Make Your Drums Smack

It’s all about big drums. We can achieve huge, headroom-filling sounds through compression, distortion, and limiting, but this comes at the price of losing some snap. Transient Shapers are a tool that can revive a snappier attack in percussive sounds. Compare the first three kicks to the last three kicks to hear what I mean:

Step 1 - Distortion

To begin, I’ll put some distortion on a Kick and Snare from the Urban Heat Drum Kit. One reason I might do this is to bring up the release of the sound and grime it up. This might be a cool effect for a bridge or breakdown. The tube distortion comes from the freeware Camel Crusher, and it activates on the second bar.

Step 2 - Kick

That grimed it up nicely but we lost some snap. To make the kick snappy again, we can use Flux’s freeware transient shaper Bittersweet. The big knob will boost or reduce the transient, and the period setting will allow us to change the envelope of the effect. In the example, the first three kicks are without the transient shaper, and last three kicks are with the transient shaper:

What is a transient anyway? 

In audio, a transient is a quick volume jump. If an intro to a song was a big washy pad chord and there were four cymbal hits spaced out throughout the section, the initial click of the cymbal hits would be transients because they create a quick jump in volume. For the most part, transient shapers will focus on the initial clicks of sounds.

Step 3 - Snare

Since we’re using the transient shaper to boost the volume of the transient, this could be thought of as the opposite of a compressor. The goal of a compressor is to decrease the range between loud and soft, and we’re using the transient shaper to make only the loudest part of the sound louder. Here are my settings for the snare. The effect comes on after four hits.

The drums sound great with or without the effect. So the transient shaper isn’t an essential plugin to use on every song, but it gives us another creative sound-sculpting tool.


You may have realized this sort of manipulation can be achieved by simply rendering the sound and using a sampler’s volume envelope. There are three main advantages to this approach though:

Number 1 – It’s easier bring this plugin at the end of an effects chain, rather than rendering out the sample in order to get a new ADSR envelope.

Number 2 – Sometimes It's easier to use the Transient shaper to dial in super-short decay times.

Number 3 – A sampler’s envelope is easy to use on one-shot samples, but this plugin is easy to use on percussive loops, like conga drums, slap bass, harps, pluck synths and so on. Check out this conga example, where I bring out the snap just a little on the second bar:

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