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In The Studio: Six Tips For Powerful Drum Layering
Layer choices and application contribute to the impact of the drums, the sound of the record and the producer’s style...
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This article is provided by the Pro Audio Files.

Layering is an important aspect of any style of music that relies on programmed drums.

The choice of layers and the way those layers are manipulated contribute not only to the impact of the drums, but to the sound of the record and to the producer’s individual style as well.

This article provides a jumping off point for creating hybridized drum sounds.

1. Sometimes One Is Enough

If you find the perfect drum for your record, use it. Sometimes there’s no need for any layers or additional processing.

Don’t force something if it doesn’t need it.

2. Attack vs. Sustain

Sometimes you find a drum that has a very compelling texture or sustain to it, but lacks punch in the attack.

One way to solve this is to find another drum that has the attack power. When layering drums for this purpose you want to find something that blends together right from the get go.

If you need to adjust the pitch of either drum to get them to gel, you’ll often find the things you like about the drums hard to retain.

If you have to pitch the texture/tone layer, you’ll invariably change the texture that first drew you in.

If you pitch the attack drum down you are going to soften the attack, and if you pitch the attack drum up you may find yourself going from “punch” to “spike.”

Now, sometimes pitching the drums can be just what the doctor ordered, but understand that it’s a game of compromises.

The other thing to be aware of is the decaying tone from the attack drum. If the decay of the attack drum meshes well with the texture drum — great! If not, look into your sampler and simply alter the envelope of the attack drum to get some of that decay out of the way.

3. Tone Balancing

Sometimes you find a drum that has a phenomenal sound in a particular frequency. Either the top end is really cool, or the low end is super powerful, or whatever. But you may want that drum to have a “bigger” sound — a wider frequency content.

Consider grabbing another drum that provides the opposite of what the original drum is giving you. If you have a drum with an excellent treble range, layer it up with something that provides power in the low end and vice versa.

Don’t be afraid to EQ your drum layer here.

If you only want the low end from your layer drum, but there’s a weird click or something in there, grab a low pass filter. That doesn’t mean you should always separate your drum layers with filters — that often times results in a very “fake” or “thin” sounding composite. But sometimes EQ’ing things around can help the drum lock together and compliment each other.

I believe that’s the goal when using layers for tonal balance: get the drums to compliment each other.

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