruments, the first thing you need to do is to cut anything that makes your sound muddy, in most cases, you will find the muddiness within the range of 200-400 Hz. Then, you may consider adding more brightness by boosting somewhere around 8-10 kHz but try not to overdo it as you might end with all ranges of high frequencies peaking. Also, you might find yourself in a situation when you need to tame down some high-range frequencies to prevent unwanted distortion from appearing. In this case, you have to do it by intuition, carefully picking which frequency is too harsh and needs to be reduced.

Snare

Now, you should pay close attention as it’s so easy to screw this one up, so try to apply very gentle EQ changes here and there as a general rule.

To get into details, you should start with applying a low-cut filter somewhere around 80 Hz in order to separate the snare from the sound of the kick drum. Then, if the snare sounds too muddy, you should consider cutting somewhere around 250-300 Hz. The best way to deal with the ringing or harsh frequencies would be to apply a very gentle cut around 1-3 kHz, but no more, or you might risk having a disaster on your hands. If your snare sounds too thin, then think about making a boost somewhere around 100-150 Hz. If you have an opposite situation and the snare sounds too dull, apply a gentle boost of about 2-4 kHz.

Kick drum

As with many other drums, the first thing that you need to be sure of is that you have recorded your kick drum properly, it would save you a lot of time during the EQing stage. From this point, it goes as straightforward as it can be.

Start with filtering the low end by putting a low-cut filter somewhere around 30-40 Hz, this would make a huge impact, as there’s not any useful information anyway and it’ll separate the sound of a kick drum from everything else in the mix. Then, it’s a good idea to emphasize the low end by applying a boost of around 50 Hz if you desire a heavy-weighted and very deep kick and around 100 Hz if you aim at a modern rock-kick. After, think about clearing the midrange by removing any frequencies that sound too muddy or boomy by applying a wide cut of 150-300 Hz. To add more punch, you should apply a boost around 1.5 kHz, but try not to overdo this as you might then need to eliminate harshness with a precise cut around 2 kHz. Finally, clean the high end by cutting everything that’s below 10 kHz, you will hear the difference as soon as you put it back in the mix.

Preparation process

Generally speaking, before applying any sort of equalization, you have to choose the instruments that would do their part just right and tune everything accordingly. It’s not rocket science that to achieve the best sound possible, you have to maintain your drum kit in perfect playable conditions at all times. Tuning is a pretty straightforward process, too, as there are a lot of ways to do it effortlessly and without consuming a lot of precious time.

Maintain your kit

As we previously stated, you have to keep your drum kit in perfect condition constantly. You have to check whether everything is properly adjusted and always concentrate on the condition that plastics are in. In order to achieve the perfect sound, plastics have to be undamaged and perfectly tuned. We advise you not to neglect it because drums are made of materials that vibrate and if they’re flawed, you won’t get anything good from them at all.

Tuning

Basically, drums are tuned as any other instrument would be, the difference would be that you have to tune the plastics. The first thing that you need to check is whether the head is centered, which means the drum’s bearing edges have to be flat and smooth and all of the hoops are well aligned. Afterward, apply gentle pressure on the head, but be very careful, and then check the lugs again and confirm that they’re finger-tight. At the same time, as you apply pressure, tighten the lugs more in a clockwise direction by using small turns, and continue doing so till that time when wrinkles are gone. If all of these actions seem too hard for you, it would be better to ask a professional to do it instead.

Choose the right mic

Without any doubt, the timbre of any drum is important, but by itself, it won’t get you closer to the right result if you forget about putting a perfect mic for the task to capture the sound. These days, there’s a variety of mics to choose from and it won’t be that difficult to choose a proper one to record your drums. An important thing that you should try to find in your mic is whether it catches fast transients in order to achieve a snappy and more modern kick. Vintage mics with a mid boost should be your choice if you aim to achieve a full and warm kick.

Soundcheck and balancing

After you have chosen your mic, it’s time to run a soundcheck. Prepare yourself for the fact that you probably won’t get it 100% right as no drummer would play on the soundcheck exactly as they would during the gig itself, so you have to leave some headroom in the preamp, something around 3 dB. Then you have to balance everything so that drums won’t get over each other and the uniqueness of each drum is audible enough to differentiate it in the mix.

Conclusion

Drums are the beating heart of every melody. Many people fall in love with a certain music genre or a song because of the awesomeness of a drum part. When you’re gigging, you have to pay close attention to how exactly do your instruments sound together because the last thing you want is for your music to sound muddy and bland. In order to have a totally different result, it’s utterly important to apply principles of equalization.

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