Many years ago, a very talented drummer hired my studio for several back-to-back studio sessions to record his drums. On day one we spent at least four hours setting up the kit, this process included tuning the shells and placing the microphones around the kit. In the setup, we wanted to achieve one solid drum sound that we could apply to all the songs we had planned to record over the week.
While we were tuning and damping the shells he said something to me, in an almost throwaway fashion, about drums that blew my mind wide open. It was a drumming mindset... that I thought was very clever:
Don't think of drum hits and hits, think of them as drum notes... as in musical notes.
This simple mindset really got me thinking about drums. Not long after, applying this mindset to my musical intuition I discovered I was able to improve my drum mixes and listening skills when working with drums in music production.
What's Wrong With Drum Hit?
For me, the word "hit" only tells us about two aspects of a drum sound when a stick strikes a shell:
- Attack: The transient of the waveform and the initial impact of tone.
- Velocity: The weight of the dynamic
In reality, there's a lot more happening that as producers and mixers we need to listen for when a drummer strikes a drum shell:
- Pitch: What pitched note(s) come from the drum shell
- Note duration: The length of the resonating note after attack
- Note decay: How the note dissipates away after duration
- Sympathetic resonances: How do the adjacent shells sound when "shell in question" is struck?
Replacing the term drum hits with drum notes helped me to consider the bigger picture of drums when I'm recording and mixing. When I used to think of drums hits as hits I only listened to the dynamics of the hits and the crack of the attack, this short-sighted interpretation of the drum had a negative impact on my productions as my ears only wanted to focus on those two elements - attack and dynamic. Applying the drum notes mindset helped me to work with drums in a much more musical way which led me to make better production choices in regards to drum shell tone within the note duration, how the drum shells decay and pitch.
Impact Isn't Everything
I'm not saying for one minute that we should all stop using the term "drum hit" as it describes drum notes in a basic way. "Hit" is another way of saying "impact" but don't forget impact is only one aspect of a drum sound. Impact isn't enough in drum production. Thinking of drums hits as drum notes helped me to work smarter with drums and more creatively. if you struggle to produce great sounding drums in tracking and/or mixing workflows then change the way you think about drums - it might just change the way you work with them as well.