Q. Should I EQ my drum recordings?

Published in SOS April 2012
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Sound Advice : Recording

When recording a drum part, do I have to EQ it, or should it be left untreated?

There's no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to treating your drum recordings (or not!). If you get a really good-quality source recording, you may not need to EQ it at all.There's no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to treating your drum recordings (or not!). If you get a really good-quality source recording, you may not need to EQ it at all.

Samuel Am, via email

SOS Reviews Editor Matt Houghton replies: There's no right or wrong answer to this question! As long as the drum sounds right to you when played through your studio monitors, use whatever you need to get the result you want: compression, EQ, Transient Designer or, in the case of a snare drum, perhaps even a tiny bit of distortion.

Back in the days of big-budget studio recordings, many engineers would — if they felt it was needed — EQ and compress drum mics on the mixing console while recording, and then print the results to multi-track tape for mixing. Today, it's easy to capture a clean recording and add EQ or other processing to taste at the mixing stage, using plug-ins. This leaves more options open to you, and avoids you getting stuck with poor EQ and dynamics decisions that don't suit the mix, but it also means that you're putting off decisions, so the whole process can take longer.

If you're new to this, I'd recommend experimenting first with mic choice and placement to get the best sound possible. Then add EQ and/or compression during the mix stage if you feel it's needed for the particular track in question. In the long run, you'll end up with better results if you start working in this way, and eventually your EQ and dynamics decisions will become second nature, at which point it will be easy to make them during recording rather than mixing.

Of course, depending on the style of the song, it's also perfectly possible to record a natural-sounding drum part with no processing whatsoever, just relying on mic choice and placement (and a good-sounding drum and room, and a good drummer!) to capture a clean sound.

As for which mics to pick, it really depends on the drum(s) you're using: what you use on a kick or snare close-mic can be very different from what you use for overheads or hand-drums.  

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