Advanced Techniques for Bigger, Better Toms

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Have you ever noticed that cleaning live tom tracks can completely destroy the tone and resonance of them? To some extent, you need to get rid of bleed if it’s overpowering your tracks, but it’s kind of like fixing one problem and creating a whole set of new ones. You’re essentially just trading in one major issue with your drum mix for another.

One of the most common solutions used by engineers in this scenario is to attempt recovering some of their toms’ natural decay by pulling them from room mics or overheads, but that’s like putting a bandage on a wound that needs stitches. You might get some temporary success, but realistically those other mics are never going to have quite as much of the character you’re hoping for in them, and you’re likely sacrificing the sound of the rest of your kit from using them in that manner.

So what’s an engineer or mixer to do when their cleaned tom tracks don’t have the same body and decay they did in the session?

Are Samples An Option?

A better solution to the problem than debasing your room mics for tom tone is using samples in your mixes. Samples can be layered in with your live tom tracks to bring some additional life and punch to them. Often, well recorded samples will have all of the ring you could want and have been processed by pros to sound their best right out of the box.

This approach isn’t full-on sample replacement, just supplementing where needed. Keep them low in the mix and tightly aligned with your source track (triggered is easiest, but manual placement is fine too). Nobody will ever know the difference on the final mix if you’ve done it right.

If you don’t have a sample library or your samples are just too drastically different in character to your originals, consider making some samples of your own. You can even use the toms from your current session to accomplish this!

Simply find a well-isolated tom hit within your track (pre-cleaning preferred) and use that as your sample to be mixed in with the other hits. If you have a few good ones, consider using them interchangeably to keep some variety in the tone. Your sonic structure will be nearly identical since it’s the same tom and you’ll have a way to pump some of the body back into each hit.

Synthesized Tom Supplements

Samples aren’t a perfect solution for every song. You need variety to your tom hits to keep things interesting and you can’t always get that with a limited sample library. Sometimes the effects of using samples in your mix is just too noticeable, no matter how subtly you try to include them.

In situations like this, a more advanced solution is necessary, such are reshaping the toms with a wave generator and mixing that into your song. A synthesizer built for low-end frequencies like Sub Destroyer is a great tool for the job, but it requires an attention to detail, some manipulation of the source tom track, and a bit of additional routing in your DAW to get just right.

Check out our full in-depth tutorial of this technique below:

Can you hear how effective this fix was for this particular session by the end of the video? A listener will never be able to pick out those synthesized frequencies as anything supplemental, but the toms sound full-bodied and present – as if they were sample-quality from the start!

Getting to a Better Drum Mix

Toms are just a part of the overall drum sound in a mix, and while they can sound incredible on their own, that won’t matter if they don’t feel connected to the rest of the kit. A great drum mix finds a way to accentuate the kick, snare, toms, overheads & rooms all at once. Accomplishing this requires both patience and strategy – you need to know where everything’s going before you put it there.

To help make a strategy, we pulled together some of the best techniques for mixing drums in our eBook, Taking Control of Your Drum Mix. Inside, we discuss the anatomy of a drum kit, provide a checklist you can use on every mix, and discuss even more advanced techniques to get the most out of each part of your kit.

JST VIP members can download their copy of Taking Control of Your Drum Mix from their Dashboard today!

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