Context in the mixThe percussion is the part that fits in between the main hits of the kick and snare drum, it can include many different elements including hi-hats, tom drums, bongos, tambourines etc. mastering this part will help develop the pace of a track and can really make a drum sound much more interesting to listen to.
With the Kick and snare already taking care of the lower frequencies it leaves the high end free to be occupied by the percussive sounds. hi-hats generally don’t have a great deal of low end and can be hi-passed to free up space for other instruments.
Lower instruments like bongos and tom drums usually sit around the midrange and although they can sound dull without enough high end they don’t need as much as hats.
One thing to point out is that although a boost in the high end of the hat’s can make them come alive, too much and you can have a very harsh sound very quickly. One thing to test if the hats are too present in a mix is to play the track quietly in a pair of headphones. You’ll soon hear whether they need to go down or not (compared to when you are blasting out the mix full volume on some bass heavy speakers!)
The percussion in comparison to kicks and snares can get away with a slightly less compressed sound. If the instruments are a little too ‘clicky’ it may be worth looking into compression with a fast attack time or an envelope shaper to smooth the sound out a little.
The percussion can really come alive when sidechained compressed by the kick and snare. This sort of technique is used extensively in genres such as house but in small amounts can really help clean up a mix.
With sounds such as hi-hats be careful with over compression as too much can easily make them sound overly noisy and not pleasant to listen to at all!
The percussion is an area that can greatly benefit from added reverbs/delays. for a tighter mixdown make sure to use shorter tail reverbs to avoid clouding up a mix.
Misc Tips / Tricks
– For a more upfront feel use aux sends when adding reverb, for a softer sound try using reverb as an insert instead.
– When layering percussion instead of looking for as many different samples as possible, try taking existing samples in the song and modify them (filtering etc) to make new sounds that relate to the older ones.
– Don’t underestimate the use of panning to fill up the stereo field, stereo spreaders can also be useful for a bigger mix.
One thing to point out with percussion is don’t limit your sounds to the usual things like hi-hats. Hunt out other samples, record random hits, as long as it makes a sound it’s all fair game!