Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Treating Your Drums Right

One of the easiest ways to bring the production quality up in your home studio recordings is to record each individual drum sound on its own track, thus allowing you to process each one individually. Of course, there's something to say for taking a less precise approach (read up on the recording of the drum track for Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" for a good example), but if a clean, punchy, and clear drum track is your aim, read on.

So, today's post will be about how best to effect each part of your drum track. Remember, at the end of the day, the only real rule is if you think it sounds good. If it sounds right, it is right. Rules were made to be broken.

Kick Drums
Unless you are making a style of music that depends on the more extreme ends of the bass spectrum, the first thing to do is to apply a highpass filter to your kick. Filter everything out below around 50Hz or so. This will clean up your low end significantly and give your mix more headroom by getting rid of frequencies most of your listeners won't hear on their systems anyway.

The next step I usually take is to add some compression. How you compress your kick really depends on the style of music you make. A good starting point, however, is to set your ratio to 4:1, set your threshold so its reducing your signal by about 6db, then set you attack and release to taste. If you make more hard-edged styles of music like French House or EBM, you might like to use a bit crusher (12-bits sounds great on kicks) or an overdrive on your kick. This essentially works like a limited and will add some extra harmonics that will help give your kick a harder edge.

You can use an additional EQ to emphasize different frequencies and further shape the tone of the sound. Try boosts between 60-80hz to add some clubby subs. Need some more smack to the attack? Try a boost somewhere between 1800hz-4000hz.

Kicks are generally kept pretty dry these days, but if you're going for a more retro sound, try adding a little gated reverb for some 80's flavor.

Again, I find it a good idea to begin the processing chain for cymbals like hi-hats and crashes with some subtractive EQ. Even though cymbals are generally very high-frequency sounds, you'd be surprised at how many errant low frequencies that are present in some of them. Filter these out with a highpass filter set to eliminate frequencies below 500hZ or so. If you need some extra air and crispness, try a slight boost in the region above 10kHz. Don't overdo it, just boost by a db or two.

Adding space to the track depends on the sound you're after. Consider adding a little room reverb with a 20% wet level to give your cymbals a more "live" sound.

If you're doing certain styles of dance music that requires chunky sounding cymbals, you might want to add a little bit of bit-crushing.

Begin yet again with some subtractive EQ, rolling off the frequencies below 100Hz or so. The "body" of a lot of snares is somewhere in the 200-300Hz range, so boosts or cuts to this region will generally help you shape how heavy a snare sounds. Boosts in the 3000-700Hz range will help add a little punch and brightness. Want to add some air and crispness? Boost in the 10kHz+ range. Keep boosts subtle. If you need to EQ too much, you might be better off finding a different snare.

Compression is a good choice next. Start with the same basic settings that I recommended for kicks and shape it until you have something you like the sound of. The recommendations about bit-crushers and overdrive apply here too.

Next up, try applying some reverb. To be current, you generally want something pretty short here, such as a room reverb. Keep the wet level around 20%. For a retro or dub sound, try using a spring reverb setting.

Apply the same general settings as you have applied to your snare, but allow more lower frequencies through, EQing it more like your kick drum. Compress as your snare and shape to taste.

These are some general hints to get you started processing your drum sounds individually. How you apply this to your own material will depend mostly on your own taste. One trick many producers like to use after producing all their individual drum parts is to send all of their drum sounds to a bus, and compressing the entire kit together by a small amount (try 2:1 ratio, and 2-3db reduction on your threshold). This gives the effect of "gluing" the individual elements together into a coherent sounding mix that sounds like it came from a single kit.

Anything you feel I've missed? Any valuable drum processing secrets you think your fellow Waveformless readers might benefit from? Share them in the comments!


Scott said...

Really useful advice, going to try some of these settings on my own tracks!

Darren_Halm said...

Don't you mean lowpass filter on your kick?

Adam Dubbleu said...

Highpass allows high frequencies "pass through" above the threshold, attenuating the frequencies below (bass).

In Tom's example, frequencies above 50hz will pass, cutting the sub bass frequencies. This gives the kick a bit of a tighter edge. More kick, less boom. It also keeps the bass frequency range open for synthesizers, bass guitar, etc. If you want more boom, open the filter (lower the threshold) more.

Joshua said...

It might just be my clunky equipment (or ears, ha!), but I find that I have to cut right around 170-200 hz quite often to gain some clarity. Drums and bass...

Also on some noisy drum samples and old recordings of mine, I played around and found that cutting a REALLY tight but deep notch somewhere between 60 and 90 could sometimes make unwanted noise vanish and really open up frequencies I didn't realize were there...

Syndicat said...

Thank you, Tom, from these advices. Sounds very useful and I'm definitely trying these out into my own tracks!

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