Mix Tip Of The Week – Get Your Drums to Cut Through Any Mix With Ease – With Joel Wanasek

This Mix Tip of the Week comes from producer/engineer Joel Wanasek


Getting more impact and urgency in your drum sound is a pretty daunting challenge for anyone mixing these days. This is especially true in heavier genres of music where the loudness wars have robbed us of all our precious mix headroom making this task harder than ever. When we need to get massive sounding drums in a crushing mix, how do we do so with such a small amount of space to work in? It reminds me of the classic mixing saying, “If everything is big, then nothing is.” When it comes to getting more apparent volume that will make your drums cut through any mix, increasing the perceived volume of the drum is the most important concept to address. While there are many tools available, most of them don’t do much to increase the perceived loudness of our drums in dense mixes.

Traditional tools for helping us control our dynamics were compressors, limiters, and transient designers. These worked great! Until the loudness wars ruined everything and removed all space for our precious transients. These are still valuable tools, but they really aren’t helping us defeat the dreaded mastering limiter. For example, transient designers increase a drum’s attack or sustain. This is great for adding punch or tone, but not perceived volume. Compressors can make our drums sound bigger in terms of size (think ambiance) or punchier, but even they don’t help us defeat brickwall limiting giving us that perceived volume advantage. Limiters bring the transient closer to the body of the drum, but they damage our transient too much and our drums lose their punch. Just put a hard limiter on a snare and do 6-10 db of reduction and you will see what I mean. The snare will sound like it lost all of it’s punch and attack. We clearly needed a new tool since this loudness craze hasn’t ended and won’t be going away any time soon.

An interesting development that came out of the mid to late 2000s was that mastering engineers were clipping their very expensive converters before mastering limiter technology got better to make records extremely loud. Clipping isn’t new as engineers used to clip preamps for distortion and cool saturation effects for many years. But, clipping converters was new and relatively uncharted territory. From a mixer’s perspective, the problem with clipping the master bus was that it always changed your drum balance. You needed to make your drum mix a few decibels louder to anticipate what the mastering engineer would do to your balance. It really was frustrating for us mixers because we spent so much time working on getting our levels correct with our clients but the levels always came back different from mastering. Thankfully mastering limiters got better and started replacing clippers. However, these technologies are still far from ideal. Around this time, something interesting started happening.

On the internet forums, small groups of metal engineers and edm producers started using clippers on their direct drum sounds instead of their mixes. This brought the transient of the drum much closer to the body and increased perceived volume without sacrificing the punch and clarity of the drum. It also had the effect of making the drum sound more upfront in the mix and exciting. This has started catching on and is emerging as a mixing trend now. Thus, the dedicated drum clipping plugin was born. Clipping is optimized to make your drums cut through a mix. Clipping is our surefire way to getting drums to always cut through no matter what the playback format is. Clipping however does have one drawback.

When you clip a drum with low end or a lot of lower mid range information, it can distort in an unpleasant way. This is especially nasty on fast kick drum parts used in genres like metal, and fast tom rolls. It can also be difficult to deal with on quick snare rolls if the snare sound has a lot of punch and impact leaving the snare to sound muddier and over hyped on the roll. Drumforge has recently introduced the world’s first dedicated muli-band drum clipper to solve this exact problem. Never again will you have a problem with getting your drums to cut through a mix and you don’t have to compromise on tone when dealing with lower frequency information. For more information on DF-CLIP, visit www.drumforge.com.

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