Reason is a top choice for music producers. It’s got a unique interface reminiscent of analog rack gear, tons of built-in instruments and effects, plus support for third-party plugins.
Producers and arrangers just can’t seem to get enough of it – even going as far as using ReWire to essentially map Reason into other DAWs as an instrument. I’ve seen producers use Reason with Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton and more just to get the workflow they desire.
But one thing I’ve also heard a lot from Reason users is that they’d love to get harder, punchier drums in their mixes. They want thicker kicks and crispier snares than the default sounds they’re getting from their virtual instruments.
Don’t we all sometimes?
Today, I want to look at how some Reason users are achieving just that – regardless of if they’re doing it right within the rack in Reason or in the DAW they’re hooked into.
Using Saturation for Harder Drums
Saturation is one of the most commonly used tools when it comes to getting an old school, grittier sound without sounding overly harsh. Tools like JST Clip are perfect for clipping the peaks of your signal in a harmonically pleasing way so your listeners hear something “harder” than what was there before.
It’s a great trick of the trade to use – especially if you’ve already exhausted all of the headroom available in your mix.
Clippers and saturation in general work by making your signal appear louder without actually adding much volume at all. With clippers, this is done by folding down the peaks of your audio based on the level you set. Folding them under creates a harsher edge to the waveform without the inconsistencies that you might experience with digital clipping (which is what you hear when you turn a track up too loud).
Think of saturation on your drums in a way that is similar to using a distortion pedal on a guitar. There are plenty of options to get the sound your after, you just need to pick the one that works best for your situation.
Guitars have overdrives, fuzzes & distortions.
Drums have clippers, compressors & limiters.
While clippers are a tried and true method for adding saturation to your drums, you should experiment with all of these options to find out how each one can work to your benefit.
Bus Processing Drums & Loops
Clipping can be added to individual drum tracks without an issue. Mixers will frequently use a peak clipper on just their kick or snare to get it to cut through the mix, but what happens when you want to clip multiple instruments at once?
By placing your peak clipper immediately after your sampler in Reason (or through the use of bus processing elsewhere), you can do just that with incredible results.
Using a peak clipper on your drum bus gives you all of the benefits you’d have on an individual track, but in a method that adds some of that same crunch to other parts of your drum mix. Everything gets a bit edgier.
By taking this approach on your drum bus, everything sort of breathes together. When your kick hits the peak clipper hard, everything in the drum mix gets clipped together. You end up with trashier cymbals, shakers & claps momentarily until the signal ducks back under the threshold.
This is the way producers are getting that “edge of breakup” sound out of their drum mixes where the whole thing sounds like it could go off the rails at any minute. Harder drum beats are a result of treating your drums as a single instrument. They need to push and pull against each other.
Check out this great example of how Dusty Ohms manages to get a warm, thick drum mix using the Kong Drum Designer in Reason with some additional saturation:
Hear how the clippers add a bit of edge to not just his drums, but his synths too?
Understanding the Dynamics of Your Drums
Drum processing doesn’t have to be rocket science – you just need to understand how each piece of the kit interacts with each other and how your drum bus interacts with the rest of your mix.
If you’re serious about learning all there is to know about your drums, our eBook, Taking Control of Your Drum Mix. In the eBook, we go deeper into drum clipping, how you can build a solid foundation for your drum mix, and where your efforts are best spent when trying to dial in the perfect balance.