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Quick Tip: Drum Processing Part 4: Tips and Tricks

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This post is part of a series called Drum Processing.
Quick Tip: Drum Processing Part 3: Hi Hats & Percussion

This short series of quick tips is designed to give you a good overview of the audio processing techniques involved in creating a professional sounding drum beat for use in house, electro and breaks in Cubase. In this final part we will look at a few ways to add even more life to your drums.

Here is a sample of the type of beat you could expect to end up with at the end of this series of tips:


Tip 1: Adding a 'Clap Build'

Adding a short 'build up' sound prior to your claps is a neat touch that is simple to achieve. Simply load in an extra clap sound, making sure you use one that sounds similar to the clap/snare in your track, but most importantly make sure it's relatively long.

All you need to do now is to use volume automation or an envelope somewhere to increase the volume at the start, removing the transient impact of the clap. Once it sounds right manually move it into position before your main clap sounds to get that build up effect:


Tip 2: Sidechaining Your Percussion

Applying a little subtle sidechain compression to your percussion / hi hats can really help to give your beat some movement and adds to the groove it generates. The first thing to do is to route all your hi hats and percussion to its own group channel, then add a compressor to that track and sidechain it from your kick drum.

If you're not sure how to set up sidechaining in Cubase have a look at Mo Volans' great tut here: How to Set Up Sidechain Routing in Logic, Cubase & Reason.

In this example I'm hitting about 6 dB of gain reduction every time the kick hits. With a release time of 500ms the compressor has 'let go' by the time the next kick drum hits and we get a nice subtle pumping sound. In this audio example you can hear the hats/percussion before and after sidechaining is applied, and then with the rest of the beat.


Tip 3: Distortion

A little light distortion can work wonders to toughen up some drum sounds, or to help something cut through the mix a bit better. In the example I have been working through I think the clap could do with a bit more emphasis, so I've loaded up the standard Cubase distortion, and added just a tiny amount to the clap/snare group - you can hear a big difference:

In this example I've used a very light bit crusher to add a little crunch and noise to the open hi hat. Some people don't like this sound but I think used sparingly it can add some real character to the right kind of beat.

Here's a before and after:


Tip 4: Compressing Your Drum Buss

A final compression tip to really help gel your whole drum part together and add yet more punch and weight is to compress everything together. Route all of your drums - kick group, snare/clap group and percussion/hi hat group to one group track, and apply a compressor.

The PSP Vintage Warmer is a popular choice for this application, as are the Waves compressors, but for this example I have used the Cubase Vintage Compressor, aiming for just 2-3 dB of gain reduction:

Again, the effect is subtle but that little extra punch and definition helps bring the beat together and should help it sit better within your mix. I also like the added 'roughness' that using these vintage style compressor adds. Some people even like to mix in a little mild distortion at this stage for an even rougher drum sound. Another great trick at this stage would be use parallel compression instead of this standard approach.

I hope you've enjoyed this series, there's plenty of room to experiment with the various tips and techniques throughout the process to refine your drum sound and make it your own. It's also worth mentioning that you may find that you wish to go back and tweak your drum sound when it is inserted into the mix with the rest of your instruments.

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