transient shaping on drums and more

Making drums sound really punchy is always fun. Here’s what I do to try and make them really pop.

First, picking a good sample goes a long way. It’s way easier to make a punchy drum punchy than to make a soft pathetic drum punchy. This is my starting sound with a frequency shifter to pitch it down somewhere I prefer and with a high-pass filter to take out anything below the fundamental. I also shortened it with the quick fade out in FL’s sampler.

Now on to the magic. In Maximus, the ‘Master’ channel’s attack is a lookahead, whereas for the 3 frequency bands it isn’t. What this means is that if you turn up the attack on the master, you introduce latency and the compressor kicks in early, which looks like this in an extreme case:

The ‘LMH DEL’ control introduces a lookahead to the frequency bands if desired, but here we want that at 0. Then, use the same kinda settings but this time on one of the frequency bands (turn the other two off) and ooh hello!

Now rather than our transient being level for a bit before tailing off, because the compression comes in just after the transient, it ends up being accentuated, which makes it nice and tall and spiky, which is where you get your punch from. Do notice that the volume is now significantly higher, but before you turn the post-gain down, put a soft clipper on it a bit like this:

That’ll eat up a lot of the peak, but rather than limiting it, it’ll be clipping, which with a soft saturation curve like that not just retains the punch, but also adds this wonderful warm “pop” to the transient and gives the fundamental some stronger harmonics. This may be undesirable especially on bass drums, in which case using saturation to just clip the top off the transient can get you similar results, and also keeps your peak volume a bit lower, allowing your mix to be a little louder. The result sounds like this:

The effect is subtle, but if you’re listening at mixing volume (loud but not uncomfortably so), then the second one feels noticeably more immediate. However, this technique can be applied to any sound. If you have an immediate but sustained sound like a sub bass, you can use this to create transients out of thin air!

Before:

And after:

This too can be combined with saturation, but for a sub, it may be preferable to just clip the transient for more “pop” rather than introduce more harmonics that might interfere with what’s sitting above it.

I hope this is helpful ^^