Great-sounding drum tracks are the foundation of tons of rock, R&B,metal, pop, country, and dance hits.In the old days, it was fairly clear howto define “great.” The thunderousimpact of Led Zeppelin, or the dryand detailed punch of Steely Dan andFleetwood Mac, or the bright and driving snap of the Police were excellent benchmarks for professional,“radio-friendly” drum sounds.
Today, anything goes.
I mean, if you’ve ever pulled upnext to a kid at a stoplight who istrying to blow his Scion’s doors offwith enough low end to sink the Bismarck,then you’ve already experienced extreme EQ. You won’t hearthat on classic-rock radio. In fact,even half that amount of bass would have blown a ’60s mastering engineerright out of the control room,where he would have saved himselfby grabbing the receiver of the studio pay phone as he flew by, thenpopping in a dime, and screaming atthe session engineer that he’ll batter his idiotic skull into tooth paste witha ball-peen hammer. How thingshave changed.
But the exciting news is that recording musicians now have thefreedom to do—anything. This meansI can construct drum tracks thatdon’t have to be linear or consistentin tone, accent, rhythm, or texture. Iam free to employ signal processingto morph the drums into any timbrethat kicks the music in its pants.Nothing new here—rap and danceproducers do this stuff all the time.But if your rock drum sounds areplaying it too safe, and, as a result,your track’s excitement meters arehitting rock bottom, then considerthese ways to ignite, energize, andtotally ruin your drum sound.
Don’t just route your drum tracks toan overdrive processor or fuzz pedal.Those options can leave you with athin, spitty thwack, rather than thegloriously huge and gritty wallop ofthe Beastie Boys’ “So What’chaWant.” (Of course, if you’re goingafter “spitty,” then plug in anddestroy all frequencies as you see fit.)You’ll have more control over the sizzleif you assign the drum tracks toyour processor or plug-in of choice,and return the effected signals todedicated faders on the mixer. Now,you can retain the clean drum sound,and mix in the fuzz, distortion, oroverdrive to taste. I often choose to“dirty up” just the kick drum—or kickand snare—and leave the toms andoverdrive tracks pristine, but there’sno wrong move here, so follow yourgut. In addition, I may opt to bring onthe dirt solely during choruses, or abridge, or for part of an intro. Youdon’t have to leave the distortion onthroughout the entire tune, and, infact, I feel it’s a more cinematic use ofthe technique when you toss distortionin sparingly for a jarring effect.
Old-school ambient effects, such as theslap and boom that drives the drumson John Lennon’s “Instant Karma,” orthe ’80s-cliché, gated-snare reverb onRobert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,”hold keys to grabbing a listener’s earwith hyper-reality sounds. Again,assigning your reverb or echo processorsto dedicated faders allows you to bringon massive decays without ...