In the Lab with Dee J Nelson – Drum Sounds That Kill

Dee J Live

In the Lab with Dee J Nelson: Drum Sounds That Kill

Dee J Live

Need some tricks to get your drums slammin’? Here are some things that I do that are easy and really bring your drums to life. In this article I’ll explain how to create drum sounds that kill.

Where is my Kick Drum?

I remember many times doing mixes of my music that sounded killer (in my mind anyway) when listening back in my studio monitors. It was in-your-face and everything seemed clear and separated. But then I’d give it mix the ol’ car test. Blah! It was a mess! And where did my loud thumping kick drum disappear to?

What I quickly learned is that there were other instruments, such as rhythm guitars for example, that were stepping on the EQ spectrum that the kick drum was to fill, essentially blanketing the kick. A lot of us like some good low end on our guitar sound to give it a little “woof”. But the problem with “woof” is it often makes your kick drum go “poof” and disappear.

If you are running into this problem try putting an EQ plugin on your guitars and rolling off the low frequencies that, while might sound cool solo’d up, ultimately clutter the frequency spectrum that the kick is trying to occupy.

Here is a picture of the 7-band EQ I use on my rhythm guitar. Notice I have completely cut all frequencies below 50hz and the volume of the 134hz down to 50hz is greatly reduced. The great thing is that this EQ setting is based on a preset I found within the EQ plugin itself. I loaded it on and began to experiment until I found a setting I liked. I didn’t have to start from ground zero. The preset got me in the ballpark. I then saved these settings as my own preset called Dee Q Left and “boom!” went my kick.


Try doing this not only with guitars but keyboards and other ambient instruments that at the end of the day might be cluttering the kick drum right out of your mix.

Layering Drum Sounds

When I record a new song I have a template I use that has my go-to drum samples already loaded into it. Today’s plugin marketplace has a massive amount of excellent sounding drum samples. These are usually loaded with a playback engine with built in mixing options, effects, etc. Some cool ones to check out would be EZ Drummer, Superior Drummer, Steven Slate Drums, Battery, etc.

My go-to rock drum kit is called “Blacksmith’ by a company called Analogue Drums. This library is relatively small and needs to be run by a free 3rd party engine called Kontakt by Native Instruments. I absolutely love the kick, snare and cymbals in Blacksmith as a base kit. Ya know, I gotta say, I was not thrilled with the toms. They were decent but they were a bit “digital” sounding. So what could I do? Layer my kit, that’s what!

In my template for recording I set up Blacksmith as my main kit but also have 2 other drum kits, Battery and Mega Macho Drums that I can use at any time as another layer on top of my Blacksmith kit.

My approach for creating “Drum Sounds that Kill” works like this:

  1. Write some riffs to a beat
  2. Develop into a song that has a beginning middle and end
  3. Create a realistic drum take using Blacksmith that includes transition fills, cymbal accents, etc.
  4. Decorate my drum sound by layering on drums from Battery and or Mega Macho.

Battery gives me the toms I am looking for. I will copy my entire drum take from my Blacksmith track and paste it into the Battery Track. I have a couple go-to kits I love in the Battery library that are already locked and loaded. I will go into the Battery track and remove any unwanted hits. For example, I remove all the cymbal hits from Battery and just let Blacksmith carry them. I also usually mix the Battery drums around 10 db lower than I run Blacksmith. Battery sits in the far back reaches of the mix like a ghost behind a curtain. You almost don’t hear it… until you mute it entirely and realize “Wow that really fills in space”.

My Mega Macho Kit is used more for effect and glitchy type sounds that are really more their own creative layer of the music. Not so much to enhance the Blacksmith kit.

So, in summary I recommend finding a killer base kit from whatever samples you like. These days there is a ton to choose from. Find some back up samples that can be used as an additive to the base fit. Finally, if you are like me and like using as many sounds to decorate as you can, consider a 3rd drum kit that can add in its own theme to the music.

Lastly, don’t forget to EQ! Use the plugin presets to start out and tweak. The heavy lifting in this department is already done for you. Just tweak and save as your own preset.

Most of all have fun being creative!! Find YOUR sound. It’s a lab so experiment.

This article was written by Metal Method instructor Dee J Nelson.  Check out Dee J’s great lessons.