How to Mix Hi-Hats: 8 Tips for Added Energy (2022)

In our blog articles “5 Tips for Mixing High End” and “8 Tips for Taming Harsh Treble in the Mix” we provided some general tips for managing high end in a mix. Today, we’re diving into a specific sound that occupies the top end of the frequency spectrum: hi-hats.

When mixing drums, the hi-hat typically doesn’t get as much consideration as low end elements. But this sound is vital to an overall great drum mix. Here are eight tips for mixing hi-hats, including remedies for harsh cymbals and rides.

This article references a previous version of Neutron. Learn about Neutron 4 and its powerful features including Assistant View, Target Library, Unmask, and more by clicking here.

1. Tuck things in first by removing low frequencies

If there are too many hi-hats, cymbals, and rides clanging around—or if they are not processed properly—the mix can become sharp enough to take an ear off. To save your ears and ensure vocals, guitars, and synths shine through, managing the high frequencies produced by hats is vital.

But before shaping the high end, it will serve you well to remove any low frequencies tacked onto hi-hats during the recording process. By rolling off the lows, the natural brightness of the drum kit will come through and you’ll be less inclined to boost needlessly later on.

To do this efficiently, organize your hi-hats within asubmixand set a high-pass filter to 100 Hz. Move the cutoff upward until you begin to hear the sonic character change, then back off slightly to ensure the signal sounds clean but not thin. You will usually end up somewhere around 300 Hz.

(Video) Mixing Drums: How to Mix Hi-Hats

2. It’s easy to go overboard with hi-hat processing

Since hi-hats occupy a small frequency range, they experience the effects of processing much faster than other drum hits. This makes it easy to go overboard with saturation, EQ, and compression.

The best defense against thismixing mistakeis to work with good quality recordings. This way, you won’t feel the need to overcompensate with effects. If you are working withcheap-sounding audio, consider re-recording the track or heading to a sample platform likeSpliceto download a replacement. It's pretty hard to fix a damaged hi-hat, and starting from scratch might actually save you some time.

Otherwise, be sure to take breaks to keep your ears fresh. 10 minutes away from the mix makes it easier to catch ringing and harshness produced by over-processing upon returning.

3. Try these two transient shaping tricks for added flair or clarity

Neutron’sTransient Shaperis my not-so-secret “secret weapon” for all manner of drums. Here are two ways to use the plug-in with hi-hats, based on my own experience.

Approach #1

When a hi-hat mix is lacking flair, reach for the transient attack dial and turn it up until you hear it cut through the mix more. Err on the side of caution here—hats only need a small push to sound lively. That being said, if your client expects an in-your-face EDM or trap sound, going beyond normal bounds might be the ticket. Conversely, reducing the attack will tame hats with hard transients.

Approach #2

This approach has a corrective purpose. Some recordings and samples include too much room tone or bleed from other instruments. While you don’t want to rob these sounds of their character, making strategic adjustments, like trimming the tail of an open hat to separate it from the snare will result in a more balanced mix. To do this, reduce the sustain on Transient Shaper, which will shorten the length of a hat. If you want to add length to hi-hats, increase the sustain.

4. Too sibilant? Try a de-esser on your hi-hat

Though we regularly discussde-esserswithin the context of vocal mixing, they are equally useful to remedy problematic high-frequency instruments.

(Video) Hi-Hat Tutorial: How to EQ The Perfect Hi-Hat | Soundoracle.net

Here’s when to use them: say you’re mixing a particularly sibilant hi-hat track, but filtering with EQ colors the signal or removes parts of the sound you want to keep. For a more precise solution, instantiate a de-esser and pull the cutoff somewhere around 10–12 kHz. Then, adjust the cutoff dial accordingly until you’ve identified the offenders—you may find this trick corrects signals with more transparency than a static EQ.

To ensure you’ve grabbed the problematic frequencies, use a plug-in likeRX, which allows you to output just the ess sounds. When you do this, you should hear only the unpleasant sharp frequencies and not the “body” of the hats.

Pro-tip:remember that some resonances exist in a lower part of the spectrum, between 4–8 kHz. It's worth exploring this frequency band too.

5. Pan for feel and space for a vibrant hi-hat sound

In pursuit of a vibrant hi-hat sound, many new producers (and even engineers) can get stuck in a loop of auditioning new samples, adding processing, and adjusting levels in the hopes of making the right combination of decisions.

A bump in levelor saturation might be what’s needed (more on that later), but there is a good case to be made for panning when you need some excitement. By panning hi-hats to the sides, everything that’s left in the center will get more attention, simultaneously making the mix feel wider and more rhythmic.

For hip-hop and electronic tracks, I like to pan hats 30–50% away from the center. Some mixers will also hardpan hi-hats, or choose their stereo location based on the structure of a drum kit.

(Video) Simple and effective hihat strategies

You’ll eventually find your preferences, just remember to consider mix balance as you do. When you do hardpan a hi-hat to the right, be sure to place a sound that counters or supports that activity on the left. One idea is to pan a closed hat to one side and an open hat to the other. Adding a splash of reverb and keeping the output in the center will keep things sounding glued together.

