I know it's mostly about compression and EQ but I can't seem to get even closer to this. It just sounds really kicky, even the snares. I'm using Addictive Drums with almost all the presets, but none produces such powerful sound. Do they layer the kicks/snares? How can I get a similar result? A vst library suggestion is welcome too.
I would actually say compression and EQ can't do very much to make drums sound great.
In order of impact, to make drums sound punchy and fat:
- Play them well or have them played well. Exactly how and where a drum is hit is the number one factor in how a drum sounds, as long as it is reasonably in tune and functioning correctly.
- Place all microphones in the correct locations. Microphone placement is critical for all recording, and possibly more important for drums than other instruments. I've heard a big difference from just 1/4" of placement difference. The closer you are to the right spot, the larger effect small changes have. Also, phase and polarity alignment between mics is critical when setting up several mics on a drum kit.
You've got pre-recorded drums, so you can't control those, but I wanted to put those up top for anyone else reading this. Now let's talk about mixing:
- Make sure you're hearing what you're mixing correctly. You will need either a decent set of monitors and a good sounding room (might need room treatment) and/or a set of quality, ideally closed-backed, headphones. One advantage of good headphones is you don't have to worry about room treatment or correct woofer placement. You don't want to make panning or spacial decisions with headphones, but checking the low end is often done most cost-effectively with some good cans.
- Start with only one channel, usually the overheads or kick If you can't get a decent drum sound with just stereo overheads and a kick channel, then you're only going to have more problems as you keep going. A good approach is to work on the overheads as a stereo pair without worrying too much about the low end. A lot of people will separately compress the overheads but most of the time I don't. I just want them to give me a good baseline picture of the whole kit and I mainly EQ to make sure the cymbals sizzle and the snare sounds right. Hopefully there's a good stereo image and a bit of room sound.
- Check the kick sound on its own and then mix it in. Start with EQ. Anything below 50 Hz is hardly going to be useful but if you think there will be some amazing subs used to listen to it, you might go as low as 30 Hz. It's actually not a bad idea to high pass at 30 - 50 Hz. Boosting a bit (not a lot) somewhere between 80 and 200 Hz can add to the bottom end and impact. 200 - 300 usually should be left alone or cut. I don't know how it's possible that this range almost always sounds bad (on every instrument) but it's a thing. Maybe it has to do with typical room sizes. A lot of the character of a kick is going to be between 300 and 900 Hz. What you want to do here is find a frequency that already stands out and give it a little extra. Then you need the crack up somewhere between 1.2 kHz and 5 kHz. This is a matter of taste but busier kick parts need more brightness for articulation. Only compress if the kick part is inconsistent. Don't just compress everything always. Only use these tools when you need to. Generally sample libraries will have very consistent sounds so you shouldn't need to EQ much and probably don't need to compress individual kit pieces at all.
- Bring the kick and overheads in and check. Combine the kick and overhead channels and see what you've got. You should be able to get a decent sounding kit with just those. You may have to play with the kick channel polarity (phase invert) but this is rarely a problem on virtual instruments. You might also high pass the overheads at 6 - 12 dB per octave around 300 Hz. Play around with that and see how it sounds.
- Add other channels, one at a time, if necessary. It's very common to be unhappy with the snare sound from just the overheads and kick tracks. You might have two mics on the snare. I would start with the top mic only and see if you can get happy with just that. In general, you want to follow the same process as with the kick. Solo the snare top mic, run through similar EQ as with the kick, and then add it back to the mix and check polarity and see how you can make it sit with the fader. When EQing it, be careful about adding low end because you can get a lot more bleed from the other kit pieces. Also do not boost the same frequencies in the snare that you boosted with the kick (e.g. in the 300 - 900 Hz range or in any ranges). You want to find the "ping" of the snare and boost that or leave it alone. And find the body of the snare and boost that or leave it alone, and then the snare wires also. The snares will probably live in the 1 kHz to 5 kHz range. Do not low pass a snare (usually). You probably want the upper end. You might cut with a high shelf if you're trying to reduce cymbal bleed into the snare top mic. Once you've got the snare alone sounding good, slowly bring it up in the mix until you can just tell a difference. Generally you don't want the snare sticking out all over the place, as tempting as it is to have a huge crack of the snare. You might want to compress a snare track even when it's from a virtual instrument. You just want the snare channel to make sure the snare doesn't sound lost or distant in the mix.
- Proceed similarly with the toms. With real world toms, you often want a noise gate to block out bleed until the toms are played. Personally I've preferred to go through the work to manually mute all the tom tracks except for when they are used. I have recorded a couple amazing drummers who did not need tom mutes or gates. You probably don't need that with virtual toms. Generally mix toms like snares except there are no snare wires to EQ. Don't boost the same frequency on any kit piece that you've already boosted on another kit piece.
- Once you've got the whole kit popping, compress the whole thing together. If you have a "sidechain" on your compressor, then use this to exclude the low frequencies from triggering the compression. This might also be called "sidechain EQ". If you don't have that, then NYC style parallel compression can help. Make a send from the drum bus (if you haven't built a submaster for all the drum channels this should be your first thing). Put the send through a compressor on an aux channel and squeeze it pretty hard, like 4:1 ratio or more, I might go soft knee, and set the threshold so you're getting at least 6 dB of compression consistently, you might even want to go to 12 dB or more. It should sound a bit messy and boomy on its own. Play with the attack and release. Then drop that aux return to zero. Go back to the full drum sound and/or the whole mix and slowly bring up the hyper-compressed aux channel until it really fills out the drums nicely. I really like this sound. Using a crunchy sounding compressor like an 1176 is good for this kind of thing.
While you're still learning to mix the drums, resist the urge to put everything in. Mixing drums is probably the hardest part of mixing - well vocals are hard also. Don't worry about the snare bottom mic or a kick batter mic or a crash cymbal spot mic until you're really comfortable with the rest.
Also beware of digital "transient designer" or "subharmonic synthesizer" plugins. They are like the icing on the cake and aren't always appropriate. They can definitely lend a false, ultramodern feel to a track, and that's if they are used correctly (which generally means only very slightly used). Beyond that, they are tools that can make a mess of things really quickly.
Finally, regarding the track you linked to, yes the kick is played on all four beats, at the same time as the snare on beats 2 and 4. That's a kind of disco sound that is also very popular with EDM and techno and stuff like that. I really like doing that with synth drums because synth snares can sound weak and the kick really beefs it up.