The Music Espionage


It’s easy to get carried away with yourself here, if you allow the Toms to get out of control you suddenly have a ‘George of the Jungle’ re-mix! As with anything it’s all about the balance and finding where in your mix they fit alongside all other aspects of the kits.

A common method when you begin mixing this part of the drum kit is to use a Noise Gate, this will reduce the amount of unwanted clutter found in the background, and the lessen the natural spill found on Tom tracks. Carefully set the Threshold to make sure you capture the full envelope of the sound, but have the Reduction enough that they fall into the background when not played.

If the Toms are a fundamental element of the track you need to make sure they have that gusty sound and not masking with other parts of the kit. This thump is created through the use of EQ, and carefully discerning the frequencies that need to stand out.

The fullness and body of the Tom drum will reconcile somewhere between 240Hz and 500Hz, this is basically the cross over between the Low and Mid-Low of the audio spectrum. So be careful of other elements that reside within this area, normally the mid of Male vocals and the lower end of a punchy snare sound. If you have achieved a relatively clean and composed sound at the recording stage will only need to cut a few adjacent frequencies instead of scooping out a big portion of the frequency spectrum.

Light compression will stop the Toms jumping out of the mix and overwhelming all other percussion elements. Slight reverb can highlight their presence at key parts during a track and develop a larger than life authority. On the other hand, substantial compression can really bring out their role within the mix and push them to the front of the listener’s attention.

In Practice:
This is a classic example where the Toms are taking the lead and acting as the central element of the kit. There is a large amount of spill, which is common with tom-drum recording.

Toms at Recording Stage:
Toms – No FXs

Firstly, try to isolate that punchy beat that is driving the rhythm in this track. A Gate will pronounce the hits and clean up some of the unwanted background noise. The Threshold allowed the gate to open on the main segments of the rhythm and the slight Reduction did reduce the spill from the rest of the kit. The Threshold could have been set to a much higher level, but this would have created an unrealistic quality and given the Toms a jumpy robotic feel. Just take a listen to these Toms with an even greater Threshold setting.

Over Gated:
[audio:|titles=Toms – TO much Gate]

Toms with Gate:
[audio:|titles=Toms – Gated]

The next track was ironing out those frequencies and shaping the sound how you see fit. Remember to always reference back to the full mix. You main get these Toms sounding amazing, but if they don’t sound good with everything else, just what is the point! I fashioned the EQ to act as an elementary Low-Pass filter, this cutting most of the high cymbals bleeding into the Tom microphones. Moreover, I reduced the really Low rumble, from 50Hz backwards. The main manipulating came throughout the Mids and Low-Mids. I developed the main body and punch of the sound with a large ‘Q’ shape, boosting between 60 and 400Hz. Furthermore, reduced slightly at 1KHz, this is roughly where you will find the slapping sound from the stick hitting the skin. In this case I really wanted the drive more than anything and cut in this area of the EQ spectrum.

Toms with EQ:
[audio:|titles=Toms – EQ]

In this case the compression was used very sparingly, it simply smoothed out and applied a slight increase to the power of the drums, this better developing the rhythm.

Toms finished:
[audio:|titles=Toms – Gate, EQ, Compression]

Remember, you will normally need to Gate, EQ and compress the Toms but as with all mixing, it’s an art not a science!