Well this is a topic I always hear people arguing about. This is a topic that is almost as bad as the PC Vs. Mac debate. Someone will say this kick is great and I will think it is the ugliest kick I have ever heard. When it comes to drums, it is a very, very, very personal thing. Samples may be the same but the way they are mixed and eq’d make a big difference in final sound. Personally I like my kicks to sound great from the get go that way I don’t have to do much in the end, but there are times I have taken a bad sounding kick and layered it and made it sound totally different. Here are a few tips to accomplish whatever sound you are looking for….
1) Learn your Sample Library!!!!
One of the most important! People will have thousands upon thousands of drums. Ya drums are cool and all, but please know what you have! You really do not need 300 gigs of drums. I mean sure the more the merrier but there comes a point where you have more than you know what to do with. Just know what you have. Having a good organized system helps here. Sometimes your looking for that one kick or the right clap to fit a track but have sooo many to go through that it makes it really hard to decide. I highly recommend knowing what you have so that this process is not a big deal. I hate going through 300+ kicks just to find out the first 2 kicks layered with a little eq work perfect!
2) Give Samples Simple Names (K.I.S.S.)
I really do not recommend naming your kicks at all. I know this sounds weird but hear me out. If you call a kick “Punchy Kanye Kick” then every time you see it it is all you will think of. Lets say your making a techno song and see this kick but associate it with hip hop so you overlook it. Plus how many “Punchy” kicks will you have? Especially if you really like kicks that are “Punchy”? I mean it can get ridiculous at times! Stick with simple Kick 001 or even Sample Kick 001. Whatever you do keep it simple. It will make it easier and help organize everything also. (Keep It Simple Stupid)
This goes further than eq, compression or any other effect you can put on a sound. A mediocre sound layered with another can make a great sound. Let me put it like this, When one can only do some much and you need help usually you ask for help of someone who can. In return when they need help they come to you for help. Its kind of like that. What one sound lacks the other makes up for and vice a versa. Together they work but by themselves they don’t. Learn to layer even the same sound together with slight differences, even pitching can make a sound more “full” or “thick”.
This is a gift and a curse. When it comes to drums I like to clean up my mix using eq. Sometimes I even mold my sounds with it but more often than not I just use it to make my drums stand out. Not punch, knock or hit but more of a clear definition than anything else. Now this section can be a article all in it’s own but I’ll hit it lightly. I clean up my drums by subtractive eq. So instead of turning up the low end on a kick I turn down some highs. Make sense? Learn this and you will go far. Learn to subtract before you add. Anybody can add to build something but how many can subtract and still come up with the same thing? Get rid of frequencies that are not used. With hi hats I generally get rid of the low end because the Hats don’t really use any low end. This alone will bring new definition to your drums in a mix.
5) Compression (Notice how I put this last…)
Ok now, for some of you this should have been the first thing to make your kicks how you want. Ok cool, that may work for you but at times especially in todays music scene compression is used way too much! I mean it is really starting to hurt dynamics to the point where there are none. Before you start throwing a Compressor on everything understand what it is, what it does, and how to use it. Don’t just throw it on there because your boy that makes hot beats tells you too. I mean sure Compression has its place but learn to use it. If you don’t know what your doing you may make your sounds a lot worse. I will write a article on how to use a compressor and what the different setting can do but until then use google!
Compression should always be used sparingly, plus if you really got good sounds you may not even need it! It all really depends sometimes you need it other times you don’t. Only you can be the judge, so please before you put a compressor in that effect chain out of habit, STOP! Just listen to the sound solo’d, now listen to it in the mix, check the eq, then proceed. Stop and listen for once that will take your to what you want your drums to sound like.
Just to end this I also want to note drum sounds are a very personal thing. Sure you and I can have the same drum sounds but depending on the skill of the person using them we can have totally different drum sounds just by the way we mix and shape the sound. Only you can be the judge of what you like. So more important than any other tip I have place her…
EXPERIMENT! Trial and Error are you best friends. It is a art in and of itself to be able to do this. Good luck!