Your drum bus is the sum of all of the various microphones capturing the pieces in your kit. It could be just a couple tracks, or it could be closer to a dozen, depending on your setup. Regardless of how many microphones and tracks you have making up your drum bus, let’s talk drum bus EQ for every situation to make those last minute touches.
Drum Bus EQ
First, let me begin this drum bus EQ guide by stating that MOST of the work should’ve already been done on a track level.
In other words, the kick track should have already been EQ’d, the snare track, etc., all before heading to the drum bus.
Here are links to my specific guides:
Snare EQ – The snare creates energy and drives your mix forward. It has a number of key frequency ranges to cut or boost to bring out more or less body, roundness, and transient crack to draw the listener’s attention to it.
Tom EQ – Whether it’s a floor or rack tom you’re EQing, there are points just like the snare which can be cut or boosted to add body, roundness, mitigate the ringing sound, and add that cracking sound of stick on skin.
Hi-Hat EQ – The hi-hat has an important mid frequency range which can be boosted or cut to add or reduce body, and a couple key points in the upper frequencies which can add clarity, mitigate harshness, etc.
Cymbal EQ – Cymbals have body in the 300-400Hz region which you can add to to make them thicker or cut if they’re lacking clarity. You can also tame abrasive cymbals in the 4k region or add sizzle in the 10k region.
Even better than checking out each of those guides would be to just grab my free EQ cheat sheet for tips on how to EQ every single instrument in your entire mix!
Getting back to drum bus EQ, as always with bus processing, less is more. Adjustments I make via EQ on the drum bus will be subtle, and designed to accentuate the adjustments I made on a track level to address any last minute problems. If you’re finding that you’re having an issue on the drum bus level that you’re not hearing on an individual instrument level, pay attention to any other processing you have on your drum bus before or after the EQ.
For instance, I like parallel compressing my drum bus with a glue compressor but sometimes that can make the cymbals a bit too splashy and even harsh. It’s just something to be aware of when you can’t quite put your finger on why the bus still sounds off even after EQ.
Of course, I acknowledge that we don’t always have access to individual tracks, so the cheat sheet below should be helpful.
With ALL that in mind, here’s a broad look at what I recommend as far as adjustments go for drum bus EQ, then we’ll talk about each move individually:
Drum Bus EQ Cheat Sheet
You’ll notice that most of these adjustments I recommend are dynamic EQ moves.
If you’re going to EQ a drum bus, you’re going to have a lot of instruments and their respective frequencies on a single track. As such, cutting or boosting in one frequency range to affect an instrument is likely going to have unintended and unwanted effects on other instruments.
With a dynamic EQ adjustment, we’re keeping most of the frequency spectrum flat until a threshold is met via a surge in a particular frequency range from the instrument we likely want to target. I’ll explain more about this as we go adjustment to adjustment, but generally dynamic adjustments are preferred and keep your drum bus and kit sounding more natural and generally better.
High Pass at 20Hz – You likely shouldn’t NEED to do this if you high passed every other track like I recommended in the other drum EQ tutorials, but yo can still add a high pass filter at 20Hz. This ensures that we’re removing all inaudible frequencies and adding a touch more headroom to our kit.
If whatever you’re mixing on in terms of headphones vs speakers has a frequency response low enough for you to hear all the way down to 20Hz, you can sweep higher to filter out as much as you can before the sound changes. Once you hear any difference whatsoever, back it up 5-10Hz.
Again, don’t do this if you can’t accurately hear the low end. In that case just leave it at 20Hz with a slope of 24dB/oct.
Dynamic Boost at 65Hz for Kick Body – Our first dynamic boost will trigger when that kick triggers to bring out more of the body. Note that 65Hz is an estimate of where the fundamental of your kick’s body peaks. It could be lower, it could be higher, so take a look on the EQ or sweep around and listen for the core of the fundamental.
Assuming you high passed every track individually like I mentioned earlier, there shouldn’t be any noise from other tracks in this area.
If there is (like if you don’t have access to individual tracks and are just EQing the drums all at once), a dynamic boost ensures that the kick’s body is boosted only when it triggers. This keeps from boosting any potential noise and bleed from other instruments uniformly which a normal EQ boost would do.
Boost at 200Hz for Snare Body – I don’t mind a static boost here as long as it’s subtle as this is mostly the snare body’s territory anyway, but regardless we can bring out a bit more snare body with a boost in this area.
Dynamic Cut at 500Hz – When boxy sounds build up, the dynamic cut pulls them down as necessary. This just cleans up your entire kit a bit and adds a bit of clarity in addition by subtractive EQ.
Boost at 1k – There’s a kind of energy from the kit between the roundness of the snare and toms and a bit of “low” end of the cymbals which you can bring out at 1k. Cutting here tends to make the entire kit sound off, but a subtle boost can bring a lot of life to the kit.
Dynamic Boost at 3.5k for Kick Click – The transients of the kick are all over the upper frequencies, but generally a dynamic boost at 3.5k will give it a little more edge when it triggers to help it cut through the mix and pull your listener’s ear to the subsequent body of the kick they’ll hear a split second later. It’s instant for all intents and purposes, but we know better (wink).
Dynamic Boost at 5k for Snare Crack – The same idea holds true for the snare which exists a little bit higher up around 5k. A dynamic boost here will lift this frequency when the snare triggers, bringing a bit more of that crack to help the snare cut through the mix.
High Shelf at 10k for Cymbal Sizzle and Kit Clarity – We’re out of the way of the harsh frequencies and into a bit of sizzle and a touch of clarity with a high shelf at 10k.
Low Pass at 22k – We get just a hair of headroom with a truly conservative low pass filter at 22k to finish our drum bus EQ. I recommended lower points on individual tracks, but we want to be conservative whenever we’re dealing with the entire kit. At 22k we’re bordering on placebo effect, but it’s safe.
Lastly, note that every move I recommended was subtle and generally under 3dB at max.
If you need to make a more extreme cut or boost, get it done on the track level using the EQ guides I mentioned and linked to above (or just grab my complete EQ cheat sheet).
That’s a good rule in general; any type of processing you do on a bus level should be subtle whether it’s EQ, compression, or anything else.
Any processing you do on a bus including the master bus should just be a bit of subtle tightening AFTER you’ve gotten things more or less where you want them on a track level.