What Is Wide? More Info On Widening Your Drum Hits
Hopefully you got a chance to read our last article about using panning to make your drums sound nice and wide. Maybe you have those basics down and you’re looking for more advanced techniques. We will be sharing some more advanced techniques on widening drums soon.
But in order to learn how to widen drum hits, you first have to understand what makes a recorded sound seem wide. The basic answer is that width comes from differences between what comes out of the left and right speakers. The basic properties of sound are amplitude (or volume), frequency (or pitch), and timing (or phase).
Any technique that creates differences in one or more of these properties between the left and right speakers will result in a widened sound. If a drum sounds a little different in the left and right speakers—but still similar enough in both speakers to sound like the same drum—it will sound widened.
An Example Of A Wide Drum Sound
As an example, let’s reconsider one of the techniques from the last article—using two different samples of someone hitting the same drum, and panning one sample left and one right. Let’s say we’re talking about someone hitting a snare drum. Even if it’s the same person hitting the same drum with equal force, the sounds of the two drum hits will be different. Here are some of the differences:
No matter how hard you try, no one can hit a snare with EXACTLY the same force two times in a row. So the two drum hits will have different amplitudes.
Any drum sound, except for some synthesized drums, contains a whole spectrum of frequencies. But the frequency response of a snare drum can be changed slightly depending on where exactly you hit the snare drum. If you hit it right in the center, a little off center, or towards the edge, you’ll get three different sounds. Where you hit the drum will change what frequencies are present in what amounts, and it will also affect how long different frequencies in the sound ring out (sustain).
Again, you may try to hit a snare drum in the same place every time, but there’s no way you’ll hit it in the EXACT same spot twice in a row. So two different drum hits will have different frequency responses.
How hard you hit the drum also changes the frequency response—the harder you hit the drum, the more high frequencies will be in the sound. So hitting the drum with different force each time will also result in different frequency responses in each sample.
Of course, if you record a drummer, their drum playing won’t be quantized exactly to the grid no matter how great their timing is. But in our example, that kind of timing doesn’t matter, since we’re just using these snare hits as samples. We can chop up the samples and line up their timing to be exactly the same within a DAW. Still, even for our purposes, there will be timing differences between the two drum hits.
As I mentioned, the frequency response of the drum hit will change based on where you hit the drum and how hard you hit it. This affects not just what frequencies are present in the drum sound and in what amounts, but also how long they sustain for. So when you hit the drum differently twice, it will affect how long you hear different frequencies in the drum sound.
Not only that, but where you hit the drum and how hard you hit it may affect how long the transient of the drum sound is. The transient is the attack and peak volume of the drum sound that is reached before the drum rings out. If one of the drum hits has a slightly faster attack than the other, the timing of when one drum sample reaches its peak will be slightly different from the other drum sample. So where and how hard you hit the drum will create timing differences between the two drum hits.
Below you can see two different snare drum samples. These samples are two recordings of the same person hitting the same snare about equally hard two times. When you pan one hard left and one hard right, the result is a wide-sounding snare.
Having said all of that, you and I both know that when the same person hits the same drum twice in a row—especially if it’s a skilled drummer—the two drum samples will sound very similar. That’s exactly why when you pan one of the samples left and one right, it will sound like a wide drum sound. There will be small differences in amplitude, frequency, and timing between the two sounds, but they will still be recognizable as the same basic sound.
To prove that these differences between the two samples do matter, even though they may be small, you can try this simple experiment. Create two different drum tracks in your DAW, and pan the exact same sample hard left and hard right. Make sure they’re at the same volume. Hit play and listen. You’ll just hear one drum right down the middle!
Below you can see two copies of the same drum sample. When you pan one hard left and one hard right, you'll just hear one narrow drum sample right up the middle.
If you think about it, this setup is the same thing as one drum sample panned center anyway. In either setup, the same sound gets played out of both the left and right speakers, and your brain perceives the sound to be coming from straight in front of you as a result. That means those differences between the two drum hits, no matter how small they are, are crucial to getting a wide drum sound.
Widening Your Own Drums
You may not have access to a good drummer, a good drum set, a good room to record in, and a good recording chain. Or you may have access to all of that stuff, but you still love the sounds from classic drum machines, like an 808 snare sample. Whatever your situation is, you don’t have to record two different drum hits to get a wide drum sound.
There are a variety of effects available that will create differences in frequency, amplitude, and timing—or some combination of these properties—in your drum sounds between the left and right speakers. In fact, it's not only possible to widen your drum hits only with plugins--widening with plugins can actually get you better results. That's because when you widen with plugins, you're in control of exactly what differences you create between the left and right speakers, and how much of a widening effect you create. When you widen using two separate samples of drum hits, you leave all of that up to chance.
In the next article, we’ll (finally!) talk about some of those plugins, and how you can use them to get a wide drum sound, no matter what kind of drum hits you’re using. In the meantime, what are some of your favorite songs with a wide drum sound? Let us know in the comments!