Hi-hats are responsible for producing the highest frequency sounds. The sounds they produce are vital to creating a great drum mix. When you are mixing drums, you may not pay much attention to mixing hi-hats. So we decided to create a guide for drummers to learn how to mix hi-hats.
The reason why it is important to mix hi-hats well is that your hi-hats can be all over the place, resulting in an unbalanced frequency. So it’s important to mix hi-hats for a perfect balance of sound:
Adjusting the Hi-Hat Levels
The first step in mixing your hi-hits should always be gain-staging. These levels would differ, depending on the genre. But if you have too loud hi-hats, you will be creating a grave mistake because loud hi-hats can sound TOO LOUD since they do not compete with anything in their frequency range.
So make sure your hi-hats are lower, especially in less saturated mixes. In more saturated mixes, however, you should set them high. The best way to determine this is to listen to the reference tracks in that genre and match the hi-hat levels accordingly.
EQing the Hi-Hats
Having a well-balanced EQ is the most important in mixing your hi-hats. Any sound with an unbalanced EQ will sound unfinished and incoherent. A hi-hat has a really low fundamental frequency. The lowest frequencies of a hi-hat when playing a natural sound will fall in the 200-500 Hz range. But most of the sounds require a hi-hat between a 5k-20k range.
To EQ your hi-hats:
Check the Source
When applying EQ to the hi-hats, check your source material. In the case of live drums, you may have the hi-hats in the overhead track. So the EQ you apply to your hi-hat will also be applied to cymbals and drum hits. But if you are EQing electronic or solo drum samples, you can apply the EQ individually. Use a spectrum analyzer to check the frequency of your hi-hats and then act accordingly.
The reason why you should EQ your hi-hats like this is to get rid of the unnecessary low frequencies and allow room for other low and mid-frequency instruments. The best tip is to take note of the frequency ranges of instruments when they are coming into your mix and then to subtract them if they are interfering with other instruments.
Compressing the Hi-Hats
Compressing your hi-hats is another important factor in mixing them. But the level of compression will depend on the genre. Some genres like modern pop, alt-rock, and hip hop use more compression. But today, you will find musicians telling you to use as little compression as possible as over-compressed hi-hats will sound artificial and lifeless. But if a track has a full arrangement, you will need compression in the hi-hats because your hi-hats will get lost in the mix without compression.
For a perfect approach, you should try parallel compression. Parallel compression doubles one signal and plays one raw and one with compression. So your track will not sound lifeless or too lively. When applying compression, you can also change the attack and release times of the compressor. If your hi-hat sounds lifeless, use a longer attack. Both the attack and release times will be different depending on your mix. So try a mix of different settings to see what fits your needs.
Coming to reverb, the best reverb setting for hi-hats is very light or no reverb at all. Because too much of it will make your song sound murky.
Mixing Trap Hi-Hats
In trap music, hi-hats play a crucial role and are the main feature of the genre. In fact, trap music is solely defined by hi-hats. Unlike other genres, the hi-hats in trap music are loud with high frequency. While the remaining instruments are unsaturated and dark, the vocals and hi-hats are responsible for high frequencies.
The reason why live drumming sounds more lively than recorded drumming is that our ears instantly recognize the variations in the tone. Every single time a drummer hits the drums, you will feel all the variations differently. On the other hand, trap music involves drum machines that sound extremely artificial. The hi-hats in trap music produce way more depth than our ears can take.
To mix hi-hats for trap music, you should try using various effects at different times. You can create a dynamic texture by applying varying effects. You can either automate it or create various hi-hat tracks. Try adding delays or reverbs to different tracks, adding digital or analog distortion, or increasing or lowering the pitch. Mixing things up will give you so much depth in your trap hi-hats.
Now that you know how to mix hi-hats, go ahead and try it out yourself. Mixing hi-hats is very important to create the perfect track. Mixing your hi-hats like a professional will make you realize what good, professional-quality music sounds like. You will feel like an expert music producer. However, if you still cannot master the art of mixing hi-hats, you can get in touch with a professional who will do it for you.