How To: Make Hard Hitting Drums

Are your drums lacking that punch?

Hard-hitting drums are essential in most forms of music today, from Hip-Hop & Trap tp Future Bass & Hybrid Trap.

Having drums that hit hard is the ultimate goal for almost every music producer out there. So how do you do it?

Soft Clipping

Working in a DAW you can't have your sounds over 0db. If you do, the waveform will be chopped off at the points where they clip. 

What soft clipping does is compensate for this by rounding off those points. You can do this by running the sound through Ableton's Glue Compressor with soft clipping enabled.

By doing this you will give the sound more warmth, something similar to what you'd normally only be able to get using analogue gear. Normally when you're digitally clipping you get a rough, distorted almost aggressive tone but when you soft clip you get a warm, analogue-like punch. 

The trick here is to increase the makeup gain on the Glue Compressor with soft clipping enabled.

Saturation

Another way to make hard-hitting drums is by adding saturation. This is particularly the case if 808s, but works well for kicks and snares too.

For hard-hitting kicks I normally like to run them through a hard curve and turn down the base level to about -15 and turn the output down to about -12. But this is purely dependant on your mix and your sounds.

I recommend messing around with other curves, such as Sinoid Fold and messing about with the parameters yourself to get a unique sound that sounds right to you.

Saturation adds harmonics to your sound at high registers, which gives it the illusion of being heard at higher frequencies when it is a lower frequency sound. Which is why this works so well for 808s. 808s traditionally sit in the low end of the mix. When you add saturation to your 808 it makes the sound more musical and helps it be heard on speakers that don't handle bass well, such as laptop speakers, phone speakers and cheap headphones - which most of your music will be consumed on.

A good external plugin in for saturation is CamelCrusher. It's a free plugin and I highly recommend giving it a go.

Strategic EQing

Using an EQ is a simple way to make your drums hit harder. You can boost or cut certain frequencies.

An often overlooked aspect of the kick drum is the transient click, normally heard in the 1.4 -2 kHz range. Boosting the 200Hz range can also be a good way to get a kick drum to hit hard.

Sometimes cutting the high frequencies from a kick drum can be beneficial too. 

I recommend playing around and finding what works best for you and the particular sound.

Tune Your Sounds!

Make sure your drums are in tune with each other. Especially kick drums and 808s as well as your other instruments.

This is a very overlooked aspect of mixing drums that not enough producers take the time to ensure they get right.

You can use tools like Ableton's spectrum to analyse the dominant frequencies. The dominant frequency will be the key of your sound in most cases.

Transient Shaping

This is fairly simple and can be done with plugins such as Native Instruments Transient Master or you can shape the transient by messing with the attack and release fades of the sample in Ableton. 

Sidechain Compression

You've probably heard of this technique before, but it is by far the easiest way to get your drums to hit hard in the mix.

This is very much a must-do for almost every sort of dance music, it will give the song a bit more bounce. I would try and do it less for Hip Hop and Trap and would stay clear of sidechaining an 808 to the kick. But have a play around with it, it might work for your track.

You can do this with Ableton's compressor or a Nicky Romero's plugin - Kickstart.

Sidechain things like the melody and bass to your kick drum =, that way every time your kick drum hits the melody (or whatever you sidechain to the kick) essentially ducks out of its way. This will give you more room in the mix and allows the kick drum (or even the snare if you want to) to be front and centre.

 

There are no rules you have to follow when it comes to making your drums hit hard. People like to act all high and mighty about what you should and shouldn't do, but a lot of the time they're just fuckwits. 

Sometimes breaking the "rules" is the best way to achieve the sound you want or a sound that will take your track to the next level.

Experiment and have fun, don't be scared to fuck up. This is how you come up with your own signature sound.

If you want to make your own unique drums and stop relying on samples. Check out our Ableton Live Drum Maker tool. This tool allows you to fully customise your drums from the ground up using Ableton's Operator and inbuilt audio effects. It's only £0.99 for now.


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