Drums make us move our bodies, nod our heads, and tap our feet. It is what gives a song movement, speed, and create the momentum of the emotional intent of the song. That is why it is so important to have your drums front and center in the mix, especially in electronic music. There are a countless ways to process drums, but I am going to give you guys one way that has really been giving my tracks that extra snap, pump and bite. The key to rich full bodied professional sounds usually comes from layering and getting your drums up to quality is no different.
*Before we get into the drum processing*
Here are a couple of audio clips so you can hear the before and after.
There two parts to my drum processing
1. Drum group processing chain
2. Multiple return (send) tracks.
Entire drum processing chain, which is placed on the drum buss
First we will start with the sends or returns processing. It is important to note that I use Ableton's audio effects rack to create these returns so I can process the original and processed signals further. If your DAW cannot do this you can simply send your drum group to returns and have the processed returns routed back into the drum group for further processing. I usually have three returns set up and they are the following:
1. New York Compression
What drum processing would be complete without this timeless dynamic range technique. Simply put, this technique crushes your drums. Fast attack, moderate release, and a very low threshold will smash your drums and really thicken up the quieter parts of your drums.
Here we used Ableton's built-in compressor with a high ratio, quick attack, and medium release
2. New York Compression #2
This is the same as the previous New York Compression technique, but with an analog emulating compressor to give a different flavor of New York Compression
Any CLA-76 emulation compressor will work great here
3. High Low Accent
Again, a compressor is crushing the drums, but serves a different purpose for this send. The drums are compressed so the when we put our low and high boost and mid dip eq on there are no sharp peaks that distort and are noticeably louder in the signal. which would happen if the signal was not leveled out across the frequency spectrum by the compressor. So make sure to turn down the attack to as low as possible and your release up to at least 300 ms as we want all the entire signal to be flat.
Blending in all these return tracks at a moderate and not overbearing level will really boost your drums in the mix. Now we come to the group processing which is fairly minimal.
The entire drum chain looks as follows:
1. EQ for final shaping
2. Saturator/ Distorter to squeeze out a little more body
3. Compressor just barely gain reducing to give all the drums a little glue
4. Another saturator to give a slightly different flavor on very mild settings
5. The Send Processing that I just discussed
6. Finally a limiter is added to the end, boosting just a couple of dB and a little bit of the attack up to gel all the signals together and to add a bit of volume to the mix.
There you have it! My tried and tested method to more powerful drums. By using these techniques, your drums are sure to be given that extra weight, crunch and thickness that you hear in all your favorite tracks. One final note. All the third party plugins that I used can easily be switched out for your favorite plugins, which will yield different results sonically, so be sure to experiment with all the different flavors of compressors, saturators, limiters, and eq’s out there to get your own custom drum processed sound!