How to Mix Powerful Drums With These 2 Secret Weapons
If you’re wondering about how to mix drums from your home studio and NOT let them end up as weak and wimpy, then I’ve got a couple secret weapons for you.
In the last few years, I’ve become obsessed with these two mix processors that help me shape and transform my home recorded drums into something much more powerful and professional.
I’m talking about transient designers and drum replacement.
If you’ve been trying to make your drums sound better in your mix, I’m proud to announce the release of my Drum Mix Toolkit. It’s literally everything I’ve learned in the last 11 years of mixing drums. What follows is an excerpt from my Drum Mix Toolkit eBook. I hope you enjoy it and if you want to read the rest of the eBook, as well as see these two secret weapons in action, check out the additional video series on how to mix drums right here.
How To Mix Drums: Advanced Foundation Building
Using drum replacement has completely revolutionized how I approach drum mixing. There are some purists out there who will argue (fruitlessly because I’m not listening) that you should just get a great drum recording and then it’ll sound great. Of course, that’s ideal but oftentimes highly unrealistic.
What if you get recordings from someone else who recorded them badly?
You still want the job so you can’t exactly ask them to re-record the drums up to your standard. You can’t ignore the problem or demand that it be fixed. You’ll never get any clients (or make any friends) by being such a curmudgeon and a Luddite.
Embrace technology and learn to use everything you have to solve your problems.
That’s why sample replacement has become so important for me. I don’t always have the best drum sounds because of the typical home studio problems:
- Small rooms
- Inadequate acoustic treatment
- Random resonances from reflections
Being able to layer the drum recordings with kick-ass samples just makes my drums sound that much better.
It solves my problems without making the drums sound fake. Drum replacement software has come such a long way that you can’t really hear when a sample is being used, especially when it’s layered over a real performance done by a real drummer.
Step By Step Replacement
Here’s a quick process that you can use when you’re doing drum replacement:
- Decide if the drums need replacing. If the drums sound killer already you might not need to add any samples to your drum sound. But if you think you can add more depth, punch, or character to the drum sound there’s no harm in checking it out.
- Go through the samples you have. Not every sample will sound great so make sure to go through all the samples you have and listen to the drum sound both in solo as well as in the context of the mix.
- Decide what level of blend you need. If the drum recordings sound like shit you might want to completely replace the sounds of your close-mic drum tracks, leaving the only evidence of the original sound coming through the overheads (that you might high-pass filter anyway to just get the sounds of the cymbals). However, if the drums already sound great but just need a little help in certain areas you might want to layer the samples in with the original drum tracks to taste. Again, analyze in solo but make your final decisions in the context of the mix.
Personally, I use Drumagog 5 as my sample replacement tool, but there are various alternatives out there, like Slate’s Trigger, SPL Drum XChanger to name a few.
When the recordings are really bad it’s good to slap Drumagog on there and quickly create the drum sound you want. However, a good way to get the best of both worlds is to layer the samples in with the original drums.
For instance, if you have a nice beefy kick drum but you just can’t get the beater to cut through the mix, it’s nice to add a secondary kick track that has a sample with a lot of top-end click from the beater. Blend that underneath the original kick and you’ll get the natural sounding beefiness of the recording (that you’ll be able to feel in the mix), and the punch from the beater in the sample.
A word of warning though, if you’re completely replacing your drums make sure the performance is played in such a way that the drum replacement software accurately replaces the drums.
I’ve had instances where I couldn’t use Drumagog because the player was playing a really fast double-kick. The software simply couldn’t keep up with the replacement so I had to scrap the idea altogether.
Most drum replacement software comes with a library of samples to choose from. They’ll include a variety of different drum sounds modeled from a lot of different sounding drums. This is the beauty of sample replacement because it allows you access to iconic drum sounds that can take your drum mix to the next level.
For instance, if you’re working on an 80’s metal song the drummer’s drum kit might not have that big, iconic feel. But if you can layer the kick and snare with a sample from a Tama drum kit you’ll instantly transform your drum sound into something much better than the home recording you started with.
It’s a good idea to take your time to go through all the samples you have in your library. If you have a huge sample library this might take some time, but think of the time you’ll save in the long run.
You don’t have to spend it tweaking the sound with plug-ins like EQ and compression. If you find a sample that’s Pre-EQ’d and already cuts through the mix you’ll have to do less to the track later on.
