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Learn Music and Audio Production | iZotope Tips and Tutorials

How to Use Transient Shaper for Better Drum Breaks

by Daniel Dixon, iZotope Contributor April 6, 2022

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Transient shapers are an effective way of sculpting the attack and sustain of an audio signal in a way that is more efficient, clean, and simple compared to compressors or limiters. In this article, we’re going to cover what transients are, how transient shapers work, and three creative approaches you can use with Transient Shaper in Neutron for greater control over the sound of your drums breaks. 

This article references a previous version of Neutron. Learn about Neutron 4 and its powerful features including Assistant View, Target Library, Unmask, and more by clicking here.

What is a transient? 

A transient is the high amplitude burst of energy that occurs during the attack phase of a sound.. Every instrument has transients, but they are often associated with the non-tonal, initial impact 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 there are plenty of moments where transient shaping beats compression when it comes to shaping the amplitude response of your drums.

What is a transient shaper?

A transient shaper is a tool that shapes the attack and sustain of a sound—how long it takes for a sound to reach its maximum amplitude and how long it remains at its maximum amplitude before decaying. 

Neutron's Transient Shaper, for example, locates the transients in your audio, and gives you the controls needed to shorten or lengthen their attack and sustain. Some uses of transient shapers include taming harsh sounding guitar plucks, adding punch to drums, or increasing the sustain of a vocal performance.  Using a transient shaper is a transparent way to mix drums and other instruments with more clarity and impact. Here are some useful applications

1. Add punch and power with fast attack and short sustain 

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

Punchy drum settings for Transient Shaper
Punchy drum settings for Transient Shaper

80 BPM Drum Break, Dry

80 BPM Drum Break, with Neutron 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 flavor.

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

2. Clean up noisy drum breaks with a shorter sustain

Try dialing the sustain back on a noisy drum break to clean it up. Using the Transient Shaper preset Room Removal, you can scoop out just about everything that isn’t a transient.

The original loop you see below, 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.

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
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.  

Use transient shaping in your mix 

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.Try out all of the concepts in this article with a free demo of Neutron. 

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