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How to Use Transient Shaper for Better Drum Breaks

by Daniel Dixon, iZotope Contributor July 9, 2018

Balance your own mix:

Neutron 3

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It’s hard to think of an aspect in music production as important as drums. Sound selection, placement, and processing all inform how drums sound, and in this article we’ll be focusing on the latter. Follow along for three creative approaches to improving drum breaks with Neutron’s Transient Shaper.

What are transients?

Transients are the short burst of energy at the beginning of a sound. Every instrument has transients, but they are often associated with the attack of drums, percussion, and other snappy sounds.

Transients have a real effect on your song’s overall groove and punch. They make the difference between a drum that thumps, slaps, or flops. It’s natural to reach for a compressor when you need more umph in your drums, but loudness doesn’t always equal excitement.

Neutron’s Transient Shaper locates the transients in your music, and gives you the controls needed to shorten or lengthen their attack and sustain. It’s a transparent way to mix drums and other instruments with more clarity and impact.

1. Add punch and power 

Give your drums an edge by slightly increasing transient attack and reducing sustain. These settings emphasize the onset of drums while simultaneously shortening their duration, so they sound extra punchy.

Punchy drum settings for Transient Shaper

80 BPM Drum Break, Dry

80 BPM Drum Break, with Neutron 2 Transient Shaper

What was originally a live drum loop is transformed into something more choppy, and suitable for beat-oriented music. If you’re making instrumental music, your drums don’t have to compete with a vocal, so they can be more aggressive.

This technique has been used for years in hip-hop and drum and bass to manipulate popular samples like the Amen or Apache break. Record yourself or your friend playing drums, and make your own breaks in a matter of minutes. Try pitching them up or re-arranging them for a little more flavour.

80 BPM Break and Neutron 2 Transient Shaper, Sped Up to 110 BPM

2. Clean up dirty breaks

To expand on the previous approach, seriously dialing the sustain back on a noisy drum break is a quick trick that will clean it up. Using Transient Shaper preset Room Removal, you can scoop out just about everything that isn’t a transient.

The original loop is coated in crackle, which we want to remove. Although it does have a nostalgic lo-fi aesthetic, we’re aiming for a cleaner sound.

85 BPM Break with Crackle

Transient Shaper singles out the drum break transients and attenuates the messy stuff surrounding them.

RX 6 De-reverb

85 BPM Break with Room Removal

3. Improve mix depth

A good mix has a sense of depth. When working with percussion, use Transient Shaper to move loops forward and backward in the mix. If all percussion is at the front, things will probably sound too busy, and listeners will lose out on clarity.

Defined transients sound closer to the listener, and smoothed out transients sound further away. I’ll show you how this perception works with a shaker. Listen to the dry break, then with Transient Shaper midway through, softening the shaker’s attack and sustain.

Improving mix depths with percussion transients in Transient Shaper

90 BPM Percussive Loop, Dry to Wet, Drastic

The processed shaker sneaks into the background, opening up space for the other elements to shine. This change is also a good moment to introduce vocals or a new instrument.

Try switching between two, or even multiple transient settings throughout a song for some cool variation. This example is a touch drastic, and you may be better off automating the Dry/Wet for a smoother transition.

90 BPM Percussive Loop, Dry to Wet, Subtle

The shaker easily glides in and out without a fuss and it makes for a more dynamic, interesting mix. Sometimes, the solution is to soften transients instead of enhance.  

Transients in the long run

All styles of music benefit from transient sculpting. Neutron's Transient Shaper can be used for anything from subtle mix adjustments to complete sound transformations. It all depends on context and the effect you want to make on the listener. And don’t stop with drums. Guitars, synths, bass, and vocals all sound good with some transient sculpting.

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