When you want to have strong punchy drums in your mix, you have to look at the samples you are using. In addition to samples, you could also be using synths or live recordings for drums, to which the following ideas also apply. Before you do any mixing, you want to focus on the quality of your drum samples. If you have good samples, you will not need a lot of EQ or other tools to properly fit them in the mix. Conversely, if you have bad drum samples, EQ and other tools will not be able to fix it. The saying “you can’t polish a turd” is relevant here. So how do you know you have good drum samples?
There is no yes or no answer to the question whether your drums are good, because it depends a lot on the situation. But you can use some broad guidelines to help you in the decision of choosing drum samples.
- Check the waveform. How does the drum sample look? You can check this in a sampler. Usually, a thick, dense waveform shows that the drum is solid.
- Check the frequency spectrum. You can do this with an analyzer. Usually, a good drum sample will have a broad frequency spectrum, and shows many frequencies in the ranges you should expect. For example, a kick should have lots of frequencies in the 50Hz – 300Hz area.
- Check the dB meter. If you’re comparing different drum samples, a lot of information can be found in the dB meter. Some drums have unwanted peaks that trigger a lot of volume in the dB meter (for example a kick with an unwanted bump in the sub frequencies), and some drums are treated in a way that they have less dBs. It can even happen that one drum clearly sounds louder than another, while it is lower in dBs. Those loud-sounding drums are typically easier to mix, because you don’t have to turn them up very high in the mix to make them sound clear, so you end up with more overall space in your mix.
Keep in mind, these are only broad guidelines, and it depends a lot on your situation when choosing the right drums. Of course, you want to listen to the type of drum. Do you like how it sounds? Does it fit your song? If you take the time to listen to and compare your drum samples often, you’ll train your ear to recognize good sounding drums.
The genre is very important to consider when choosing drums too.
There is usually a typical set of drums that a genre uses, and there are particular drum samples for that. If you want to achieve a certain sound within a genre, listen closely to which drums the songs in that style are using. You want to either use the exact same drum samples, or use drum samples that match that style closely. A tip for that is to find if your favorite producer has made their own sample pack (lots of producers do). Genres also develop their drum sound over time. If you keep using the same drums these songs used 5 years ago to achieve a style that is going on right now, it will probably sound off. Similarly, if you use drums from one genre (e.g. house) to create another genre (e.g. hip hop) it will also probably sound off. So make sure you spend time in finding and selecting the right samples.