“You really have to make […] drums larger than life, so they cut through. So when they’re soloed, they’re just ridiculous” – Bob Horn

Last week, we discussed Bob Horn’s techniques for making drums larger than life with drum triggers. He explained so many great techniques during this mixing episode, that I highly recommend checking out the full episode here.

But what are some other tips for making those drums “ridiculous”? What are some other techniques that Bob uses to beef up those drums? How and why do those tricks work? Today, we go into a bit more detail on a few popular tips for beefing up drums.

I think of drums as having two main components that are relevant to EQ: boom and snap. Generally, boosting the “boom” and “snap” frequency ranges, and reducing everything else, will give you a powerful and clean drum that cuts through the mix. Just as an example, I’ll discuss the kick drum here.

To prevent a muddy or weak kick sound, you must acknowledge both the “boom” and “snap”. Beginners tend to crank their kick around the low “boom” range (usually 50-100 Hz), and be a bit confused when it doesn’t sound as strong as they’d like. You generally want a thick low end, so they’re on the right track, but sometimes you need to do more than that. Adding some boost in the highs, where the “snap” is (usually 2-4 kHz depending on the genre and drum), could fix that.

Many people forget about those “snap” frequencies while mixing, but they can really help the drum cut through the mix. They help draw your attention to the “boom” and power of the percussion. The human brain has evolved to react to those higher “snap” frequencies; just think about the frequency range of the human voice, or of a baby crying. It makes sense that boosting these “snap” frequencies could help draw the attention of the human ear.

But both are important, and every drum has a different ideal “boom” and “snap” frequency range, so use your ears to find them. And as usual, just listen to the frequencies in your mix, and experiment until you have your desired sound, and it sits nicely in the mix.

Compression

Compression tightens up and can really glue together elements of your mix. Apply it to your drums to smooth out the dynamics, and give them a more consistent loudness level. This consistency can be a large portion of what makes the percussion stand out in your mix.

Another option is to set up parallel compression by placing a send on your drum track, and routing that send to an aux track with compression. You can then mix the uncompressed and compressed tracks together to get the sound you want. Engineers usually use a harsher or more extreme compressor when using parallel compression, with a more extreme ratio, and a low threshold. The compressed signal will sound pretty nasty by itself, but when you mix a little bit of it in with the original track, it can really fatten up your drum sound without destroying the dynamics.

Signal Generator: Triggered Synths

If EQ, compression, or drum triggers just aren’t beefing up your kick enough, you can also try using a triggered synth. You can use any synth plugin that you deem appropriate, but I’ll discuss the process using the built in signal generator in Pro Tools. Basically, you can easily beef up the low end by creating a new aux track and placing the signal generator plugin on that track. You then set the frequency of the generator to a low frequency sine wave that’s appropriate for the key of the song. I like to use this chart from the UNSW website when selecting frequency.

Once you have your signal generator up and running, you’ll want your signal generator to only play when the kick plays. To do this, simply sidechain that track so that it’s controlled by your kick track. Place a send going out of your kick track. Then place a gate on the same aux track as your signal generator, right after the signal generator. Set the key input of your gate so that it only opens up, and allows the signal generator through, when the kick hits. For more information on this technique, check out our “Creating Subs and Adding Bass to a Kick Drum with a Signal Generator” article.

So that’s all we have time for today! We’ll see you in next week’s blog post.

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!

As always, please share in the comments below!