Pro Tools is an incredibly tough software to master. However, it is not impossible! Learning Avid Pro Tools is just like any other audio software; it only sounds harder because it has been deemed the industry standard. Learning different mixing techniques in this program will transfer well to any other audio editing program - so let's learn how to mix drums.
There are several steps to getting a beautiful drum sound. Sometimes, you don't need to do any work! Although, perfectly recorded and tuned drums will be the reasoning behind this. For the many times that you won't have perfectly recorded drums, take these steps into consideration.
Gain staging is the single most important thing you can do to mix drums effectively. If you have not gain staged correctly, re-record your drum set because your sounds will be too quiet or distort from being too loud.
The snare drum and kick drum are usually going to need this. Compression is used in order to control the dynamics of an audio track. This will control any audio that amplifies quickly. Think about the sound of a snare drum, it is abrupt and sharp. To make the audio more pleasant to your listener, compression will cut the amplification at the threshold you have chosen. This way, you will maintain the sharp sound of the snare without surprising any listeners.
(Pro tip: instead of compressing the original drum file, copy the track and compress that track. Mix the levels to your liking and enjoy! This is called parallel compression.)
Equalization is good to know for mixing your whole project. There are many presets and guides that will showcase what frequency goes along with what sound or instrument. This will help clear up the mix and allow the mix to sound full and encompass the full sonic spectrum. Below is a list of different frequencies that coincide with kicks and snares.
50 - 100 Hz - low-end punch
300 - 600 Hz - cardboard sound
2 - 4 kHz - pop sound
• Snare drum
150 Hz - thickening
500 Hz - add body
3 kHz - add clarity
10+ kHz - add air to the snare
Like everything else in audio, these are only guidelines. Only change something if it ultimately sounds better to you.
Reverb and Delay
Reverb and delay should be used with extreme care in these situations. You should only utilize these plugins if you are being intentional. If you want to create that huge, boomy drum sound from your favorite '80s song, then you have the "go ahead" to use reverb and delay. Never use these two tools just because it sounds cooler, this will often sound unprofessional. Everyone loves the sound of reverb, but the masters understand how much and when to use it.
Creating a perfect drum mix is never possible. There are engineers who never achieve the sound they visualize, but it is about what the artist wants. When you are mixing in Avid pro tools, do what feels and sounds right. Always be intentional, and always use reference tracks!