Niall McCallum, co-founder of ModeAudio, a developer of royalty-free loops, samples, synth presets, and field recordings shares his techniques for professionally enhancing drums in Logic Pro X.
Programming drums can be one of the most exciting parts of electronic music production, as well as often one of the most frustrating. Get them right, and you will really start to feel your track taking shape – get them wrong, however, and your beat won’t even get off the ground.
Stale, dull drums are an enemy of good music, so today, I’d like to take you through some tips for invigorating and enlivening your drum sound in Logic Pro X. In addition, I’ll be using only Logic’s built-in plugins in my demonstration, which naturally you can sub in for your own preferences or native devices available within whichever DAW you feel most comfortable working in. Let’s get started!
Separate the Wheat from the Chaff
In my opinion, the only way to get a good drum sound is to be able to process each sound separately, and then bring them all back together in a drum bus channel. This method provides the greatest flexibility, allowing you to tweak each drum both in isolation, as well as together with the rest of your percussive parts.
In Logic, we can do this a number of ways, but I’m going to use one that’s both tried and tested. Begin by loading up an instance of the classic EXS24 sampler, making sure to select ‘multi-output’ from the mixer’s sub-menu. I’m going to be using a kit from ModeAudio’s ‘Beat – Drum Machine Samples’ library, created specifically for use in Chillwave and Downtempo styles.
Within EXS24’s ‘edit’ menu, I can send out each of the drum sounds I want to use in my beat to separate mixer channels. Once I’ve assigned the drums to the respective output channels, I can then create these tracks in the mixer by hitting the small ‘+’ icon just above the solo button on EXS24’s main track.
Here’s how things sound with a quick, Chillwave-inspired beat I’ve played in with my MIDI keyboard:
I’m happy with the pattern but the mixing is all over the shop, plus I think you’ll agree that the drums just lack a bit of character and drama!
So, I can quickly rectify the mix of my drums simply by adjusting the faders of the various EXS24 output tracks – I can also apply individual panning to space things out better across the stereo field. Here’s the new drum mix:
Now we can turn our attention to the sound of each drum in turn. I’m actually pretty happy with the overall sound, as they already have a pretty deep and crunchy character. However, the kick lacks a bit of sub boom, so I can sort this out by calling up the channel EQ on its mixer track to find the fundamental by sweeping a notch filter up and down the lower frequencies and then boosting just a touch to bring out those frequencies.
I also feel like the snare lacks some brightness, so a bit of boosting between 1 and 2 kHz, as well as around the 7 kHz mark, gives us this overall sound:
Things are starting to shape up nicely now, so let’s move on to gelling and gluing these disparate drum sounds together into one cohesive entity.
Paper and Glue
To get my drums running through a single stereo channel before they reach the master track, I’ll just need to change the output of the EXS24 channels to a bus – I’ve chosen ‘bus 10′ here.
Now we can process our drums as one stereo signal. Whenever I think of mixing glue, I think of compression. So, this is the first place I’ll start – I’m a big fan of subtlety when it comes to processing, and I think such a few elements placed in a chain, lightly processing the input can really make a huge difference. With my first compressor, therefore, I’m just going to take about 1dB out of the signal, setting the ratio very low and threshold very high.
It’s worth pointing out that when Logic’s compressor is first called up, it has default settings that are, in my opinion, NEVER a good place to start processing from. I’ve saved a new blank compressor preset which is always where I begin from, with no auto-gain, output gain set to unity (0), and auto-release turned off. This setting will also be the default position from which I’ve moved from in the compression examples below:
Coupling these settings with a fairly fast attack and release, plus the ‘Vintage VCA’ compression model, gives me a light but very fast attacking compression that comes into play across the entire drum beat rather than simply when the loudest element sounds, which is the kick in this case. This means my compressor is working on the beat as a whole, rather than just a single sound, aiding the gluing process.
Next, a little bit of bus EQ will help to gel things further. EQ used here must be treated very differently to an individual track EQ, as its operating on the entire drum sound. I’m going to add just a touch of extra weight by boosting at around 120Hz, scooping out gently at 400Hz for clarity, and brightening by adding a subtle boost at 10kHz.
Now, I’m going to add two more instances of the compressor, but for very different reasons. Firstly, I want to compress a little harder this time to further gel and thicken things up – but I’m still only taking just under 2dB out of the signal using the ‘Vintage FET’ compression model. My attack and release settings are much more laid-back this time, and crucially, I’ve set the ‘Distortion’ mode to ’Soft’ – this gives me a nice, fairly subtle saturation to the output.
My final compressor instance is used for that much celebrated ‘parallel compression’ technique; wherein I mix just a little of a very over-compressed copy of my sound in with the original signal. Here’s the over-compressed sound:
I just want a little of this sound however, so I can set the ‘Mix’ dial of this compressor to 20% which will add just a bit of the punch and pull into my overall drum signal.
The final plugin I want to add here is Logic’s Bitcrusher to apply a little bit more saturation and limiting to my drums. As you can see in the image below, I’m only driving the signal by 2.5dB, but even this gives me a fullness and subtle volume boost that will be most welcome when I mix the drums in with other instruments.
So, now we’ve finished our master drum bus processing, here’s the finished result:
Comparing this back to the original mixed beat above, I think we’ve come a pretty long way!
The final part of the process is to place my drums in a virtual space. In my opinion, this is an absolutely vital element in giving your drum sound some real character and flavour.
To being I’m going to send the entire drum signal out to another bus, adding an instance of Logic’s ‘Space Designer’ plugin onto the track. I don’t want to use the reverb to add long tails to the sound here; I just want a nice, short, flavourful reverb that will give my drums some colour. So, after fishing around in the plugin’s preset menu, I’ve found a short, plate impulse called ‘Drum Plate’ – perfect!
I need to be careful not to muddy my kick however, so I can use Space Designer’s EQ stage to cut out the lowest frequencies from the drum reverb – here’s how this sounds:
This example might sound like there is too much reverb at the moment, but in the mix, it’ll be just right – trust me!
The very last part of my drum enlivening process is to now add longer reverb tails to some select drums – namely the snare and percussion. I want the snare to have more presence and impact in the overall mix, so I can do this neatly by sending some of its individual signal to a second reverb bus, loaded again with Space Designer.
I’ve found a much longer decaying impulse called ‘Reflective Verb,’ which I’ve again scooped the lows and low-mids from using Space Designer’s EQ for clarity – sending the snare and percussion to it gives me this finished drum sound:
Again, the reverb sounds a little heavy-handed, but when listened to in the context of a mix, it’s just right – here’s my final drum sound, heard alongside loops from ModeAudio’s ‘Glide – Chill Electronic Loops’ pack:
I hope in the above tutorial and demonstration, you’ve seen how you can spice up your drum sound with just a little know-how and some trusted plugins. Once you’ve built-up your own workflow, you can save presets and channel strips to make your work must faster and intuitive by simply tweaking the elements that are specific to the beat in question.
I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and happy beat-making!
About Niall McCallum
Niall McCallum is co-founder of ModeAudio, a developer of royalty-free loops, samples, synth presets, and field recordings.
ModeAudio’s focus is on quality, usability, and value. Whether it’s Logic project templates, MIDI patterns, Ableton Drum Racks or Reason Combinator patches, ModeAudio always endeavors to give you more for your buck. They also curate ModeAudio Magazine, a place for music production tutorials, synth tips, music tech news, DAW tricks, and beyond.
ModeAudio is currently having a 30% off Holiday Sale, where you can pick up the samples and loops used in the above tutorial for less!
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