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Thursday, 27 September 2012

Production Tip #1 | Tune Your Drums

So I thought i’d share what’s probably made one of the biggest differences for me in improving the quality of my mixdowns when producing electronic music: tuning my drums. It’s quite an easy thing to do, and when my friend Seb showed me this technique, the improvement was immediate. You can check Seb's music here by the way. In simple terms, your drums will sit much better in a mix if they are harmonically related to the other elements in your track. 

For example, a lot of bass music is written in the key of F because in the first octave, the key of F sits at around 43Hz in the frequency spectrum. This is about as low as a bass note can be before it becomes inaudible rumble… Bass that you can feel rather than hear.

You should always place your kick drum one octave above your bassline to avoid any frequency clashes, otherwise they’re going to compete for space in your mix which you dont want. An octave in the musical sense represents either a doubling or a halving of frequency, so going back to my example where we have a bassline written in F at around 43Hz, i’d want my kick drum to sit at double 43Hz which is of course 86Hz. Same thing goes for my snare, I would sit it another octave up at around 172Hz to make sure the bass, kick and snare are all harmonically/musically related but also sit far enough apart from each other to allow room so that each element can sit nicely in the mix. To do this simply take your sample and pitch it up or down the required amount of semitones until it matches the frequency you’re after.

If you were writing in another key the same thing would of course apply, but obviously the frequencies would be different. There’s many useful tools around which show you what note any given frequency is. The software that I use, Ableton Live, has a built in spectrum analyser that does this. If you use a different DAW then you can get a free plugin from Voxengo called “Span” that provides this function here. Some EQ plugins also have a built in spectrum analyser which is extremely handy.

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