7 ways to liven up your drum tracks

Raise the interest on your drum tracks with these tried and tested production tricks.

1. Jungle drums

Nature documentaries or sample packs of rainforest sounds are a rich and varied source of material that can be turned into original drum hits with a little processing.

A great example is using a sample of a gorilla beating its chest as a kick drum; by placing the sound in a sampler, we can pitch it to suit a track before using the amp envelope to tighten the sound up suitably.

Sounds of animals treading on the forest floor can be turned into hi-hats, snares or even a ride simply by applying timestretching, granular synthesis or extreme distortion to take them out of context.

2. Liven up your snare

Liven up electronic drums by layering real handclaps or finger clicks in with your snare, clap or percussion. Record a few takes using any dynamic or condenser microphone before picking the best ones to layer with your drums.

If you’re adding a clap layer to a snare, try using two takes panned left and right to easily create a stereo clap that will also sound good in mono. If you’re making classic boom-bap hip-hop beats, try layering a tambourine over the snare. Experimenting with the timing can give a more live feel.

3. Steal the groove

An easy way of adding flavour to a rigidly sequenced beat is to extract the groove from another beat you like (maybe a sampled funk break!) into a groove template and apply it to your own creation. This is a great trick for adding that familiar funk without breaching any copyright rules. 

4. Pre-kick click

If your kick drum's lacking in edge, subtly layering a high-pitched ‘click’ layer over it - using your DAW’s channel time delay to make it play 5ms before - will increase the perception of attack while giving the kick more presence on small speakers and headphones. 

5. Round-robin drums

Using a round-robin-capable sampler such as NI’s Kontakt enables you to trigger a selection of one-shot samples in order, which is great for giving drums a more organic, realistic feel.

For example, you could make several slight variations of the same snare before retriggering them in an order of your choosing - or completely randomly!

6. Ghostbusters

Adding snare ghost notes to a programmed two-step breakbeat can really help to give the end product a chunky sound. While you can use your main snare if you wish, picking a more subtle, quieter snare or rimshot sample to complement it instead will make the whole break sound more interesting. If your main snare is playing on beats 2 and 4, try placing the ghost snare on beat 3's last 16th-note as a starting point. 

7. Crunch it up

Even the most boring, vanilla drum samples can be turned into something exciting simply by abusing everyday EQ and dynamics processors.

For example, to make a loud, crunchy jump-up drum ’n’ bass snare, simply take any standard drum machine snare sample and apply around 10dB of gain reduction using a limiter. This will crush the attack, making it into an abrasive block of noise that sounds nothing like the original sample.

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