How to Treat Your Drums as a Single Instrument

When you’re excited to dive into a new session, it’s easy to get lost in all of the options available at your fingertips. If your source audio is less ideal this process might start with editing individual tracks. If they’re already sounding pretty clean you might choose to jump right into the mix.

Once you’re there, your ears being searching out anything that it can fix. Something too loud? Reduce the volume. A little too much low end? Drop a high-pass filter on it.

Pans. EQs. Compressors. Reverbs. Delays. Limiters.

The list goes on and on as you go down the rabbit hole of mixing.

But once you get there – have you ever noticed some of your instruments aren’t sounding quite right? You quickly realize that while everything sounds good nothing sounds like it was recorded together. Each element of your mix has its own space, but no two elements are in the same space.

This is never more apparent than it is when drums are all processed independently of each other…

Spotting the Signs 

Finding the problem isn’t as easy as it is to spot other common mixing issues, it’s not like any one shell or cymbal is the problem in your drum mix. While volume adjustments are going to do a bit to mitigate the issue, it’s not the same as treating your drums as a cohesive instrument.

You want your drums to cascade down to a single element, and to get there, you need to make sure they’re working in the same headspace.

To do this, you need to realize that having everything punchy and impactful is actually a give and take. Think of it from a MIDI perspective: you can’t have everything set to max velocity all of the time without serious masking and unwanted digital clipping.

Instead, you need to work within the limitation of your mix. Find the loudest point on any element of your drum mix (usually a loud snare crack) and work your way down from there. By working from your loudest point, you limit your exposure to clipping and can quickly & easily balance each piece of your kit.

Combining Your Sounds 

Bussing and subgrouping are an absolute must when it comes to mixes with high track counts. They also find a place in smaller sessions when you’re looking to create a consistent sound (though you’ll probably end up with fewer of them).

By setting up an Aux Bus for things like your drums, you add a whole new realm of functionality that you just didn’t have access to before.

Think about your Aux Bus as a sub-mix of your overall session. You’ll be mixing all of your drum tracks into a single stereo channel. You get the monitoring provided by that channel, where you can address clipping before it hits your master channel. You get a whole set of inserts and sends to process your drums as a single instrument.

You don’t have to stop at just one either. Some engineers with multiple snare mics will bus them down to a single Snare Bus, then run that into the Drum Bus. The same could be said for Kicks and Room tracks.

Bussing makes your mix more manageable and enables you to work on different mix elements in groups. Think of all the time (not to mention processing power) you can save!

Gluing It All Together 

Once you’ve set your drums up for easy processing, it’s time to drive them home.

What if I told you the punchiness that you thought you were compromising on when trying to level out your drums a few minutes ago wasn’t gone?

Using the right bus compressor, you can actually add that punchiness back in while simultaneously adding some dynamic gel to the entire drum kit.

As part of the Bus Glue series, we knew we needed to include something to specifically address drums. After all, they’re one of the most common instruments subjected to bus compression on a regular basis. Without BG-Drums, the Bus Glue collection wouldn’t feel half as complete as it does.

Using the right bus compressor is about more than just adding any old compressor to your bus. You need to use one that a) does what you want it to do and b) is optimized for whatever application you’re trying to use it for.

Knowing that the majority of BG-Drums users were going to be looking for punchy, powerful drums. In an effort to give as much control to our users as possible, we built the plugin with my favorite types of sounds I go for in the studio: Tight, Open, Fat & Boom.

Between those four options and the ability to process your drums in parallel with the Mix knob, there’s a whole spectrum of bus compression to explore – all of which are made to give you an impactful, cohesive drum sound.

Do You Have a Bus Compressor on Your Drums?

If so, is it optimized for your drums like BG-Drums is? If not, what are you waiting for?

Come see how Joey Sturgis Tones community members are using BG-Drums in their mixes. All month we’ll be featuring our favorite Bus Glue videos on JST’s Facebook & Instagram pages. Come share your own for your chance to get featured in front of more than 70,000 musicians, engineers and producers!