A great drum track is at the core of most modern popular music. Other mix recipes have covered the snare drum and kick drum, and now it is time to talk about toms. The toms can be used to add texture to particular drum fills and section transitions or they can drive an entire song. No matter which role they are filling in your track, it is important to get a sound that will allow them to cut through the mix and be noticed. Here are some helpful mix recipes to get you started with EQ and compression on your tom tracks.
The tom big four: thump, attack, stick, air
Thump is an important quality for all of the drums and the toms are no different. This is the low end rumble and resonance of the drum. The higher rack toms do not rely on as much thump but the floor toms and more resonant rack toms will. Toms suffering from a lack of low end thump can be augmented in the 100-250Hz range. Don’t be afraid to give them a healthy 4-6dB boost here if necessary. If this is not enough then you might have to look elsewhere in your mix. The toms might be poorly recorded or the other low end instruments might be taking up too much space in these frequencies (bass, kick drum, and even electric guitar can mask the low end of your toms).
Attack of the toms is what allows the ear to focus on individual drum hits. Make sure your toms have enough attack to cut through the mix, allowing their rhythmic nature to shine. This is the sound of the drum head itself. Think of the part of the tom sound that is like a smack that hits you in the chest. Toms can have their attack augmented with a 4-8dB boost around 3-5kHz.
Stick is the sound of the drum stick actually contacting the tom. Where the attack is more of a smack, think of the stick as more of a click. The amount of stick sound you have in your tom track is a matter of personal preference. Toms in very dense mixes can benefit from a bit of extra click in their attack to help draw the ear toward them. Use a boost of up to 6dB around 6-8kHz to bring out a bit more of the stick sound.
Air surrounds your toms and exists on any drum that was recorded with a microphone. Often you will use the overhead tracks to supply this part of the sound but they might have too much bleed (from guitars perhaps) or might not give the proper stereo imaging for your toms. You can bring out some extra air on the tom tracks by using a high shelf of 2-3dB starting in the 5-12kHz range.
Tom big four quick eq chart
More thump +4 at 200Hz
More attack +4 at 4.5kHz
More stick +6 at 7kHz
More air +2 at 10kHz (high shelf)
Rack tom and floor tom drum eq recipes
Start here for a slick, modern tom sound
Band 1: +6dB at 150Hz
Band 2: -15dB at 800
Band 3: +9dB at 6KHz
Start here for a heavy metal tom sound
Band 1: +4dB at 150Hz
Band 2: -15dB at 600Hz
Band 3: +8dB at 3.5KHz
Band 4: +2dB at 10KHz (high shelf)
Start here for a vintage 70’s tom sound
Band 1: high pass at 90Hz
Band 2: +4dB at 220
Band 3: +4dB at 4.5KHz
Band 4: +6dB at 7KHz
Tom drum compression recipes
As far as drums go, toms do not need a lot of compression to sound good in a mix (but do reference this article covering New York compression for drums). I will usually use no more than 6dB of gain reduction on my tom tracks if I feel they need some compression.
Gain reduction is the amount your drum is being compressed. All good compressors have some kind of meter or way to gauge your signal reduction. This will sometimes be labeled gain reduction or will just be a meter that seems to work backwards, going down or showing negative values on each tom hit. You should be able to see the reduction increase (more into the negative range) as you lower the threshold of the compressor. I like to get about -6dB of gain reduction on toms. You don’t have a reduction level control on your compressor. You adjust the threshold control until you are getting your desired reduction level.
Tom compression recipe
Start here for subtle tom compression
Release: 400ms (or less for fast tom hits in succession)
Threshold: adjust for about 6dB of gain reduction
Drum mics for toms
Electro-Voice CO 4 price check
These microphones are a great entry point for getting your home studio set up for recording drums. You can get enough of these to record four toms for the price of just one of any other mic. They don’t sound like a million bucks, but with a little hard work you can mix them to sound like a few hundred thousand!
AKG D40 price check
This is the next level up. You get a lot better sound but at four times the price. This mic is about the same price as an SM57 but a little more tailored to recording drums in your home studio.
Audix D2 price check
Again just a step up in price with even better sound. These mics also come with a cool clip to be attached to the drum’s rim. This makes for much easier positioning of the mic and will free up your mic stands for other instruments or drum overheads.
Shure SM57 price check
While the Audix and AKG mics are a little more focused on the specific needs of drums, you can get by with a box full of SM57s. These mics from Shure are the Swiss Army knife of microphones. If you purchase tom mics you will get awesome sounding tom tracks and microphones that sit around while you record everything else. With the SM57 you will get cool sounding tom tracks and a mic that will sound cool on all sorts of other stuff too. If you only have money to buy a few mics and need ultimate flexibility, consider using a few SM57 microphones for toms.
Plugins for drums and toms
Waves Musicians 2 Bundle price check
This is the bundle I recommend people use as the entry point to the Waves sound and experience. It includes the Renaissance EQ and Renaissance Compressor which are two of my favorite plugins ever. They are plenty enough to spice up your tom tracks and fill many other needs of the home recording studio.
Waves Mercury Bundle price check
This is the bundle for you if price is no object (costs more than most DAW packages). You get every Waves plugin currently supported by the company. There are a lot of cool, boutique eq and compressor plugins here. The SSL, API, and V-series plugins all have really great, classic sounds to them. The V-Series in particular sound amazing on drum tracks.