Drums can be one of the trickiest sounds to master. Have a watch of my video tutorial where I reveal how you can achieve the most iconic drum sounds of all time, with achievable tips and tricks. And for a quick read some of the themes are broken down here for you. Any Qs hmu at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whole Lotta Love 1990 Remaster - Led Zeppelin
Super roomy sounds, love how the kick sound is so open and tuned down. The skin feels super loose and is arguably the most notable part of John Bonham’s drum sound. Lots of ambience used, specifically the reverb heard in the middle noise section with the hi-hats. The pre-delay is timed with the tempo of the track and acts as a delay. The overall kit sound crushes and distorts in the low end during the guitar solo section. A great example of the rough and ready sound of tape saturation. A pronounced and open snare and tom sounds really drives all of the fills.
Promise I Broke - Lucy Lu
A great example of R&B drum mixing. A cross-stick snare is brought up to the volume a standard snare hit normally reaches. Helps bring an intimate atmosphere to a very intimate song. Kick sits nice and low, sub feels warm and welcoming. Cymbals sit dark and moody, overheads are either EQ’d or de-essed to keep them from shining too bright, which helps vocal stay forefront.
Four Cypresses - Grizzly Bear
Great use of background drum effects in opening before main snare pattern enters. Really intricate drum pattern made to sound even more precise by keeping the gate transient super short. It is possible that the skin was tightened and tuned to have minimal resonance. A quick and easy way to get a sound like this without being a master at drum tuning is to cut a piece of A4 paper to fit on top of your snare inside of the rim. It will kill almost all resonance regardless of how hard you hit it. Snare sound starts to distort as the piece continues, all subtle but matches the instrumentals build to crescendo.
Duality - Slipknot
How can slipknot’s iconic punchy ridiculousness not be on this list of awesome drum sounds. It’s not a sound I’d go for with most music but I’d say it represents a mix approach that most nu-metal tracks emulate. Double kick drums that sound as punchy and high-end as the biscuit-tin snare. Usually achieved with samples, or very hard gates and drastic EQ. I’d love to dive deeper on the history of this drum mixing style but my guess is that it comes from a culture of having bad/cheap gear and making the most of it.
Bluebird - Electric Light Orchestra
If you take one thing from this post please let it be that Jeff Lynne has other songs besides Mr Blue Sky. In my opinion the true master of 80’s gated drums. Simultaneously deep tuned snare with a crisp brightness that helps give the drums presence amongst a manic and super wide instrumental mix. Use of tambourine and wide stereo placement of drum components helps the beat stay constantly ear grabbing. Wonderfully bright track overall, if you like it listen to the whole Secret Messages album now.
Chutzpan - Avishai Cohen Trio
A super classic jazz recording. Although I don’t know exactly how it was recorded I can hazard a guess that it was likely recorded and mixed with minimal close mics and focussing on overheads and room. It is not unusual to have a Glynn John’s mic setup for jazz recordings which consists of super wide overhead mics paired with a singular kick drum microphone to make up for any low end that might be lost in the overheads. Very no frills recording which showcases the jazz drummers attention to detail with regards to tuning and performance. The objective of the recording engineer is to capture the drummers sound, not define it.
I Saw the Light - 2015 Remaster - Todd Rundgren
A great example of interesting drum production from the early 70’s. The kit is stretched super wide, gated close mics are used to emphasise the width especially with regards to the tom groove in the verse. Nice tight snare contrasts heavily with the resonant tom sound. The toms are almost definitely gated but with a natural release that allows their resonance to ring fully. One of my favourite drum sounds from any song ever.
Reptilia - The Strokes
On reflection a really weird drum sound but that fits the aesthetic of the band perfectly. Feels lacklustre, like the mix engineer wasn’t trying to make the drums sound meaty or intense any way, but that gives so much space for the guitars to lead the mix, and it’s important to remember this was the era of indie guitar bands. A great example of a drum sound that sits behind to allow the rest of the track to shine through.
Eyes of Them All - Andy Shauf
Easily my favourite snare sound of any record, “the splat”. This involves a low tuning on the snare coupled with some gating and fairly heavy compression with a moderately low attack time. Makes sure the snare isn’t too punchy in the lows but that all the subtle overtones from the skin are brought up louder. Combine that with a generally subdued kick and overhead mix and you’ve got one of the most soothing drum sounds ever heard by a human.
Home Again - Steely Dan
A masterclass on how to record and mix drums. Steely Dan’s reputation for the cleanest recordings and mixes is well deserved. As a live sound engineer this track is the first I put on to listen to a PA system. Everything is precise and clear which is largely down to the care and attention to detail taken during the recording process. The Classic Albums documentary on the making Aja is worth watching on this subject. The mixing is taking well recorded sounds and balancing them without having to do a huge amount or augmentation, just polish up everything. The most phase-coherent drum recording I can think of.
Wild International - One Day as a Lion
The less-known two piece side project of Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zack de la Rocha and ex-drummer for The Mars Volta, Jon Theodore. Very room heavy drum mix, could be natural ambience from room hard compressed or use of a room/ambience reverb. Kick drum is tuned almost as low as a John Bonham sound, but with a bit more modern low-end. Synth takes the forefront of the mix supported with hit and snare to help drive the aggressive nature of the tune.
Toll Road - Zach Hill
If you thought Bluebird - ELO was a manic mix then you’re in for a treat. Zach Hill makes a career out of intensity, and this track is a great showcase of how he likes to approach drums in his music. Complete chaos, use of outlandish and garish effects like phaser/flanger on his snare to aid transitions between sections. Tight drum sounds very much defined by the tuning, so that even if going for a room/overhead heavy sound the drums have very little resonance and so help his complex drumming present itself with more precision. The dude is on another level.