Ever wonder how to get those tight, slammin’ drum tracks that you hear in dance music? There are many methods to achieve these sounds, but here are a few techniques, ranging from beginning to more advanced to help you get the biggest boom for your drum tracks.
Tune Your Drums – When working with sampled drums, drum machines, or drum machine emulators, make sure to tune your kick to the fundamental frequency of the song. This will allow the kick to sit in a comfortable space that is pleasing to the ear. Also, for most dance music you would want to use more than one kick. I usually use a series of 3 kicks together in the following manner:
1. Sub-bass kick – you can create this with a virtual drum machine such as D-16’s Drumazon, where you can emulate the classic sound of a 909, a preset in a soft synth like Rob Papen’s Predator, or of course, if you have an analog synth or drum machine you can get your sub sounds from there. Use caution when adjusting the ASDR settings for the sub bass because it can become fatiguing if there’s to much sustain on the kick, as it can also be difficult to tame in your mix – A little goes a long way in this frequency spectrum. This usually lies in the 30Hz to 70Hz range.
2. Main kick – this is where you have more power. You can get these sounds from a sample library, using electronic or acoustic drum sounds. Again, if you’re using a software sampler like Native Instruments Battery, you can tune the sample up or down about 5 steps without it loosing too much of its original sound. After tuned, this kick will be an octave about your sub-bass kick which again, will add to the harmonic richness of the overall song, not just your drums. The frequency of this kick should be around 80Hz to 150 Hz.
3. Click – the third component to add can be a click or pop. This doesn’t necessarily have to be tuned like the others. This adds a snap to the kick, filling out the sound so that the ear hears an attack on top of the full sound of the kick. This frequency range may be much higher – anywhere from 3k to 8k.
Phase Align – After exporting your drum tracks, make sure that they are in proper phase relation. Even if they sound close, they may have subtle attack differences that could contribute to phasing. You may either zoom in and align the samples by hand in your DAW, or you can use a function like Logic Studio’s flex time to create a groove template from your main kick, then synchronize the other two kicks to it. I am a huge fan of flex time in Logic, and use it frequently for drums and percussion. This tool is invaluable for aligning loops to the proper quantization that you have in your track, and can be a life-saver when you have a great loop you’d love to use, but it swings differently than your track. We’ll talk much more in the future about flex time in Logic!
Groups – Create a drum group in which to process all your drum tracks. I sometimes like to make two groups, one for drums and another for loops. This way you can process the elements individually, then mold the sounds together. This also helps if you
are adding filter sweeps or low cut effects on the drum tracks – you can easily automate these effects to the whole drum bus while keeping the individual instruments in balance. Generally a compressor with some gain reduction and a moderate ratio (no more than 4:1) on the drum group works to glue the sounds together.
EQ – I usually put an EQ insert on each track and sweep upwards to the fundamental tone of the kicks and snare to clean out any low end frequencies not needed in the mix. Sometimes EQ can be used to also clean out any high-end overtones present in any of the drum parts, especially if you’re using some of the more tuned percussion parts that have higher frequencies that may cloud the mix if they’re in the same register as a vocal or other instrumental part. Like usual, try not to use additive EQ when possible, it’s always better to cut than to add.
Dynamics – When using compression or limiters on your individual drum tracks, pay careful attention to the attack and release times. This is what can make the drums sound muffled and lifeless if overused. I don’t usually advise mixing with tracks soloed, however sometimes I will solo the snare drum track or tracks to hear the exact amount of compression and how the attack and release times effect the transients and fullness of the drums. Gating can also be very useful when your snare sources have extra reverb or long decays. You can either side-chain the gate to the fundamental frequency of the snare or just use it to cut off the tails to allow more room in the mix in more of a linear aspect.
Effects – If you want to add a small amount of reverb, try to do it on select instruments within your drum group. Delay can be added slightly to either high-hats or shakers, but make sure that the delay setting is not too active or long (try 1/8 or 1/16 notes – not dotted). If the delay times are too long or active, the sounds can loose definition and the mix can become washy. When adding any types of effects that can effect the stereo image, make sure to periodically check you mix in mono to ensure that phasing is not occurring.
Parallel Compression – I am a huge fan of parallel compression, and I think it is the best way to increase your “loudness” or RMS levels within your mix without loosing the original sound of the samples being used. This can be used on the individual tracks as well as the drum group. I like to use a big compressor like Wave H-Comp with a really high setting (from 20:1 up to 50:1) to really fatten the sound without running out of headroom or over-compressing on the insert.
If you start your mix by laying a solid, harmonic drum foundation prior to filling in the instruments in the rest of the frequency spectrum, you will immediately notice your tracks getting tighter and sounding more full, allowing you to achieve big drums capable of droppin’ the boom!
via David Edward Jensen for Prime Loops