Overall, sample replacement is an incredibly valuable tool to make your drum mix stand out. It’ll help you transform average drum sounds into killer drum mixes. Some might think it’s cheating, but I say it’s simply using all the tools at your disposal in order to get the best sounding mix of your music or your client.
When you can’t use drum replacement and the drums still leave a lot to be desired it’s time to see how you can sculpt them with a transient designer. Transient designers can shape the waveform of the drum, increasing or decreasing both the attack and the release of the drum.
Practical Applications Relevant to Transient Design
Transient designers only manipulate the Attack and Release so I’ll spend a bit more time giving you some handy practical tips to shape your drum sounds.
Attack in Transient Design
Manipulating the attack in a transient designer will help you make your drums sound punchier. If your snare is sounding kind of dull, or the beater of the kick drum won’t cut through the mix no matter how much you EQ, increasing the attack with a transient designer will help your drums cut through.
The opposite is also true. Say you have a very “clicky” kick drum or an acoustic guitar that’s just a little bit too strummy. Then you can decrease the attack of the waveform to blend the instrument into the mix.
Release in Transient Design
Your transient designer actually has a bit of a superpower when it comes to home recorded drums. Chances are you might have some unwanted room reverb in some of your mics. By using a transient designer you can actually clean up the room sound by reducing the release. That means that you’ll hear more of the initial transient and full power of the signal that’s playing while eliminating the room sound that gets blended in as the signal gets softer.
The opposite also works if you want to really push the “bigness” of your drums. By increasing the release you usually get a pumping effect similar to when you’re over-compressing. This can be cool on drum loops or groups, and depending on the feel you’re going for could be just the trick to creating a killer drum mix.
How to Mix Drums With the Two Secret Weapons in Your Toolkit
These are just two of the tools I teach you to use in the Drum Mix Toolkit.
Here are a few more you’ll discover when you get your copy:
- How to Use Bus Processing and Parallel Compression to Glue Your Drum Sound Together
- How to Blend Multiple Reverbs Together in Your Drum Mix, Making the Drums Sound Larger than Life
- How to Fit the Kick Drum and Bass Guitar Together in the Low End
- How to Take Full Advantage of the Phase Relationship Between Your Tracks to Make Every Track Sound Tighter
- What Processing to Use When You Don’t Have Drum Replacement or Transient Designers at Your Disposal
- Where to EQ Drums to Get Rid of Boxiness, Muddiness, and Harshness
- Your 6 Step Process for Using Drum Compression for Tighter Drums
- A Behind the Scenes Look at How the Ratio of Your Compressor Affects Your Drum Sound
- How to Use Multi-Band Compression for a Tighter, Yet MORE Dynamic Drum Sound
- How to Use Gates to Get a Cleaner Drum Sound
- Why You Should Use Analog Summing and Saturation to Add More Warmth and Depth to Your Drums
- Why Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” is the Reason I Use This One Plug-in on ALL My Mixes
- The Difference Between a Drastic and Subtle Overhead EQ (And When to Choose Which)
- Adding Space to Your Drum Mix Without Making Your Drums Sound Distant
- How to Use Gated Reverbs Without Sounding Like You’re an 80’s Cover Band
Plus: 3 Exclusive Bonuses:
Bonus #1 – Drum Mix Toolkit Resource Sheet
- 25 Drum Mixing Resources to Improve Your Mixes Even Further
- An Overview of Popular Sample Replacement Tools
- Where to Find Transient Designer Plug-ins
- Resources for Practice Materials
- Advice on Making Your Mixes Translate to Every Speaker
Bonus #2 – Practice Tracks
- In case you don’t have any multi-tracks to practice your drum mixing, I’ve included a drum recording you can use to try out all the tips and tricks you read about inside the Drum Mix Toolkit.
- Drum tracks include a drum track recorded in a home studio setting, with a kick, snare, under-snare, two tom mics, stereo overheads and a room microphone.
Bonus #3 – Percussion Toolkit – Make Your Percussion Punch Through
- Where to Pan Your Percussion to Make Your Mix Sound Wider
- How to Use EQ and Compression on Shaker, Tambourine and Hand Drums
- Three Easy-to-Use Effect Techniques to Create Depth and Space With Your Percussion and Make it Fit With Your Drum Mix
Hit the link below to get your copy: