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Mix Recipes: Tom EQ and compression

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
Ratio: 4:1
Attack: 10ms
Release: 400ms (or less for fast tom hits in succession)
Threshold: adjust for about 6dB of gain reduction

Drum mics for toms

Electro-Voice Cobalt CO 4 Instrument Mic Buy One, Get One FREE!
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 Dynamic Cardioid Instrument Mic
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/D-Vice Bonus Package
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 Instrument/Vocal Mic
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 Native Software

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 Native Software

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.

18 replies on “Mix Recipes: Tom EQ and compression”

Ah… Used it on some kick once and it worked fine, but i can’t make it play with the sanre correctly thou. A pitty ! Thank you for so many great articles !!!

Just wanted to say thanks for the guides they have helped me immensely, my band is making its first attempt at recording, we have all the toys and now I can tell them I have the KNOW HOW!

Thank You From the Band
Generation Gap

These articles are amazing!! When are you writing your first book???? or have you and I’ve been living under a rock?

Thanks so much for this helpful information for all of this site! I have not completed sound engineering school and where I left off was mic placement and then we were going to get into eq and compression techniques for various instruments. Well I left off on mic placement but didnt get to eq and compression. I am now a few years later starting to get into home recording using a line 6 guitar interface for my guitar and for drums I am using addictive drummer. Addictive Drummer does a hell of a job simulating the different drums from various kits. It also lets you change almost anything you can on drums from tuning to eq and compression and more. These tips can be applied to the software easily with EQ control and compression, saturation, and many other settings that you can do with an actual drum kit. Plus the samples are from some of the top acoustic drum kits you can buy. I highly recommend Addictive drummer for those home studio or one man band people who need drums to record. These guide lines you have had greatly improved my sound. Thanks a million!

Hey I’d like to know if you usually EQ all the toms the same, or if I should go for a specific EQ for each tom?

I don’t often have the luxury of having each tom on its own track. Normally it will be at most a stereo pair of a tom submix. Since I’m used to dealing with real drum tracks this way I will usually submix something like Jamstix or EZDrummer also down to a stereo pair for toms and eq the whole thing on that one track. It is certainly worth trying different eq on each tom if you have that luxury but it might end up leaving you to deal with a lot of extra mix minutiae and break the creative flow of the session. But please do experiment and come up with your own preference!

Okay thanks for the answer :) As you say mixing all the toms the same sounds quite nice already so I might keep it there to save some time.


Great Articles!

Have you ever uploaded any of your own tracks/productions containing Jamstixs drums. It would be nice to hear what could be acheived using some of your advice on tempo mapping, EQ, compression.
It would gives me something to realistically aim for….

Perhaps you have already posted on the Jamstixs forum.?


Getting toms sounding right really adds to a drum kit and of course a track overall. I guess they can get sidelined a little because they are played maybe a few times per song in many instanes but they are important that is for sure.

Thanks so much for these lessons! I’ve found them incredibly useful in my mixing, and this article in particular has helped bring my toms to life! Thank you for all the publishing you’ve done.

Thanks a lot!!! I began recording some seven years ago, and found bazillions of precious info here. It really got me a great deal ahead with my mixing skills; since I’m coming from guitar I’m not very familiar with drums – wich includes mixing drums, with all the ups and downs of eq-ing and compression. But now I have a solid working basis :-) No more silly fumbling around on knobs and faders :-D Thank you very much!!!

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