Way too often when listening to someone’s mix, I notice there’s a huge imbalance between their kick and their snare sound. It’s rarely just one thing; much of the disconnect comes from different aspects of each track’s sound. What ends up happening is that one sits better in the mix than the other, there’s a general lack of cohesiveness in the drums, and worst of all, the listener becomes distracted or disconnected because of it.
Getting your kick and snare to play nice with each other is one of the most underrated ways that any engineer or mixer can make their work sound professional. Perhaps best of all, many of the ways you go about doing it don’t require much experience at all – just an attention to detail and a little bit of time.
So with that said, here are three of my favorite ways to get my kicks and snares to compliment each other when I’m working on a mix:
When most performers talk about pocketing, they’re talking about the groove of the song and how they can add slight timing inconsistencies to add feel to the performance. If you’re working in a modern pop setting, pocketing might be as straightforward as locking your kick and snare to a grid. Other genres like jazz and funk are going to be a bit off of the grid. It really just depends on the song.
Regardless of how the pocketing of your song is set up, it’s your job to make sure everything fits tightly to that groove.
If you’re working with something that’s four-to-the-floor or fast and aggressive, perhaps a bit of quantizing or editing to the grid is all you’ll need. For those with unconventional timing and more freeform grooves, pocketing is going to be about keeping instruments locked in with each other. This means making sure your kicks on a downbeat align with the bass or that a snare hits right alongside a horns stab.
The situations are endless, but pocketing done well just sounds “right” when you’re listening back. I’d recommend anyone that feels their session doesn’t feel right start with their kick and snare. From there, you can build the timing of everything else around these two percussive elements.
One thing that almost every mixer seeks in their drum sound is a powerful, full kit. They want kick drums like cannons and snares like rifle. The problem with this is that often, the two end up overlapping and fighting for space in the spectrum. This can lead to masking of certain frequencies and other more serious issues if not addressed appropriately.
Treating this issue can be as simple as using EQs to create separation. Your snare drum can be hi-passed to clean up a lot of the low-end content that’s cutting into your kicks space without removing the body of the snare. What’s more, other processors like your compressor or limiter can be pushed harder with less clutter in the snare’s lower range to deal with.
After you’ve got things separated with EQ, a great final touch can be a bit of transient modification using a tool like Transify. Because of it’s multi-band structure, Transify allows you to go in and surgically boost or cut transients in a given frequency range, rather than acting on all frequencies like all other transient designers tend to.
This means more control and the ability to separate your transients for your kicks from the transients for your snares. At the end of the day, it also means a more consistent sound between the two instruments.
Up to this point, we’ve been talking about what you need to do to create separation and define the roles played by your kick and snare in a mix, but to really get them sounding right in your mix you’re eventually going to need to bring them back together.
After all, you should be treating your drums as a single instrument.
Using your DAW to bus these two things back together is a piece of cake. You can either route the outputs of the two tracks down to a single bus for further processing, or send them directly to a drum bus along with all of your toms, cymbals, overheads & room mics. Yet another approach could be to combine your shells on one track and your cymbals on another.
The possible combinations are huge, so it’s worth experimenting to find what’s right for you. Once you’ve got a setup that fits your workflow, a compressor like BG-Drums is the perfect way to glue everything back together for that polished, perfected sound.
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If you’re struggling to get the sound you really want out of your drums or you can’t get them to sit the way they should with other parts of your mix, I want to help.
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