Compression of drum tracks - dynamic control.

This is a part 7 of the tutorial on how to process individual raw drum tracks into a finished product. Make sure to read all the parts.

1. Introduction

2. Editing

3. Track Time Alignment

4. Gating

5. EQ

6. Phase Alignment

7. Dynamics

8. FX (reverb/ ambiance)

You can use compression for two purposes: to fatten the sound of drums or to control the dynamic range. You can use compression to add more attack to drums or to decrease the attack. You should thoroughly familiarize yourself with compression, what it does and how to achieve desired results. There is lots of relevant literature on the subject available.

Compression is particularly useful for adding weight to snare, kick and toms. Since this is a matter of personal taste and the style of music you are working with, I will not go into too many details.

With the snare drum, you can control separately the top and bottom tracks. Top snare track you probably want to fatten a little bit by setting the attack to around 20ms, release to 80ms, ratio 2:1 to 4:1 and lowering the threshold until you are reducing several decibels on each hit. Increase or decrease the compression to your liking.

With the bottom snare track, you want to turn it up until you can clearly hear the ghost notes (if there are any), but in good balance with the top snare rim shots. Use the compressor to reduce the volume of rim shots coming through the bottom snare track. You can fatten that track too (attack 20ms) or squash the transient (fast attack-5ms) and soften it. A shorter release will give you more snare buzz straight after the compressed hits and longer release will result in less snare buzz after the compressed hits.

Toms: Fatten the toms in the same manner as the snare. Adjust the parameters to bring out more of the body of the toms and make them “heavier”. This is particularly useful for Rock music. Try with a shorter attack of 5ms and release of 50ms.

Kick: Sculpt the kick for more punch and weight.

OH: I generally stay away from compressing the overheads straight on, as I don't want to destroy the natural decay of cymbals. They are particularly tough to compress, so you have to be very careful with them.

One of the great ways to compress the overheads and the whole drum set, in general, is to use “parallel compression” or so-called “NY Compression”. Basically, it consists of duplicating the drums sub mix, compressing it heavily, then bringing it up in the mix together with the uncompressed drums. That way you will have the transients and dynamics of the uncompressed drums, but the weight of the compressed drums.