Face it. Your drums have been sounding a bit thin lately, haven’t they? Lacking a little punch? Well, good news. This week’s video can help you fix all that. Through saturation, distortion, and group processing, we’ll show you how to get your drum beats sounding exactly the way you want them to.
In this week’s tutorial, Fabio from Noize will walk us through several ways to bring your drum mixing to another level. Through techniques both simple and advanced, we’re here to help you polish up those drums once and for all.
As always, don’t forget about our monthly $500 giveaway. On the video, comment down below with what your favorite compressor is, hardware or software. We wanna know what you’re using! Let’s get the conversation going, and you could be the next winner of some great new studio gear.
Without further ado, let’s let Fabio take us through the steps.
Thickening Up Samples: Mixing Drums Tip 1
Making your samples sound more distinguishable and unique is something we all aim for, but unfortunately, too many of us feel like we need to overload on the effects to make it happen. In reality, there’s a much simpler way to get around all this. Let’s take this snare example.
Here we’ve cut out one of the snare samples, loaded it into a sampler, and brought it down minus three semitones. This could be accomplished with a sound shifter, but the great thing about a sampler is that it retains the quality you need. All it does is stretch the sample out, making it a bit longer.
Next, we’ll quickly draw in some MIDI to match the snare rhythm, then take the volume all the way down and blend it in.
We’ll finish the snare off by shaving off some of that tail, making it a bit tighter.
As you can see, it’s not always about loads of effects, but rather what you can do with the sample that’s already there.
Flipping the Phase: Mixing Drums Tip 2
Now, this is something that doesn’t get spoken about a whole lot, but it can be one of the most effective ways of making sure that when you layer kicks, they’ll actually be getting bigger and thicker instead of losing all of their punch and body.
Here’s an example. We’ve got this kick here, and we want to layer it to give it a thicker sound with this other kick here.
We can very quickly check to ensure there’s no phase cancellation going on by simply adding a gain utility plugin. Making sure the left and right are inverted, and then turning it on and off.
After you’ve toggled it on and off, you can easily hear that when the phase is inverted, it loses its punch, whereas the original sample is just adding to what’s already there.
Soft Clipping: Mixing Drums Tip 3
If you want to get punchy drums that actually sound louder, rather than just being louder on the meter, one thing you should learn about is soft clipping. This can be achieved very simply with something like an overdrive plugin. If you’re using Ableton, try the Saturator.
By driving the snare or the sound into the digital resistors that are there, we’ve clipped the tops of those transients. However, we’re adding a little bit of tone at the same time. This way, it can sound louder but still be metered quieter.
We’re gonna go ahead and drive the signal until we achieve a desirable change in tone and color. You should start to feel it become a bit soft. Now, let’s turn it on and off and match the perceived volume. Check the meter. With it off, it should be hitting zero.
It should sound about the same volume, possibly a bit louder, but it’s peaking a lot quieter. Right now we’re only at 4.5, so let’s hear it on and off.
Hypothetically, this means we could make our snare 4.5 decibels louder and not take up any additional headroom. You can also apply this very same technique to kicks, hats, or anything you think might sound a bit too punchy but where you also don’t want to lose the loudness.
In this group, we have these sets of hats which are sitting a little too upfront. We want to give a little bit more of a 3D space and push them back. So next, we’ll take a quick listen.
Take a reverb and apply it to the channel directly. We’ll make this nice and short. Like, extremely short. We’ll go from 0.4 of a second and bring the pre-delay all the way down. What we’ll do next is bring up the wet until we start to feel a little bit of that room, width, and sustain.
The idea here is to make the reverb sound not obvious, to move it out of the way of the rest of the drums.
A Compressor With ‘FET’: Mixing Drums Tip 4
If saturating, distorting, or soft clipping isn’t exactly giving you the flavor you want, there’s always this option: load a compressor with a ‘FET’ option. That’s anything that’s based on an 1176. And if you’re not familiar with that particular compressor, it’s pretty great, and it has a high level of distortion depending on how you feed the signal into it.
You can get a similar effect to soft clipping, but through a compressor, and that’ll give you a bit of a different tone that sits nicely alongside other saturated sounds.
It’s vital to make sure that the attack is at zero, or at least very, very, very fast. We’ll overdo the compression, figure out the ratio and release settings, and then pull it back. We’ve opted for the fastest attack and a fairly fast release to deal with the incoming transient so that the gain reduction isn’t holding on for too long.
We’re also going to go for a higher ratio. These are much better at dealing with peaks, and we’ll have about eight decibels of gain reduction occurring.
What we’re doing is controlling those transients while adding a little bit of that saturated tone due to the nature of the compressor.
Attack & Release: Mixing Drums Tip 5
One important thing to be aware of are your attack and release settings when compressing your drums as a group. A slow attack will let the transients pass, making everything punchier. A too-fast attack will make everything sound too squashed. At this point, you’re not looking to do too much compression.
We’re going to be using this Lindell SBC, which is based on an API 2500. The Lindell does a particularly good job at compressing drums and carries with it great color and tone.
Go ahead and over-compress the signal, and then play it with the attack. A fairly slow attack is preferred here. Even with the 2500, it still feels a little fast. Let’s back off the threshold and do a bit of gain staging.
Earlier in this tutorial, we talked about saturation and clipping, but now we’re going to apply this to the drums as a whole. We’ve chosen Saturn, in particular, because it can do a lot more than just saturation. Let Fabio here show you what we mean. You’re first going to saturate the signal with warm tape.
What Saturn allows us to do is break it up into bands. So now we have multi-band saturating control of each of the sections: lows, mids, and highs.
But we’re not going to saturate anything further quite yet. We’re going to use the dynamics band to pull down the sustain. We’ll remove some of the sustain and release from the mids to make it sound more clear and more punchy.
So now we have the best of both worlds. We have a bit of saturation, and we also have a bit of transient control. Let’s maybe add a little more sustain to the hats, though.
So you’ll see that with just a few moves from one plugin, we can achieve the saturation, tone, and transient control that we’re looking for.
Parallel Distortion: Mixing Drums Tip 6
The last thing we’re gonna get into is parallel distortion. Many of you are likely already familiar with this, or with New York-style compression on drums. We’re actually using one compressor here to apply the parallel distortion and then another pure distortion unit.
Here we’re using the Devil-Loc by Soundtoys, and the Fatso by Slate Digital.
Now we’ll increase the signal, so they’re being triggered very heavily. Then we’ll use the fader on the stems themselves to control the level.