6. Break up programmed hats with velocity and swing

Many pop songs today are using programmed hi-hats, even in the presence of acoustic instruments.

Unless you (or the client) are going for a straight, robotic sound, you will want to break up the monotony of programmed patterns, which can begin to sound stale without changes in velocity,swing, or note length. In fact, even 16th note trap patterns, which are supposed to sound “programmed” can benefit from variation. For example, slightly raising the level of hats leading into a snare propels listeners forward.

While these tasks typically fall on the producer, you may be the producer, or you may have been given the entire DAW session with MIDI included. So take a few minutes to dive into those MIDI sequences and adjust the parameters above until you get a more natural-sounding or interesting result. There are a number of DAW-specific plug-ins that will randomize this for you as well.

7. Get corrective with a dynamic EQ

Adynamic EQis a better choice than its static counterpart in a number of hi-hat mixing scenarios. Here are two I encounter often:

Scenario #1:

When a lower band of frequencies in a hi-hat pattern clashes with the snare in a drum loop. In most cases, you can’t go into the audio and adjust the hi-hat without altering the snare too. A dynamic EQ provides a workaround. Simply select the problematic hi-hat frequencies and then chose the snare as the sidechain input. This will duck the selected hi-hat frequencies every time the snare is played. Here’s what this setup looks like in Neutron:

Scenario #2:

When a drummer slams down on the cymbals in some sections of a recording but plays softly in others. Having a dynamic option to attenuate the harshness only when the nasty frequencies are present is a big help.

8. Work in layers to beef up your hi-hat

iZotope has published a number of drum mixing articles onhow to layer kicks, snares, and percussionto achieve more textured and powerful grooves. This same concept applies to mix hi-hats.

After removing stinging frequencies in a hi-hat with EQ, you may find your hat now sounds dull and gets washed away in the mix. To bring back some energy, program a white noise sample to match the rhythm of the hats. The white noise will fill out the spectrum—making up the lost frequencies—and produce a more full-bodied hat sound. Adding some modulation or reverb to the white noise sample will improve high-end detail as well.

Another trick to excite filtered hi-hats is to slap on some saturation or distortion. While not exactly a “layer,” the added harmonics from these plug-ins will make the hats sound thicker, as if another sound was added to it.

Conclusion

The tips in this article should give you a handle on some of the common issues encountered when mixing hi-hats, along with solutions to fix them. I find that most of the work is corrective—once hi-hats can be heard clearly, they contribute to the overall groove in an engaging way. A clean sound also helps to ensure minimal (over-) processing later on.

Before I go, here’s a bonus tip: You will find that many of these tips work well together—like combining transient shaping with dynamic EQ or panning with swing. So remember to experiment with the points above.

(Video) 8 Powerful Trap Hi-Hat Techniques For Better Groove

FAQs

How do you mix high hats? ›

If you want your hi-hats to sound more aggressive turn up the attack. And down the sustain. And of

How can I make my hi-hat sound better? ›

Number. One don't close the hats too tight even if you're going for a closed sound a lot of times

How do you EQ a high hats trap? ›

Slap. One because you're taking the hi-hat transient off the kick and snare transient and to the

How do you mix cymbals? ›

We just jog up the drive until things sound nice and rounded out this particular model has a very

What dB should hi-hats be in a mix? ›

What dB should hi-hats be in a mix? It's difficult to give a one size fits all that will work across every genre but starting between -20 and -25 dB is usually a good start. That will help balance the high-frequency hi-hats without taming them too much.

Where should hi-hats be in a mix? ›

By panning hi-hats to the sides, everything that's left in the center will get more attention, simultaneously making the mix feel wider and more rhythmic. For hip-hop and electronic tracks, I like to pan hats 30–50% away from the center.

Should hi-hats be in mono? ›

The kick and the snare should be mono, the open-hats and the toms should be panned, and the closed hi-hats can be both panned and stereo.

How can I make my cymbals sound better? ›

However, there are a few things you can do that will make your current cymbals sound slightly better.
  1. Upgrade Your Hardware.
  2. Improve Your Technique.
  3. Keep Cymbals Clean.
  4. Making Your Cymbals Sound Brighter or Darker.
  5. Soundproofing Your Drum Room.
  6. Adding Things to the Cymbals.
  7. Getting Better Cymbals.
30 Dec 2021

How do I make my hi-hat less harsh? ›

Hi-Hat Tutorial: How to EQ The Perfect Hi-Hat | Soundoracle.net - YouTube

How do you equalize cymbals? ›

To properly EQ cymbals, you will need to use the high pass filter to cut the rumble in the low-end and address the low-mids and high-mids if necessary. Cymbals need to be heard very clearly and balanced with all other sounds, or it will badly affect the whole mix.

