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How to Mix Drums

When mixing drums, trying finding ways to both thicken the sound, and increase the detail of the transients. For example, bus compression with a super quick attack and release, as well as a hard knee, will distort transients in turn making them more prominent - it’ll also glue the sound.

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1. Transient Drum Bus Compression

For this video, these chapters are in no particular order but can be combined. Additionally, we’ll go over some examples for both rock and hip hop drums.

If I want to simultaneously make my drums sound cohesive and thick, and introduce subtle distortion to my transients, I can use a bus compressor with quick attack, quick release, and a hard knee setting. If your compressor offers a transient algorithm, that’s a good setting to include as well.

Let’s listen to an example, and notice how the compressor glues the sound, but more importantly, makes the transients stick out.

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2. Analog Drum Bus Sound

To achieve a classic analog sound on my drums, I’m going to use tape emulation on my drum bus and drive the input while reducing the output. This will cause mild harmonic distortion while introducing soft-knee compression, indicative of the saturation you’d find on classic recordings.

Each tape plugin is a little different so experiment until you find one that works. Let’s listen to it and notice how my drums gradually become compressed, and how harmonics fill out the sound.

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3. Stereo Spread Highs

Although I’ll want my kick and other lows to mainly be mono, I wouldn’t mind some stereo expansion on my high frequencies. I’ll use a mid-side equalizer, and introduce a high-frequency shelf on the side image - then I’ll amplify it by about 3dB from 5kHz and up.

Let’s take a listen and notice how high-frequency expansion really opens up the drum track.

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4. Increasing Kick Sustain with Gentle Saturation

If you're missing the ring of your kick you can use saturation to amplify quieter parts of the signal, in turn increasing the perceived length of the kick. I’ll use a multi-band saturator, isolate the lows, and then increase saturation until I find a good balance.

Let’s listen and notice how the saturation increases the length of the kick.

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5. Very Subtle Transient Expansion

If you want quick transient expansion, simply use a transient expander to have more control over their amplitude. I’d recommend Punctuate by Newfangled Audio, with which you can independently affect 26 bands of transient expansion or suppression - I’ll introduce very subtle settings to my entire track.

Let’s take a listen to a trap beat, and notice how the transients of all instruments in the signal, become more apparent.

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6. In Key Kick

Typically when equalizing an organic kick, we’ll amplify the lows for more of the kick’s thump, and the high mids around 3kHz to get the click of the kick. Let’s do this, but keep these boosts in key with the song.

For example, if G is the root note I can boost 49Hz, 98Hz, and 3,136Hz, all of which a G notes.

Let’s listen and notice how the kick and more present, as well as slightly more musical.

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7. High Hz. Tube Distortion

Tube distortion is a great way to increase transient detail while adding harmonics that’ll fill out the sound, in turn making it present and aggressive. Let’s use Saturn 2, a frequency-specific saturator to introduce tube distortion to isolate distortion to just the high hats and other high frequencies.

Let’s listen and notice how the high hats become much more apparent.

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8. Massive 808 with Reverb

If you want a massive 808, use very subtle reverb on the lowest frequencies to create a really impressive sound. I’ll use a reverb time of under one second, again isolate the reverb to my lows, make the reverb more centered, and use under 5% of the effect.

Let’s take a listen and notice how this small amount of reverb makes a huge impact on the 808.

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9. High Hz. Reverb for High Hats

Similar to our last chapter, we can use reverb just on the highs for an airy sound - I’ll use the same reverb as before, but now isolate the reverb to my highest frequencies. Additionally, I’ll increase the reverb length to 5 seconds, and increase the brightness, and stereo width.

Again, I’ll use less than 5%. Let’s listen and notice how this effect has a unique quality and drastically increases the airiness of the high hats.

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10. Quick Lofi Drums

In the other chapters, we were try to make our drums sound better, but sometimes a lofi sound can really compliment a mix. To accomplish this, let’s use an EQ to isolate the drums to just the mids, then add broken analog comment emulation and saturate the drums.

Let’s listen and notice how this could be used for a creative effect or when producing lo-fi music.

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