Big, punchy drums are in high demand in almost every genre of music today. They have to be for modern mixes to stay relevant and competitive. Even the sparsest, ambient arrangements are driven forward by a kick/snare pattern or other percussive sounds.
Artists rely on their recording engineers and mixers to help them get those sounds. Booming, powerful drums cut right through the core of the mix without becoming overpowering or disconnected from the rest of the instrumentation.
But the pros know that these qualities don’t just come from turning up the gain on their preamp or raising a fader in their DAW – they come from lots of training, experimentation, and knowing how to use the tools at their disposal.
Here are just a handful of ways that professionals are getting bigger, more powerful drums:
During Drum Tracking Sessions
If you’re tracking live drums, you’ve got a great opportunity to create bigger, better drums right from the source. With a bit of refinement, a kit can double in size just by using the right techniques. So what does that look like in practice?
For starters, it means maintaining your equipment. Tuning your drums and using fresh heads for recording sessions will get you the clearest tones and the easiest ones to manipulate in the box.
From there, it’s all about pairing the right microphones to your sources, getting their placements right, and taking the room into account. There are some industry standard drum microphones that everyone uses, but don’t be afraid to stray from the path and try something new when looking for your own sound.
With the right mic selection and placement, drums can and will sound huge right from the start, before you ever reach for a plugin.
Peak Clipping Your Kick & Snare
You know how digital clipping is terrible for your mixes? By recording too hot, you end up chopping off the loudest parts of your signal, destroying your dynamics in the process. But with peak clipping plugins like JST Clip, you can get some classic analog-style saturation instead.
Peak clippers increase the perceived volume of a sound without actually making the signal louder. Instead of cutting off your signal’s peaks, they work to round them off harmonically – resulting in a fuller, punchier sound. These results are exactly what make them a favorite for many mixers’ kick and snare tracks.
Use Transient Shaping
Another lesser-known processor is the transient shaper – a plugin used to morph the transient of your sound by drawing out its attack or sustain. With transient shaping, you gain a level of control previously unaddressed by anything other than proper mic placement.
Transient shapers come in all shapes and sizes, but their purpose is the same: to maximize the impact of your transients. More advanced transient shapers will let you take a multi-band approach and even include additional bells and whistles like integrated peak clipping circuits. Dynamics are everything when it comes to mixing drums.
Drum Bus Compression
Drum bus compression is usually the first thing in many of these lists, but what used to be a part of a pro’s secret sauce has spread quickly to all corners of the industry. Using compression on drums is one of the easiest ways to create a cohesive drum mix that makes all of your individual drum tracks gel together.
In many cases, parallel compression on drums has also become a gold standard for big, powerful drums. By mixing a heavily compressed signal in with unprocessed tracks, you’re retaining the punch of those original dynamics intact while filling out the body of the kit.
Not to mention, drum bus processing is the perfect staging step for our final tip…
Reshape Your Space With Reverb
Yes – reverb; the thing that makes your guitar solos sound like they’re being played in a stadium despite the fact that you recorded it through a DI box directly into your computer. The same kind of reverb you use on a vocalist to add depth and complexity to their performance. Reverb even works with drums to place them in a completely different headspace sonically.
Reverb is a great tool for adding size to your drums, especially if they were recorded in a small space, but you need to dial it in just right and be conservative with your usage. Too much reverb on a drum mix will make it sound muddy or washed out. It needs to be subtly added in parallel to add depth without overpowering, just like parallel compression.
But done right, reverb can completely change the space around your drum mix for the better.
Why are drums so difficult to mix?
If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, you’re not alone.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of engineers and mixers struggle with their drums every day. No other instrument combines as many tracks all coming from the same source. Maybe it’s the close proximity of the microphones to one another or the incredible range of sounds from drums to cymbals, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Our eBook, Taking Control of Your Drum Mix, was designed to help music professionals at all levels get more organized with their drum mixes. Stop letting untamed dynamics and muddy tracks overpower your mix by checking it out today!