Tips to make your drum mix tight and punchy (without samples!)


Let’s bring life to your drum mixes

In this walkthrough, I’ll show you a few tricks for mixing drums to sound tight and punchy without using samples. For this tutorial I used multitracks for “Live Forever” by Joe Gilder.

The common thread you’ll see throughout this walkthrough is the removal of unwanted resonant frequencies and spill that makes a drum mix sound washy.

A couple of things before we start.

  • Drum samples. They are a great tool, but in this case I chose not to use them as I felt I could take the existing drums to where they needed to be in the mix.

  • Also, this is not a prescriptive “this is how you mix drums every time” tutorial, but to show you a few tricks to have up your mixing sleeve when it works in context of the song in front of you.

  • On an unrelated note, keep an ear out for our daughter crying in the middle of the tutorial. Parent life is fun and full of adventure!

Watch the video

Kick and snare

I gated the kick and snare to remove rumbles, cymbals and floor vibrations. Then I used EQ to make the kick sound darker and the snare pop out of the speakers.

You’ll also hear how the compression enhances the transient of the drums and brings them closer to the listener.

I borrowed and modified a trick from F. Reid Shippen where he adds an 808 sample underneath the snare on the way to a Chorus. Instead of using a sample, I did something similar with a copy of the recording and some creative processing. This is a pretty fun trick to learn to add weight and body to a snare.

Toms that shake the room

I love toms that are big and full, and it’s a great feeling when you can take Toms that sound like cousins and turn them into brothers.

Tom 2 was huge already, but Tom 1 sounded thin in comparison. I used the same plugins on both channels to make them sound consistent.

Shimmery cymbals, yes please!

First I darkened the cymbals and then make them glisten with a few EQ moves. It’s counter intuitive, but controlling the pokey frequencies first before adding shine brings the high frequencies out to sound nice and rich, without being abrasive.

Creating that roomy drum sound

If you can get a tasty room recording you are less likely to need reverb to create the space for the drums to live in. These tracks didn’t disappoint with a room microphone called “Stairwell”.

I transformed this recording from mono to stereo, giving the drums a room and a back wall. Then listen how I turned two close drums microphones become two more room microphones.

Hearing the finished drum mix in context

Watch until the end to hear and compare before and after processing, in context of the song itself. You’ll notice the drums sounds much more focussed, and like one cohesive instrument rather than individual drums tracks.

Over to you

Well there you go. Did you find these tips useful? Let me know if you use them!

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