5 Tricks for BIG ‘80s Drum Sounds

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Are you looking to add a retro flavor to your drums? Here are a few tricks for getting big, verby and decadent drum sounds using vintage plate reverb, gate, delay, tone-shifting and more techniques for getting that iconic ‘80s vibe.

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The Plugins

Take any drum sound, sample, loop, or an entire drum mix buss back to the future in a flash with this plugin chain. There are five plugins included in this chain. For the reverb effect, the loud and legendary Abbey Road Reverb Plates. Add a slight rhythmic effect to drums, or a clean ping-ponging effect with the H-Delay. For the gated, ‘breathing’ effect, as well as controlling big reverb tails and delay feedback times there’s the C1 Compressor/Gate. Instead of layering drum sounds, use Torque to add weight to kicks, toms and snares for over-the-top impact. Create movement, energy and rotating textures by auto-panning with the MondoMod plugin.

Big 80’s Drums

 

The Macros

  1. Gated Verb overall reverb effect amount
  2. Gate controls threshold of gate open & close amount
  3. Delay BPM temp-synced delay speed amount
  4. Delay overall effect amount
  5. Focus adjusts frequency band for formant shifting
  6. Torque shifts drum formant up or down in cents
  7. Auto Pan effect amount

When we think of the 1980’s, we think loud fashion, big hair, outrageous excess—They didn’t call it the ‘Greed decade’ for nothing! This attitude also made its way into the mixing and production techniques in the recording studio. When you combine that with the rise of digital hardware effects units, programable drum machines and the ‘Golden age’ of synthesizers, you get an undeniably unique and timeless sound. The intent with this plugin chain is to be loud, big and excessive with effects like reverb, delay and pitch-shifting. But at the same time, you can keep things breathing, gated and under control—Giving your drums that distinct 80’s vibe.

1. ‘80s Gated Plate Reverb

This is one of those sounds that defined the era. Throw it on any drum channel, mix buss. Try it on synths, guitars and vocals to give them a distinct 80s effect. This effect was originally achieved using digital hardware reverb units and console noise gate to cut off the decay—You can achieve it in two steps.

The first insert is the Abbey Road Reverb Plates. Back in the 80’s, it was achieved using digital hardware reverb units such as the Yamaha SPX90 to replace the need for enormous plates or rooms the chamber took up. Now here we are today, going back to the original artificial electron-mechanical Abbey Road Reverb Plates:

  • Experiment with plates A, B, C and D. Each has distinct characteristics. Determine which one suits your drums/mix best. These same plates were used on nearly every pop recording done at Abbey Road Studios from the mid-1960s onward.
  • Damper controls the reverb decay time. You want to keep the reverberation long enough to be heard. Going too low on this won’t give it that explosive effect.
  • Add Analog noise and hum. The Drive and Analog controls model the original amplifiers’ THD behavior and the plates’ hum and noise.
  • Balance the DRY/WET control for overall effect. You can use Macro 1 to access this feature on the fly.
’80 Snare

 

Next in the plugin chain comes the C-1 Compressor/Gate to cut the reverb tail off:

  • Start with a fast Attack 0.01-1.50msec
  • Start with a fast Release between 30-100msec
  • Bring the Hold to 0.01
  • Adjust Gate Open to catch the first transients of the drum sound. Typically, between -16 and -21 those initial transients will start to jump out.
  • Adjust the Gate Close to cut off the reverb tail in order to give it the desired breathing effect along with the rhythm.
  • You can further shape the breathing effect by experimenting with the Release and Gate Close controls. Use Macro 2 to adjust the gated-breathing effect quickly.

2. Big ‘80s Kicks

Retriggering, resampling or layering is one way to go to achieve a bigger drum sound. Another faster way is with the Torque Drum Tone Shifter. Since we added tone with the gated plate reverb, inserting the Torque plugin after this effect in the chain will give monstrous results:

80s Kick

 

  • Adjust the Thresh so that the Threshold LED is yellow. This indicates that your drums are hitting the processor at nominal levels.
  • Use the Focus control to locate the most significant resonant part of your drum sound. These are the frequencies you want to shift. You can also use Macro 3 to quickly ‘surf’ and listen for significant resonant peaks.
  • For a bigger, heavier sound, bring the main Torque control down anywhere between -5 to -1200 cents. Use Macro 6 to quickly decrease or increase any drum’s pitch.
  • Use the Speed to adjust the time-constant qualities of the tone shift. A longer Speed setting will give you a smoother attack & release, while shorter settings typically result in a quicker formant shift.
  • If you pitch low, and it sounds too ‘boomy,’ use the Torque Trim to balance any resonance created by the shifting process.

