Pimp My Drums – Kick & Snare

This tutorial is not about drum replacement. Instead, it’s about how to edit and manipulate your drum recording to make it sound more expensive – especially the kick and snare drum. So, it’s more about layering samples rather than replacing them.

You definitely will need a good and solid drum performance (and also a good and clear recording signal) to get good overall results afterwards. But a good recording does not equal good sound necessarily. The first important thing is that you record your drums on separated audio tracks. Make sure that there are individual tracks for kick drum, snare drum, hihat, overheads and ambience (if you want to catch the sound of the recording room as well).

Listen to Sample 1. These are the naked drum tracks with no editing at all.

Sample 1

Then, please switch to Sample 1. This is the result I got after doing the steps I explain below.

Sample 2

The Kick Drum

The kick drum is the basis of every groove and therefore very important. Make sure that it has its own place in the mix without competing with other instruments (e.g. the bass guitar). I would like to show you my chain of insert effects to let you know what I’ve done.

1) UAD Studer A800 (Tape recorder)

The Studer is a great tool to get an analog vibe. It is designed to be put on every single audio channel in your song. I picked the preset for kick drum and adjusted the input and output levels. In order to run the Studer on your own system you will need a UAD-2 DSP card. Obviously, it’s a matter of taste and whether or not you like the sound of a tape recorder but I use it on almost every song.

Pimp My Drums - UAD Studer A800

The Studer usually should be used in the very first slot of your effect chain because its tape saturation adds some color to the sound.

2) UAD 1176LN (Compressor)

To give some stability to the kick drum we need to compress it. I could have used any other compressor but I like the 1176 because it offers very fast attack and release times that give you the possibility to shape the sound of the kick.

Pimp My Drums - UAD 1176LN (Compressor)

Furthermore, the 1176 allows you to really overdo the compression. This will make the sound become dirty and a bit distorted – this can be a useful effect if you were looking for a lo-fi drum sound.

3) Studio-EQ (Equalizer)

Using the equalizer I support the low pitch of the kick to give it a bit more low-end and also more sharpness by increasing the frequencies at around 7.6kHz.

Pimp My Drums - Studio-EQ (Equalizer)

Every kick drum has its own frequency points that are important for the sound characteristics. But in general there are two important spots to look at: a) the low pitch (see band2) and B) the snap (see band4). Find those spots and you are ready to shape the
sound properly.

4) Gate

The only purpose of the gate is to get rid of noises and sounds other than the kick drum. This is important because I am going to use the signal of the kick drum to trigger another signal afterwards (see No.6). I suggest finding the quietest hits of the kick and adjusting the threshold to make sure those hits get through the gate.

Pimp My Drums - Gate

As you can see, I started with a preset. But I highly suggest experimenting with the settings because especially the attack time and the release time have much influence on the sound of the kick.

5) UAD Precision Enhancer Hz (Special processing)

This tool provides different modes for different sound sources. Mode D is designed especially for kick drums. It creates the illusion of more and a deeper bass due to the processing of harmonics. This is often associated with the term “phantom bass”.

Pimp My Drums - Precision Enchancer Hz

Always trust your ears and also keep an eye on the volume meter when using bass enhancers in general. On the one hand, it can be pure magic but on the other hand they certainly have enough potential and power to mess up your mix totally. Therefore, my beloved knob on this tool is “effect” to find the right amount of phantom bass and original bass. That is the best way to find a good balance between both signals. Again, it can be a great effect (and also sound) if you just used the phantom bass signal in your

6) Sub bass (via side-chain)

This last step probably has the biggest effect on the sound. I recorded a simple sine tone and put it on a separate audio track (listen to Sample 3). I used a frequency that cut through the song (unfortunately I can’t tell anymore what frequency that was). Next, I used a gate in side-chain mode on the sub bass audio track.

Sample 3

Pimp My Drums - Sub Bass (via side-chain)

The original kick signal feeds into that gate and functions as a trigger. Every time the kick hits the gate will open and the sine tone is audible until the release time closes the gate.

The Snare Drum

In my opinion, the snare drum is equally important to the kick although there are some different schools of thought. Some say the snare drum is the most important thing in a good mix and therefore it has to be the loudest source.

1) UAD Studer A800 (Tape Recorder)

As mentioned before, I usually put the Studer on every audio channel and the snare drum is no exception. Since you will not find a preset for the snare drum, I used the settings for “saturation” to make sure it has enough punch and presence in the mix. Again, this will change the tonal color of the original recording so make sure to use the Studer in the first slot of your effects chain.

Pimp My Drums - Studer A800

To give the best emulation of the hardware device, Universal Audio even included the noises of the machine. This is good for realism but sometimes you would want to get rid of them. Just click on “open” and change the settings according to your needs.

2) Gate

As we did with the kick drum, we will separate the snare drum signal and get rid of crosstalks. Since we use the signal to trigger some other sounds it is important that you make sure, every snare drum hit breaks through the gate. This won’t be as easy as with the kick drum because the snare usually is much more dynamic but this also depends on the musical style and the drummer.

Pimp My Drums - Snare Gate

Most gates allow you to define a center frequency that opens the gate.

3) Studio-EQ (Equalizer)

Next, I have shaped the sound using an EQ. The presets are a good starting point. You might want to adjust some setting depending on the sound of your snare.

Pimp My Drums - Snare Studio-EQ

I would like to point out the most important band is the low cut. You might want to leave most of the low end to the kick drum and the electric bass. This prevents your mix from sounding muddy.

4) White noise (via side-chain)

Now, the snare drum sounds are already satisfactory, but still not expensive. Therefore, I am going to add another audio track to trigger a white noise signal with the snare hits. Listen to Sample 4, this is the signal that I am going to layer on top of the snare drum. I am using the same signal flow like on the sub bass channel for supporting the kick drum.

Sample 4

5) Some fancy noise (via side-chain)

To let the snare drum appear a bit more aggressive, I am adding another noise to the hits. Listen to Sample 5. If you own a copy of Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere you are going to find many extremely cool sounds that serve that purpose (not only that purpose, it really is one of my go-to plugins for almost everything).

Sample 5

Pimp My Drums - Track Overview

Here you have an overview of all active drum tracks. The first two from above are the kick drum, followed by three tracks for the snare drum. The rest is a separate track for the hihat and two overheads (left and right). The last track was intended to catch the sound of the room and therefore it adds some depth and ambience. There are literally endless possibilities to manipulate and edit the sounds of each track. The only important thing is that you find a sound setting you like best. Most of the time, you will find those settings by experimenting.


The last step is adding some reverbs. I set up an effect channel (send-return) and loaded the Altiverb 6 from AudioEase on that channel.

Pimp My Drums - Altiverb 6 Reverb

I am not giving too much reverb to the kick drum because I want to leave it in the foreground of the song. The snare drum gets more reverb. It is important to keep an eye of the tempo. The slower a track the more reverb you can put on the instruments. This is a general rule of thumb. You can also experiment with different reverbs for different tracks. This way you can create more depths in the drums that can make them more transparent at times. It is all about experimenting.

Learn anything? Please share!