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Adding Character to Drums with Drum Buss Processing

Hey guys. Matthew Weiss here —,, and

Thanks for checking this out. We are going to be talking about processing the drum buss.

Now, before the comments section below fills with all sorts of things saying it’s entirely context dependent, and there’s a million ways to do it, and how can you do it without the rest of the record…

Um… Yeah, I know. You guys are right. There are probably enough ways to process a drum buss that I could fill an entire tutorial about it. I’m just going to show you some general ideas that I find myself consistently going to, and leave the rest up to interpretation.

So first of all, let’s start with what we have.

[drums, raw]

So everything sounds good, everything sounds balanced, but it could use a little something special to it, and I think that’s what this is really going to be about.

Some of the things that I do that helps add character — more than anything else. It’s not necessarily about the punch, or the glue, or the shaping of the sound. That’s all going to come as a secondary thought.

My main thought is, “How do I bring this all together and how do I bring it home?”

So with rock drums in particular, I find that I very consistently incorporate a certain degree of distortion or saturation into my drum buss, because I find that it helps add the character that makes it sound more like a record, rather than like a drum recording, as ambiguous as that sounds.

What distortion I choose to use, that’s totally going to depend on the tone of the record, how the guitars are sitting, how the bass is sitting, all of those kinds of things.

So this is a little bit in a box, but here’s an interesting plug-in that I want to show you. It’s called Kaya.

Basically, it’s like a breakup machine. It’s distortion in the way that you get what when you overload a tape reel or something like that. So here’s what it sounds like before, and then after.

[drums, before and after saturation]

So suddenly, it sounds really dark, it has that sort of farty, square wave breakup thing going on, and so I’m going to play with these controls a little bit, and then ultimately, I’m going to use this effect blend knob to sort of tuck the distortion in, in parallel.

[drums, adjusting blend]

So, I’m getting something that I like. Obviously, I’ve lost some top end from the before and after.

[drums, before and after Kaya]

But I really love what it’s doing to the drums. I think that I need to back off the kick — what it’s doing with the kick a little bit.

[drums, adjusting Kaya]

Cool. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to do some compression now to sort of shape the attack, and make it a little bit sharper, and then after that, I’m going to add an EQ to restore some top end.

So same company here. This is called Deflector. It is a Distressor emulation. I’m going to set it to four to one, and I’m going to start messing with it here.

[drums, adjusting Deflector]

And last thing, I’m going to add that EQ in.

[drums, adjusting Eiosis EQ]

So what I want is the general sense of the top end. If we listen to the before and after here…

[drums, before and after Kaya and Deflector]

We can hear it’s like, a very broad amount of top end that probably goes from like, maybe even as low as like, 1.5 kHz, somewhere in there, all the way up to the very top end of the frequency spectrum up at 20kHz.

So I’m going to start with a corner frequency somewhere around like, 8kHz, somewhere in there, and use a very, very broad bell.

[drums, adjusting EQ]

So you hear, if I go down to like, 5kHz…

[drums, EQ at 5kHz]

It sounds forward in a nice way, but it sounds like a very dark kit. This is like, a basement drum type of sound right here.

If I go up to like, 11kHz…

[drums, EQ at 11kHz]

I’m either going to need to extend the Q more, or it’s going to end up sounding just a little too thin.

So I think somewhere around the 8-9kHz is probably about right.


Then I’m going to use this little contouring thing here, this water/fire thing, which changes the shape of the bell.

[drums, adjusting contour]

And that makes the sound really transparent.

So here’s before, then after.

[drums, before and after EQ contour]

And so, we really get that high end back.

So here’s what we started with.

[drums, raw]

Not bad, but not very exciting. Here’s what we ended with.

[drums, after processing]

So I want that to give you some food for thought. Look for character, look for compression that can help tighten things up sometimes, bring things together, but if it sounds great when you get to the drum buss and nothing needs to change, don’t force it either, and after you do any kind of distortion or compression and processing, just keep in mind your frequency balances might change, and you might need to do some corrective EQ after the fact.

Alright guys, until next time.


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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch:
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