3. Super-Sized Tom-Fills

If you’re working with elements like tom fill samples or loops, an easier and faster way to achieving a bigger sound without chopping up and inserting multiple plugin instances is with some simple automation in your DAW.

80s Tom

 

  • Enable DAW/plugin automation: Select the ‘Focus’ and ‘Torque’ parameters and enable them both for plugin automation.
  • Play the tom fill or loop; Pay attention to the Focus Display area to determine the tom fill’s highest and lowest resonant peaks.
In the example in this video (link to 5:45 in video on waves.com), the tom fills highest peaks resonate in the 450Hz area, while the lowest in the 98Hz area

In the example in this video, highest peaks of the tom fill resonate in the 450Hz area, while the lowest peak resonate in the 98Hz area.

  • Toggle and display the Focus control’s visual automation lane.
    *You can also toggle Macro 5’s visual automation lane for the same effect since it is assigned to the Torque Focus control.
  • Use the Focus control to locate the resonant peak of the tom hit with the highest pitch.
Tom automation before and after

 

  • Using a pencil or grabber tool, create two automation points on the tom fill: One on the first tom hit and one on the last tom hit.
  • Move the second automation point down to the lowest resonant peak as highlighted in the Focus Display area—Creating a downward slope as show here:
    Focus Display

Repeat the same process with the Main Torque control:

  • Toggle and display the Torque control’s visual automation lane.
    *You can also toggle Macro 6’s visual automation lane for the same effect since it is assigned to the Main Torque control.
  • Create two automation points on the tom fill: One on the first tom hit and one on the last tom hit.
  • Move the second automation point down to the desired pitch on the lowest resonant peak as highlighted in the Focus Display area—Creating a downward slope as shown above.

For tom-fills that ascend in pitch, the same process can be inverted to apply to tom fills or loops that have a gradual increase in pitch. With some quick automation, the tone-shift results in a huge weight-gaining enhancement that moves right along with every hit in the tom fill without losing the attack, retriggering or replacing the sound.

4. ‘80s Gated Delay Claps

This hypnotizing effect can be heard across post-Disco/Boogie, early 80s Hip-Hop tracks and even many late ‘80s R&B songs. Now, we hear it again across Synthwave, Vaporwave and other modern-retro inspired genres and songs. For an even more authentic sound, try using this effect on clap samples from classic drum machines such as the Linn LM-1, Roland TR-808, or Simmons SDS-V. In the video, this effect is achieved on the iconic Oberheim DMX clap using the H-Delay plugin:

80s Clap Delay

 

On the clap, first comes the H-Delay plugin:

  • Set the DRY/WET to 100% WET. You can also adjust overall delay amount with Macro 4.
  • Start with a FEEDBACK amount at 60%.
  • Set the mode to PING PING and sync the delay to HOST.
  • Start with a delay time at 1/16—You can always variate the delay time depending on the tempo and vibe of your track by adjusting Macro 3.
  • Use the HiPASS FILTER to roll-off unwanted low-end build up.

Next in the chain, the C-1 Compressor/Gate plugin is inserted after the delay to cut-off the feedback repetitions and create a delayed groove that pulses along with the rest of the drums:

  • Start with a fast Attack 0.01-1.50msec
  • Start with a fast Release between 30-100msec
  • Bring the Hold to 0.01
  • Adjust Gate Open to catch the first transients of the clap. Typically, between -16 and -30 those initial transients will start to jump out.
  • Adjust the Gate Close to cut off the delay tail in order to give it the desired pulsating delay effect along with the rhythm.
  • You can also further shape the effect buy adjusting the Release and Gate Close controls with Macro 2.

Where you place the treated clap is up to you! Experiment with placing a delayed clap on every alternate snare beat or even on off-beats for a true 80’s feel.

5. Add Movement and Width with Auto Panning

Sweeping across the stereo field can create a sense of energy for stale or stiff hi-hats, shakers, and other percussion effects. Using the MondoMod plugin:

80s AutoPan

 

  • Set Tempo Sync to Auto.
  • Set the multiply factor to 0.50 to lock-in the pan’s rotation time to the pocket of your project’s groove.
  • Adjust desired width of rotation with the Range control.
  • The overall auto-pan effect in the mix can be adjusted quickly using Macro 7.

Want to get more retro? Check out these 8 Tips for Mixing and Producing 80s Sounds.

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