5 Techniques That Will Improve Your Drum Processing
Groovy drums are crucial to pretty much any song that has drums in it.
While authentic groovy drumming only can be achieved by a real groovy drummer, there are certain things you can do in the mixing process to help shake things up a bit. Especially for programmed drums and samples, these techniques can be very helpful.
So, in this post, I’ll go through 5 techniques that can help make your drum processing sound more unique and groovy.
Parallel compression is a concept where you blend a heavily compressed signal with an uncompressed (or at least way less) compressed signal.
There’s no straight answer to what your compression settings should be like on your parallel track. But gain reduction of 10-20 dB and setting the attack and release in a way that makes the compression work in tempo with the song is usually the norm.
The idea is to squeeze the dynamic range of the track to bring out a more up-front and detailed sound. This will make your drums push more through the mix, and if done right, they’ll sound a lot fuller and more energetic.
It’s common to use parallel compression on your entire drum bus, but it can also be applied to single elements you really want to beef up and bring forward in the mix. Kicks and snares can often benefit from parallel compression to make them more prominent and rich in sound.
Wow & flutter
Wow and flutter are two types of pitch variation effects typically found in tape recorders. Think of those really old tunes that sound as if they’re sailing up and down in pitch and tempo.
This is caused by irregular movements in the playback or recording components. Slow-sounding pitch movements are what is known as “wow,” and faster-moving pitch variations are called “flutter.”
While too much wow or flutter will often sound annoying and ruin a song, just the right amount can really help bring some mojo to your drums.
Programmed drums can sound more authentic and live when applied wow or flutter, and live drums can get that extra swing and edge.
Most tape recorder plug-ins and tape saturation plug-ins have the option to blend in some wow and/or flutter. Exactly how much you want to apply depends entirely on the track you’re working on, but a general rule of thumb is you probably need less than you think.
Both your drum bus and individual percussive elements can benefit from wow or flutter.
Many people think of LFO filters as something used for synthesis only. But they’re also great for mixing, especially drum mixing.
LFO filters can add swing and movement to your drums and help imitate the sound of a real drum set. Because LFO filters cause change and movement in the frequency spectrum, it’s more similar to real drumming, where every hit sounds different.
Typically, you’ll want a low pass filter gently cutting some high end – from around 8kHz or so. You’ll want a frequency speed that matches the rhythm and tempo of your song. Usually, you don’t want the filter moving too much up and down, as this can make the effect too prominent and annoying. But don’t be afraid to get creative.
A high pass filter is most common, but low pass filters and bandpass filters also have their place. It depends entirely on the track and the result you’re trying to achieve. As with the techniques mentioned above, LFO filters work great on both your drum bus and individual elements.
Velocity adjustments can make your drums more characteristic and expressive. This technique is highly recommended for programmed drums, as programmed drums by nature are very static.
Adjusting the velocity of individual drum elements lets you better sculpt the groove and swing of your drum groove and can free up space for other elements and make them work better in relation to each other.
Having a dynamically variating drum groove makes it more interesting and less repetitive to listen to. And if done right, it will enhance other elements and the overall flow of the song.
There are a million ways to do velocity adjustments on your drums, but keep in mind a specific swing and flow you’re trying to achieve and play around till you nail it.
Automation is a key aspect of mixing, and is very useful for drums. Live recorded drums can benefit especially from volume automation.
Live drums are very dynamic. Sometimes a hit is way too loud, sometimes it’s way too quiet, and sometimes it’s right in the middle. The use of volume automation can help even out the dynamic range and make them sit tighter in the mix. Volume automation is detailed work and is often time-consuming.
For programmed drums, automating reverb, distortion, and other effects is often the most useful to make the drums sound more alive and interesting. You can use effect automation to create more energy and power and make your drums “smaller” and more hidden in the mix.
Of course, you can do all sorts of automation for both live-recorded drums and programmed drums and samples. As with the techniques mentioned above, it’s all entirely track-dependent.
About Gerhard Tinius
Gerhard Tinius is a groovy producer, mixer, and audio engineer from Norway. He’s working as a mixer and mastering engineer while releasing his own music under Tinius.
Audio Production, Mixing Drums