Drum overhead mics (along with room mics) are important for capturing the holistic sound of drum and percussion kits, especially in studio recordings. Getting the overheads right and mixing them appropriately (often with EQ) will surely enhance the drum sound on a record.
When it comes to EQing drum overheads, there are no simple step-by-step instructions; every mix is unique. However, there are certain considerations we should take into account when EQing the overheads, which is what this article is all about.
Before we go any further, I should state that there are no hard rules with EQ or any other mixing process. The tips mentioned in this article are simply suggestions and techniques worth considering when EQing snare overheads. No procedures work 100% of the time, and every mix is unique in its own needs.
Here are 7 pro tips for EQing drum overheads:
- Consider how the drums were recorded
- Consider the genre
- EQing overheads in the context of the drum bus
- Eliminating low-end rumble
- Finding unruly resonances
- Listen for the snare
- Taming harsh cymbals
Let's discuss each of these tips in more detail to give you important considerations when EQing drum overheads in your mixes.
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Consider How The Drums Were Recorded
My first tip for you is to consider how the drums were recorded. Questions worth answering include:
- Was there a single overhead mic or a stereo pair?
- Were there room mics used?
- Were the drums recorded in isolation?
- How many close mics were used?
- In particular, how many close mics were used on the snare?
Drum kits vary wildly in their setup, and there are plenty of methods to mic up each drum kit.
Drum overheads are generally tasked with picking up the holistic sound of the kit, though without a strong kick drum presence.
This is a good time to note that if we have a stereo pair of drum overheads, it's generally best to EQ them together with a stereo EQ (or with identical mono EQ curves). This will help keep the stereo image balanced and natural.
So, if there are few close mics (or no close mics) on the snare, toms and cymbals, we'll have to depend on the overheads more. Even when there are ample close mics, pushing the overheads up can offer a more natural-sounding kit.
When room mics are used in conjunction with overheads, it's important to balance the two appropriately.
If the snare drum close mics aren't flattering, we may decide to boost the sound of the snare in the overhead channel(s) with EQ.
If the cymbals could use a bit of extra top-end brightness or, alternatively, need to be tamed in the high-end, we can utilize a high-shelf boost or cut, respectively.
To learn more about shelving EQ, check out my article Audio Shelving EQ: What Are Low Shelf & High Shelf Filters?
If we have great-sounding close-mics, we may decide to high-pass filter the overheads higher than what would sound natural in solo to focus their sound on the cymbals.
Consider The Genre
Some genres have more natural mix aesthetics, while others can get away with much more processing. For example, bebop jazz is much less processed than modern pop. Keep this in mind when EQing the overheads.
A simple high-pass filter will often be enough on the drum overheads. However, as I'll be stressing in this article, if the close mics are emphasized to a greater degree in the mix, we may want to reduce the low-end and low-mid of the overheads, so they largely focus on the cymbals.
Some genres are a bit darker (RnB and hip hop come to mind), while others are brighter. Since cymbals play a big role in the high-end frequencies, we can consider using high-shelf filters to brighten or darken the sound of the drums and the overall mix.
EQing Overheads In The Context Of The Drum Bus
Or alternatively, EQ the drum bus and use overhead channel faders to bring out the right amount of overheads in the mix.
The goal isn't necessarily to make the overhead(s) sound as perfect as possible by themselves. Rather, it's about making the drums sound great as a whole.
So if the close mics do a great job of capturing the drums, we may opt to EQ the overheads differently than if we had to rely on them more for the sound of the entire kit.
If drum replacement and/or sampling are used in conjunction with the real drums, we may want to EQ the overheads in a way that enhances the samples or simply adjust the fader level of the overheads to increase or decrease.
If we're using processing that darkens the sound, we may want to pull up more cymbal brilliance by EQing the overheads (or by turning them up). When using parallel compression, we may want to adjust the EQ of the overheads to adjust the top-end as well.
Eliminating Low-end Rumble
Eliminating low-end rumble is an essential task in most mixes.
Low-end rumble refers to low-end frequency content that doesn't provide any musical information. It's the noise that muddies up the bass elements of the mix and eats away at precious headroom.
In addition to the typical culprits of mechanical noise (footsteps, ventilation, touching the mic or mic stand, traffic, etc.), I also typically group low-frequency electromagnetic interference in with low-end rumble. We can lump in kick drum bleed with the rest of this noise.
This low-frequency information isn't needed and is best eliminated altogether. This job is best accomplished with an EQ's high-pass filter.
Overheads can be high-pass filtered in a variety of ways. If we're going for a more natural, cohesive-sounding kit, we may want to rely more on the overheads and maintain the sound of the snare and even the kick. This would mean a low cutoff frequency for the HPF.
Alternatively, if we want a more close-miked sound for the kit, we may want to raise the HPF of the overheads so that the impact of the kick, snare and toms is covered by the close mics only. An HPF cutoff up to 400 Hz or more may be appropriate.
To learn more about high-pass filters, check out my article Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?
Finding Unruly Resonances
Drums and cymbals are complex and loud. Add several together in a drum kit, and you'll be able to produce a lot of frequency information as you play.
Sometimes drums will resonate in ways that aren't exactly flattering to the mix. Of course, tuning the drums properly can help, but resonant frequencies are still worth thinking about.
Additionally, resonances are also sometimes present in the room that can cause annoying ringing in the overheads.
If you hear annoying resonances in the drums and find them present in the overheads, you can seek them out and notch them down using what I call “the parametric sweeping technique”.
As the name suggests, this technique takes a parametric EQ. Boost a narrow band (6 dB or more is a good starting point) and sweep the band across the frequency spectrum. As the resonant frequency is boosted even more by the EQ, it will really poke its ugly head through the mix. Once found, we can adjust the gain of the EQ band to the negative and notch the frequency from the signal.
Always A/B test your findings by toggling the EQ on and off. Repeat the process if you didn't quite find the right frequency (re-doing the step) or if there are other resonant frequencies worth addressing (by introducing another band in the parametric EQ).
To learn more about parametric EQ, check out my article The Complete Guide To Parametric Equalization/EQ.
I should add that we should never go looking for offensive frequencies for the sake of it. Boosting a narrow band of parametric EQ and sweeping it across the spectrum will make every boosted frequency sound bad. However, it can be an effective strategy to find resonances that we hear before applying any EQ.
Listen For The Snare
The snare drum is often mixed between a close top mic, a close bottom mic, and the overheads.
Listen to how the snare sound in the overheads and how it sounds with the close mics independently. Is there anything missing between the two? Does mixing all the channels together make the snare sound great, or should a few frequencies be adjusted with EQ to bring out the snare in the mix?
It's sometimes the case that the close mics sound great, and it may be best to rely heavily on them for the snare sound. Other times, we may want to make boosts and cuts in the overheads to help bring out the snare in the mix. A few bands worth considering are:
- Boosting body: 150 – 300 Hz
- Boosting attack: 2.5 – 3.5 kHz
- Cutting boxiness: 250 – 500 Hz
These are only suggestions. Always use your ears!
Related article: Top 11 Best Tips For EQing Snare Drums
Taming Harsh Cymbals
If the cymbals are particularly harsh, try cutting in the 2 – 3 kHz range before opting to tame the high-end frequencies. This can help reduce the cymbals' piercing quality without losing the drum kit's airiness.
If that doesn't do the trick, try adjusting a high-shelf cut's gain and cutoff frequency parameters downward until the overheads sound good in the context of the mix (or just the drum bus). Always A/B your EQ moves to ensure the EQ is actually enhancing the mix!
Other EQ Tips For Common Elements
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Be sure to also check out my top overall 11 EQ tips for mixing in this video: