So, you’ve loaded up your favourite drum plugin, selected a kit, tapped out a beat and now you’re thinking about how to tweak the sound for your mix. And maybe your drum plugin has multiple outs or allows drum sounds to be processed individually. And you’ve heard about processing drums as a group too. So what will it be? How do you choose?
There are a lot of options, and it’s easy to be paralysed by indecision. And just as there are many options, there are many different approaches.
It might sound simple, but my approach begins with listening.
Once I know how I want the sound of the drums to change, I’ll consider whether individual processing or whole-kit processing is most appropriate. It should be pretty obvious – processing individual elements will help you make those elements stand out or fit in individually. It’s about shaping the way a drum fits in with the rest of the kit. Processing the whole kit, on the other hand, is more about shaping the way the whole kit fits in the rest of the mix.
But it’s the listening that’s the most important part.
As engineers, you’ve got a mind-bogglingly vast array of tools at your disposal. Most studios have at least half a dozen (if not dozens) of different flavours of eq and compression available. You can process in multiple places, in any order. The only way to get consistently good mixes in a reasonable period of time is to know what sound you’re going for just by listening.
Listen to the drum kit and think about what you need to change. Ask yourself – are you changing the balance of elements within the kit, or changing the way the kit fits in with the rest of the mix? If you’re unsure, try listening to the drum kit in solo (just the drums, without the rest of the mix). How do they sound? If something’s a little ‘out’ – either uncomfortably poking out or not cutting through – adjust it then and there. If the kit is sounding pretty well balanced on its own but something’s not quite right when you bring the rest of the mix back, you might need some (more gentle) overall shaping. Like anything in mixing, this general approach won’t be best 100% of the time, but it’s a good starting point.