How do I fatten up and add more power to my drums? Well, Bob Horn touched upon this subject during one of our mixing episodes. He explained so many great techniques during this session, that I highly recommend checking out the full episode here. During the above clip from the episode, Bob mentions that:“You really have to make […] drums larger than life, so they cut through. So when they’re soloed, they’re just ridiculous.” But how does one do that? What are some techniques that Bob uses to beef up those drums? What other tricks can we use to do so? There are two ways to use drum triggers in your music. You could use them in a creative sense, by adding sounds and effects that weren’t in the original tracked drums. Or, you could use them to boost or replace the existing acoustic recordings, which is what we will discuss here. Drum triggers, like the Steven Slate Trigger plugin that Bob uses, can be a great way to add some punch to your track. This trick used to be fairly restricted to more electronic genres, but it’s being used in a wider and wider array of genres.

As engineers, we try to get the perfect sound while tracking, but we often don’t have control over all the variables As a result, you might find your drum tracks lacking, even if you’ve done the best with what you were given. Drum replacement software can be used to either replace the drums, or add to the existing mix. Sometimes the addition of a drum trigger will sound too unnatural and jarring, but they can be advantageous in some situations. Drum replacement can lend a consistency to the beat that you can’t get with a human performer. In fact, engineers in some genres insist that drum replacement is a necessary component of mixing at this point. It makes sense if you think about it. Listeners are definitely used to hearing a bigger sound than in the olden days, so you’re really boosting your drums to fit listener expectations. Many drummers are even using drum replacement software in their live shows these days.

When using drum triggers, it’s important to keep in mind that they rely on transient detection to work. Transients exist at the very beginning of a sound, and are generally a higher amplitude than the rest of the sound. Transients exist in what you hear as the “attack” of a sound. You’ll want to make sure the software can accurately detect these transients.

So how do you help triggering software properly detect transients? First of all, make sure your source track is clean. Make sure you have some close mics on the kit during tracking. For this, the less bleed from other drum set components, the better. If you aren’t sure if you have a clean enough track, you can check by looking at the waveform in your DAW. If you can see distinctly larger spikes in the waveform from the desired drum hits, then you should be good.

If your audio isn’t clean enough, you can try cleaning it up a bit by deleting, or separating out, audio where the desired drum is not hit. And if you’re lucky, you can also try EQing for those desired hits. However, if you’re doing this, I would recommend first duplicating the track so that you’ll still have the original unedited version somewhere in your session.

Some people even use physical drum triggers while tracking. These are similar to those used in an electronic drum kit. When attached to the kit, they can get clean data for use with a drum trigger software during mixing. But more on that some other time…

Once you have your clean track, you can assign the drum trigger plugin to your track and select your sample(s). Or, you can even insert samples by hand using tab to transients or aligning by eye, and then checking by ear. Keep in mind that there are two basic types of drum trigger softwares: software that records your audio into the plugin, which then allows you to tweak transient thresholds and other parameters in depth, and software that detects the transients in real time to assign the samples.

There are millions of professionally tuned and tracked samples out there for you to explore! But you can also make your own drum sample library, like we did here. If you have a good clean hit from your session, you can even use that to replace hits that aren’t top notch. Many engineers will layer multiple samples to get the desired effect, so don’t be afraid to experiment with adding many layers to what you currently have. Just use your ears to make sure your selections sit well in your mix, and go ahead and replace and layer sounds until you get the desired oomph out of your drums.

Just don’t forget to check phase! When layering, make sure your samples are in phase with your original percussion! We’ll go into this in more detail some other time, but here’s a quick tip from Steven Slate’s Twitter account: “How To Check Drum Phase: 1. Solo Overheads. 2. Solo each close mic. 3. Hit phase button. 4. Whichever polarity has more lows, WINS. So that’s all we have time for today! But be sure to check out next week’s blog post, when we continue along this topic by discussing making drums larger than life with EQ, compression, and triggered synths.

In the meantime, feel free to check out the rest of the Bob Horn mixing episode. Or, become a member of Pro Studio Live for unlimited access to the entire archive of videos!

Questions? Comments? As always, please share in the comments below!