What dB should snare be at? ›

How loud should drums be in a mix?
Drums Bus-12 dB LUFS0.6 dbTP
Snare17 dB LUFS-2.6 dBTP
Percussion-22 dB LUFS-4.6 dBTP
Vocals-13 dB LUFS1.6 dBTP
Bass– 17 dB LUFS-5.8 dBTP
1 more row

How do you make a high hat sizzle? ›

Sizzling The Hi-Hats - Drum Lessons - YouTube

How do you EQ overhead cymbals? ›

How to EQ Drum Overheads and Cymbals (for Rock / Metal Drums)

What frequency should cymbals be? ›

Typically between 300-600 Hz, all the way up to 4-6k Hz for upper sheen. “Air” and high harmonics can go all the way up to 20kHz, and beyond the hearing range actually.

How do you bring drums forward in the mix? ›

How To Open Up Your Drums In The Mix - TheRecordingRevolution.com

What level do you mix at? ›

what volume should you mix at? To hear the most accurate representation of your music, you should mix at 85db to 90db while EQing and critical listening. The rest of the time you should mix at a volume level that allows for a conversation without raising your voice.

Should hi-hat be panned left or right? ›

definitely left. Nothing is worse than air drumming and hearing the hi hat come from the right. I started off as a drummer, so for purely audio listening I'd be inclined to say left. However, there are left-handed drummers that sometimes have their kit pretty much opposite the standard.

How do you EQ kick a drum? ›

How to EQ Kick Drum Like a Pro (3 Quick Steps) - YouTube

Should hi-hats be mono or stereo? ›

The kick and the snare should be mono, the open-hats and the toms should be panned, and the closed hi-hats can be both panned and stereo. However, they don't have to be. Sometimes, you'd want to spread your drums differently around the stereo field.

What frequency should hi-hats be? ›

Typical hi-hats are usually between 300-3000 Hz dominant frequencies, and can extend up to 10-17k Hz for crispness, “air” and sparkle. The “shhhhhhhhh” sound is usually found at the 2-3k Hz range.

How do you mix overhead drum mics? ›

How To Get Pro Sounding Drum Overheads - YouTube

What dB should snare be at? ›

How loud should drums be in a mix?
Drums Bus-12 dB LUFS0.6 dbTP
Snare17 dB LUFS-2.6 dBTP
Percussion-22 dB LUFS-4.6 dBTP
Vocals-13 dB LUFS1.6 dBTP
Bass– 17 dB LUFS-5.8 dBTP
1 more row

How do you make a high hat sizzle? ›

Sizzling The Hi-Hats - Drum Lessons - YouTube

How do I make my hi-hat less harsh? ›

Hi-Hat Tutorial: How to EQ The Perfect Hi-Hat | Soundoracle.net - YouTube

Should mono be clap? ›

It all depends on the song you are making, so you can freely keep the Clap in the MONO. Though, we recommend adding claps into the stereo more as it adds a nice interest in the mix and doesn't cause stereo issues. Tip – use the snare as a MONO, and widen the Clap.

How do you EQ your cymbals? ›

To properly EQ cymbals, you will need to use the high pass filter to cut the rumble in the low-end and address the low-mids and high-mids if necessary. Cymbals need to be heard very clearly and balanced with all other sounds, or it will badly affect the whole mix.

How do you hand clap in EQ? ›

How to make your claps HUGE, THICK and WIDE + Secret tip

How do you EQ kick a drum? ›

How to EQ Kick Drum Like a Pro (3 Quick Steps) - YouTube

Should you use reverb on overheads? ›

It's quite common to send all your drums to the same reverb, but applying a separate reverb to a finicky set of overheads may be what's required to prevent them from sounding “flat.” Abbey Road Reverb Plates has a shimmery personality and allows you to filter its output signal; this helps separate the reverb from the ...

How do you EQ drum mics? ›

EQ
  1. Remove any low-end rumble using a high-pass filter, up to 50 Hz depending on the mix.
  2. Boost the fundamental frequency of the kick, typically between 60 and 120 Hz (or cut if there's too much)
  3. Remove any mud in the low-mids, typically around 250 Hz.
28 Jul 2020

Do you need to compress every track? ›

You should not compress every track in your song automatically. Compression should be applied to tracks that have a large difference in volume between the loudest and quietest parts. It can also be used to add energy to a track. It is perfectly acceptable to have a track with no compression on it.

What level should drums peak at? ›

In the case of drums, I shoot for the peaks of -8 to -10 dBFS and the average level can be whatever. When combined in a bus, I like the average level of my instruments combined output from the bus to be around -18 dBFS RMS if possible, and the peaks to be -10 to -8 dBFS maximum.

How many dB should vocals be? ›

What dB should vocals be recorded at? You should record vocals at an average of -18dB for 24-bit resolution. The loudest parts of the recording should peak at -10dB and be lowest at -24dB.

What level should I gain stage? ›

So maintaining the same concept of optimal gain staging that you use during recording is your best bet: -18dBFS is a good average level to aim for. Keeping it conservative will help you maintain proper gain structure throughout your mix.

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