Do you have flat, lifeless drums that aren’t making your head bop?
Don’t fret! In this article, we’re going to run you through a few things you can do to get your drums hitting hard in all the right ways!
You may be at a point in your mix where your song is beautifully arranged, yet for whatever reason, it’s not getting your listeners moving. Most often, this lack of feeling is due to a lack of punch and dynamics in the drums.
Whether you’re using live drum sounds or samples, there are plenty of ways you can create color, depth, and punch using a few simple production and processing techniques. Remember, mixing drums does NOT have to be complex.
The beauty of these techniques for getting hard-hitting drums in FL Studio is that you can use them no matter what genre you work in, from hip-hop to EDM to indie rock and beyond!
Getting your volume balance right before you start processing your drums is extremely important. If you begin bus processing before getting the volume balance right, you’ll likely end up going back to adjust the volume balance later down the line, which will ruin your current drum bus processing, forcing you to start all over again!
When thinking of the volume balance of my drums, I typically like to make sure the kick and the snare are the loudest two drums in my mix. After all, these drums are the backbone of my drum mix.
All of the other elements can be slightly tucked and panned around them. These elements might include hi-hats, toms, or percussion instruments, such as cowbell or woodblock.
If you are balancing the volume for a live drum kit, you’ll want to introduce overheads or room microphones once you already have the close-miked drum elements set. By adding your room mics or overheads first, you’ll make the balancing process much easier by giving yourself an idea of how much space your drums truly need.
PRO TIP: If you’re going for punchy drums, make sure to keep your kick and snare panned to the center. This way, these elements will fill up both speakers evenly, meaning no matter what kind of setting your track is played in, whether a club, a car, or your studio monitors, your backbone sounds will be heard by everyone.
One unique way to get hard-hitting drums is by adding saturation. There are SO many different types of saturation plugins on the market, though the FL Limiter works really well too! However, if you want a free third-party plugin that is great for saturating drums, I also highly recommend CamelCrusher.
The beauty of saturation is that it adds harmonics to the higher-registers of your signals, giving you the illusion that your signals are louder at higher levels, even if they are low-frequency sounds.
This is why many producers use saturation when mixing 808s, as it can help them cut through the mix, even on small speakers!
Try experimenting with saturation on all of your drums to bring out a bit of high-end punch. The positive byproduct of saturation is that it can glue all of your drum samples together with a slight bit of compression, which is why I often put it on my drum buses.
If you’re a big fan of EDM, house, or trap music, then you probably already know a thing or two about sidechaining. If you don’t, then this is a crucial element of mixing you must get a grip on.
Sidechaining is the process of creating room for an instrument by lowering the volume of another that might be masking it within your mix. For example, the punch of your kick drum might be getting lost behind your massive synth bass.
By sidechaining your kick to your other low-end instruments, such as your synth bass or 808, you can make it, so there are no conflicts when they play at the same time.
Start by placing a compressor, such as the FL Limiter, on your bass track. Use the dropdown menu on the side of the plugin to enable the sidechain option. You will be given the option to select the audio input to sidechain to, which, in this case, will be your kick.
Once set, every time your kick hits, it will trigger the sidechain on your bass track so that your compressor dips your bass in volume.
It is crucial to set your attack and release times on your compressor so that your bass isn’t completely swallowed up by the sidechain. Unless you’re using sidechaining as a pumping effect, it shouldn’t be noticeable. You only want to clear up just enough space so that the transient of your kick and pop through before your bass comes back up and fills in the low end.
We usually recommend a fast attack and fast release. Just don’t set your attack and release too fast that you introduce distortion. Once these parameters are set, you can adjust your threshold to choose how much volume your compressor reduces each time the kick hits.
If everything is set correctly, it should almost sound as if your bass gets tucked underneath your kick each time it hits before coming back in as the tail of your kick dies out.
The added benefit to sidechaining is that it not only enhances the punch of your kick, but can also give your bass tracks the groove and pocket they need.
PRO TIP: Nothing works better than starting with the right samples. Without them, no amount of processing is going to make your mix sound great. Check out our Beat Essentials sample pack, which comes with 160+ hard-hitting drums and more, to kick-start your productions!
With transient-shaping, you can manipulate the attack and sustain of your drums to make them punchier. These tools are pretty straightforward, using level-independent dynamic processing that is based on the input signal.
For example, try loading up a transient shaper on your kick drum and increasing the ‘Attack’ of your kick. You’ll start to notice the transient of the kick popping through the mix better. You may even try reducing the sustain of your kick so that it simply acts as your punch, while the bass takes over the low-end with the sustained melody.
One of my absolute favorite transient shaping plugins for drums is Smack Attack by Waves. This plugin gives you a real-time graphic display of your drums so you can easily fine-tune the transient levels.
By using EQ to enhance the right frequency ranges of your drum mix while cutting in those same frequency ranges in other instruments, you can create a punchy mix with more clarity. Of course, there are no one-size-fits-all EQ settings, so it’s important to listen to your mix and determine where it needs a little love before implementing any of these settings.
As a starting point, use these frequencies:
If you really want your drums to be the focus of your track, we recommend using subtractive EQ to carve out frequencies in other instruments that are masking your drums. For example, you might consider high-passing your synths, keys, guitars, vocals, and other mid-to-high-end instruments up to 100Hz to make room for your kick.
You can also low-pass instruments without a ton of high-frequency content to make room for your hi-hats, cymbals, and high-end percussion.
With strategic EQ, you can give every track in your mix its own space to flourish.
How Do I Make Kick and 808 Hit Harder?
If you’re looking to make your kick and 808s hit harder, follow this five-step process:
Should Snare Be Louder Than Kick?
Your snare is the foundation of your drum mix and should be one of the loudest elements alongside the kick. It’s important to balance these so they both sound clear and punchy without one feeling like it’s being swallowed by the other. I recommend bringing up your kick fader first to get it to a good level. Then, slowly bring up your snare fader until it’s sitting just atop your kick without masking its low-end.
Final Thoughts - Getting Your Drums to Punch Through the Speakers
Of course, when it comes to making your drums hit hard, there are no rules. Beyond trying these tried and true suggestions above, experiment with your drums and listen to references to see what you might be missing in your mixes!
If you’re ready to take your production to the next level, make sure to check out our FL Studio mixing and production courses!