Tips for Adding Character to Stock Drum Sounds in a Mix

Hey guys, Matthew Weiss here —,, and

This tutorial is going to be about adding some character to stock sounding drums. A lot of times, when I get records in, they are interesting records, but the drum selection is just a little bit bland, and this is going to be one of those examples, and I’m going to show you how I liven it up.


Bring in my plug-ins…

[drums, after]

So the giveaway here is that if I bring in some of the other elements of the record, like, let’s say maybe these vocal harmonies and that bass…


You quickly hear that there’s a lot of personality in this record. The harmonies are really interesting, they’ve got a weird sound to them, the bass is very aggressive and has tons of overtone in it.

So when I have these stock drums in, they just don’t really stand up entirely. But once I start getting creative and I start bringing in some of my processing…


They suddenly have personality, they suddenly stand with the record better, they have more qualities that just sort of gel a little bit more because there’s so many distort-y qualities to the other elements.

So what I’m going to do is mute these things again, and I’m going to just go to the snare and point out a few things about it and kind of recreate my settings. Here’s the snare by itself.


It’s a pretty mild 808 sounding snare, like straight out of the drum machine sounding snare with some reverb on it. Nothing really amazing happening.

And when I bring in this click…

[snare, click]

The snare pretty much vanishes, and what we really only hear is a little bit of the texture, and mostly the reverb that’s on the snare itself. Once I bring in my processing…


Boom. Suddenly we have this big snare, and the reason being is that the click has such an aggressive attack, it very easily masks the attack of the snare, so in order to get the snare to stand out, we really need to play up the sustain, and also in doing that, we give the snare a lot of character and personality.


So okay. What I’m going to do here is reset this PSP and sort of start talking about what I’m doing to make this snare work.

So there’s a lot of settings on the Vintage Warmer, and it can be a little confusing if you’re not really used to it.

One thing that’s really important to understand about this plug-in is that it is a limiter. It is not a compressor. So it’s functionally acting very differently. You don’t have an attack and release speed in the same way you would have one on a compressor, so no matter what we set this speed to here, it’s still going to be acting as a peak transient reducer, no matter what.

The speed, when it says speed, I think of it as more of like a texture control. When you have it all the way to the left, you have a very hard limiter, and when you have it all the way to the right, you have a very soft limiter.

The knee function is kind of a similar concept, but what it’s doing is it’s grabbing the transient sound from an earlier point. Zero is literally a hard limiter, whereas 100 is a limiter that’s starting from well below, and in a weird, converse kind of way, the knee control almost acts more like the attack and release speed controls would on a dynamic processor like a compressor.

So it’s a little bit confusing, it takes a little bit of working with it to get the feel for it, but once you do, it’s actually really intuitive, and it’s really, really cool.

So okay, that aside, let’s start looking at this.

So there’s a couple of really important controls here that we’ve got to look at. The drive is an input control. It’s going to start feeding level in.

The ceiling is our threshold. It’s where our headroom is going to chop off and where the limiter action is going to be beginning.


Right. So we can hear, that’s pretty freaking loud. So let’s turn the output way down.


So we’re about level matched, and you can see there’s already some compression happening. So there’s two ways to do this. I can either drive into the limiter, or I can start backing off the ceiling, and that’s going to give me the same amount of compression, it’s just going to give me a different output level.

[snare, adjusting ceiling and drive]

So I’m opting for this so I do not destroy your ears.

So let’s start looking at some of these speed controls.

I had it very soft to begin with.


Let me drive into it a little harder.


Now let me turn it counter-clockwise.


You can hear there’s a lot more bite in the transient when I have the speed up. So this is like a bite control in a lot of ways.


Whereas this knee control, here I’ll put it to super soft.

[snare, soft knee]

And now super hard.

[snare, hard knee]

Right? So there’s a lot less compression going on when I have it on the hard, because it’s just catching that very peak transient.


So now I have to decide what exactly I want, and what I want to do is basically smash the crap out of this snare and use this mix control to find a blend where it feels right.


So the first thing that I want to do is just get the tone correct on the snare. And I think that the snare can have a lot more power and weight to it, so I’m going to push this low end a lot.

[snare, adjusting lows]

I’m going to turn the corner frequency up, see if I can catch the fundamental body of the snare.

[snare, adjusting corner frequency]

Cool. And now that’s a little flubby, so I’m just going to back it off a touch.

[snare, lowering low end]

Okay, that feels about right to me.

Next thing I’m going to do is I’m going to start pushing the drive to start getting like I’m getting the right amount of compression.

[snare, adjusting drive]

That’s starting to get a little loud, so turn down the output.

[snare, adjusting drive]

So I think that this is all a little bit too top of the transient oriented. I think I want to catch more of the snare and really get that explosive kind of sound. So I’m going to start playing with the speed and the knee to find that texture and tone that really works and really brings out the sustain.

[snare, adjusting speed and knee]

So as soon as I start slowing the speed down, that — it immediately starts losing a little bit of its edge and power, so I don’t want to slow it down too much, but I also don’t want to make it overwhelmingly bitey.

[snare, adjusting speed and knee]

That’s feeling pretty good to me.

So now what I’m going to do is I’m going to turn the output back up and I’m going to turn the mix knob to zero.


Now I’m going to start increasing the amount of that sound — that heavily compressed version of this — into the dry version.

[snare, adjusting mix]

That’s only 20%. So obviously, you know, a little dab will do you when you start using these really, really aggressive settings.

I’m going to back off the output and see if I can get a little bit more in there.

[snare, adjusting output and mix]

Pretty cool.

I don’t know how that compares. Let’s see how that compares to my original setting.

Yeah, not totally different. They’re pretty similar.

So this is what I came up with originally.

[snare, original]

And this is what I came up with just know.

[snare, new]

So a little — not quite as thick sounding, a little bit more transient in what I just did.


That’s better off the first time I did it, but I wanted to show you my processing and thinking more than the actual results. Obviously, I took more time with it the first time around.

Now, the other thing that’s important to point out is that because I’m increasing the amount of sustain and release in this snare, it’s not only serving the purpose of giving it a homogenous texture with the other things that I’m treating here, like the kick, but it’s also allowing the reverb to kind of run over the kicks, which has this way of gluing things together, and as I mix this more, I’m going to start really focusing on how the sustain of the snare and how the reverb that’s in the snare connects with the kick drum, and makes one kind of glued sound, so it’s not like these are three separate track outs that all came out of a sequencer, but rather it’s more like one whole drum loop that came out of a sampler, if that makes sense.

Alright guys, don’t forget to like and subscribe, hope that you learned something, until next time.

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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