Ask – How can I get punchier drum sounds?

I’m having a hard time mixing drums on my recordings.
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Some strategic EQ and maximization can help make drums “pop.”

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I’m having a hard time mixing drums on my recordings. They don’t have that big, punchy sound I hear on records. I’ve tried compression, but I’m just not feeling it, and boosting the highs gives more “snap” but makes the cymbals out of control. Got any tips?

Jonathan Perry

Chicago, IL
via email

If you can hear the compression working, you’re probably adding too much. But compression can also soften the attacks, so many engineers patch compression in parallel with the dry signal—the compression brings up room sounds and drum decays, while the dry signal maintains the peaks. Also try using a limiter/maximizer on drums. Limiting can sometimes preserve attacks better than compression, and similarly raises lower levels for a fuller sound.

Boosting highs with shelving probably won’t help. For more definition, try adding a moderate peak in the 1-3kHz range; this should bring up the impact of the snare and toms, yet sit mostly below the main range of the high-hat and cymbals. Be very sparing, as too much boost will give a harsh sound. A tiny boost above 10kHz can add a bit of “air” that makes the cymbals shine without sounding strident, but don’t add it unless you need it.

As to the kick, not all playback systems can go low enough to give a satisfying “thump.” Boosting in the beater range to accentuate the beater hit gives the subjective impression of more kick, even if the low end doesn’t come through.
Finally, a transient shaper can help restore lost attacks, but consider it a last result if proper EQ and use of dynamics don’t do the job.