Part 3 of my Percussion Pro-tips series completes my 12 insights to designing Epic Face Punching drums! If you have yet to check out the Blitz Beats Ultra Class and Percussion Sound Design Template I highly recommend checking out the free preview videos and grabbing the template here!

Pro-Tip #9

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Add layers of saturation to get your drums to really cut through the mix and sound fat. Add saturation in parallel layers, a little bit at a time, as this will give you better results. I put my saturation plugins on each drum because I tailor them specifically to the drum, rather than the bus.

Some plugins that allow you to do this are Ableton’s own Saturator, Camel Audio Camel Phat, and iZotope Trash as each has a wet/dry function. Another ace plugin is Shaack Audio Transient Shaper. It doesn’t have wet/dry, but it does have an absolutely amazing saturation function that I use on pretty much all my drums, basses and leads.

It sounds very different when you add saturation a little bit at a time, as opposed to just cranking up the saturation/drive knob on one instance, so experiment with this and see for yourself. The reason is the higher you turn up the saturation, the more higher order harmonics you get. The sound starts to get brittle, too aggressive and grating on the ears. When you keep the saturation lower, it adds more of the warm and fat sounding harmonics. So when you add multiple layers of small amounts of saturation, the sound stays really fat. Saturation will also make your sounds seem louder and in some cases reduce dynamic range like compression. This is especially true with the Transient Shaper plugin.

I saturate my snares a lot more than my kicks. Kicks sound nice when they’re pretty clean, or perhaps when you distort the upper layer(s) of a kick while leaving the sub/bottom layer more clean. For snares, it’s not uncommon for me to use several different saturation plugins. For example, I might use a Transient Shaper adding a little bit of saturation, then CamelPhat running the tube algorithm in parallel, then an Ableton Saturator. Saturation is an essential part of percussion sound design, so get busy and start experimenting. Enjoy!

Saturation is an essential part of percussion sound design, so get busy and start experimenting. Enjoy!

Pro-Tip #10

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Secrets to add speaker crushing punch to the front of your drums. Do you ever hear certain producers drums that pop and slam better than everyone else? Whenever I do I slice them out of the track and start studying them. Call me weird, but I love to do this for hours. It fascinates me. By doing this, I’ve noticed that there are 2 techniques that set truly amazing drums apart from average drums, with respect to punch.

The first is adding an additional pitch envelope to the front of your drum. Drums naturally have a decaying pitch, but you can enhance the drum’s natural pitch behavior with an envelope in a sampler. If you’re layering, first resample the drum so you have a single audio file. Then load it into a sampler. I prefer Ableton’s Sampler instrument because it has sloped stages to it’s envelopes.

Activate the Pitch Envelope on the Pitch/OSC Tab. Increase the amount to between +24 and +36 st. Then group it into an Instrument Rack, and Macro map the Peak, Decay, and Decay Slope parameters to different Macro knobs. To see Decay Slope (which does not show by default) you will need to click on one of the blue dots mid-way through the envelope stages in the Pitch Envelope Display.

In the Macro Mappings window, range restrict your Peak Amount from 0% to 100%, your Decay from 15 ms to 100 ms, and your Decay Slope from 0% to 100%. Then start playing the drum and adjust to taste. This technique should work well on snares, kicks and toms.

Pro-Tip #11

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Making drums that punch (and bite) harder than Mike Tyson. This is a pro technique that you see the sound designers from Vengeance using on their newest packs (such as Vengeance Essential Dubstep), as well as KOAN Sound. In this technique we’re going to employ FM synthesis & sampling.

Take your drum, bounce it to a single audio sample, and slap it in Ableton’s Sampler (you can’t do this in Simpler). Go to the Pitch/OSC tab and activate the Mod Oscillator (labelled Osc). Leave it in FM mode, but change the type to Sine 4 Bit (feel free to experiment with other types too, but I’ve found this to work best for me). Jack the volume all the way up to 0 dB.

Then throw the Sampler into an Instrument Rack and Macro Map the following parameters: Peak, Coarse (ratio), Decay and Decay Slope (to see the Decay Slope parameter you will need to click on one of the blue dots in the Osc Envelope Display.

In the Macro Mappings window, range restrict your Coarse from 0.125 to 4, Decay from 15 ms to 100 ms and your Decay Slope from 0% to 100%. Then tweak the Macro knobs to your heart’s content. Resample and look at your waveform, zoomed in.

This will add a serious burst of harmonics to the front of your drum making it cut through the mix and slam hard even on laptop speakers. It sounds different than just layering in a hi hat sample, or using distortion. It cuts better at the attack. Enjoy!

Pro-Tip #12

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When you’re EQing individual layers of samples to make a drum, use a linear phase EQ. This will make sure that phase shifts aren’t smearing out your samples.

My favorite EQ for this is the FabFilter Pro-Q. It’s not in linear phase mode by default, you have to set the mode. I like using the mode “Linear Phase – Maximum Latency” as this achieves the best resolution.

An interesting side effect of running this mode is that when you render your drum to audio, it produces a pre-echo. It’s visible in the audio waveform as a tiny little crescendo into the main attack of the drum hit and gives it a subtle, but unique added sound I like. I picked up that aspect of this technique from my label-mate MakO, a true master of sound design.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of pro-tips on percussion sound design. Now it’s time to put this info into your music! Want to take your percussion sound design to next level and start building Epic Face Punching drums in your music?

Grab the Blitz Beats Percussion Sound Design Template and Ultra Class!