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Compressing drums, in general

Discussion in 'Drums' started by tmcconnell, Dec 10, 2005.

  1. tmcconnell

    tmcconnell Guest

    This is a philisophical question: Drums/percussion seems to have the highest dynamic range of any instrument. They punctuate the music. Because of this, however, compressors grab drums first, it seems, in a stereo mix. Thus, drums get hammered down by compression, losing that flavor of punctuation more, typically, than most instruments. This seems wrong somehow. I end up doing it myself - yet I love the sound of the uncompressed drums in the final mix. Do most people feel this way, or is everyone cool with smashing the crap out of lovely percussion sounds - which seems to be the case on 90% of released CD's?
  2. Calgary

    Calgary Active Member

    Nov 25, 2005
    Good question. IMO I love the sounds of uncompressed drums when they have been well played/recorded. Yet something in my brain when I do mixes like that nags at me to squeeze them a bit, even though my ears like it. I'm learning to let it ride when it sounds good. If it sounds good it is good.

    FWIW I know one guy who has killer ears, he's been teaching jazz at a college for 30 years. And of all the mixes I've sent him, his favorite one had no compression and barely any delay/reverb at all. It was all just meticulous panning and EQing. Ever since then I'm starting to concentrate more on the EQ and panning and less on the compression. That being said I'm fairly picky when tracking, I try to make sure the performance is dynamic but even so I can get away without heavy compression.

    The exception being metal/hard rock in which case if you want the fans to enjoy your music you probably pretty much have to compress the drums to some extent...
  3. alimoniack

    alimoniack Guest

    I agree that usually less is more when it comes to jazz/folk/quieter styles and compression (if played evenly enough), and that it can be a different story with rock.

    For my part, I don't ever record drums digitally as it tends to sound to me like someone washing the dishes - I find the subtle analog compression imparted by driving the initial performance onto tape to be the most sonically pleasing and most natural sounding form of dynamic control I've heard. I can usually tell these days whether or not I'm listening to drums on tape or digital. The kick is way more solid for a start. It feels like beats have as much transient power, but the dynamics are controlled in much the same way as a human ear "compresses" the sound of a live kit anyway.

    Even so, I still compress the kit a little in the mix, not too fast an attack and a long-ish release (hate loud hi-hat) maybe only losing a few db on the loudest hits and bringing out subtleties a little. If mastering a track, I always set the attack pretty slow - slow enough to let the beats through unmolested, and use a very low ratio since the tape compression has already done the job of dynamic control of drums for me. Even better, I sometimes run the mix through an old Studer 1/4" (nice and loud) to add a little compression that way as well as highly pleasing harmonic distortion. This is just my way of not having to manually squash drums, there are obviously others.

    As you said, you love the sound of uncompressed drums so you may well view my love of tape compression as heresy...I can't help it, I'm in love with analog drum sounds...
  4. tmcconnell

    tmcconnell Guest

    plugin vs analog

    do any of the analog tape plugin's manage to sound anything like real tape?

    The best sounding kick I ever heard was recorded on an analog tape - way into the "red". So, I know what you mean. Tape compression is fairly gentle compared to what people often do to drums.
  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    Compression,especially on drums and all things beaten, has always been on a per-song usage. In short , Rules ? We don need no stink'n rules.

    That being said, there's a certain feeling that can be had in crushing the living daylights outta something which has such an intense attack as drums and such.

    I'm recording a lot of kick drum with a soft-knee on it right now..My main drummer is not a heavy kick'r but is quite consistant. This bit of compression gives me more hit and more control of the decay right into the machine.

    The snare gets a bit of Aphex Expressor. Again, just as a kind of 'separator' as this device compresses certain frequencies.

    By just using a small amount, I lock in the 'control' of the track for later and dont have 'too much' to not be able to take it other places at mix.

    Tape compression is my favorite and some day, I'll own another machine just for this. I'm thinking 8 track 1"for everything , except maybe overheads. To my ear theres a smear that occurs with tape on the cymbals thats sometimes good sometimes not. So just print em on digital from the get go.

    A good optical across the sub bus makes the whole kit light up.
  6. Coffee

    Coffee Guest

    How to make do?

    So what if no tape machine?
    Even without ever having used one I already know how much I love a good pro tape sound just from the records that have put it to good use.
    To what extent can some of the same sort of warmth be injected with valve compression, digital soft saturation, careful multiband compression or maybe putting the kick through a bass amp? Any of these going to get anywhere near to where I want to be with this funk track? I've heard that Tchad Blake uses Sansamp with pretty much everything but particularly drums. Well I don't have access to one of those either at the moment. Does anyone know of any good plugins available for trial that do useful analogish things like smooth out transients? Think the next thing I might try is putting a highly compressed, slightly thinned out version of kick, snare and toms a few milliseconds before the principle signal.

    Now what is a distressor? Anything like an exciter?

    So far the only drums I've ever managed to get a sound I thought were more than passable were for an industrial track and were mega-compressed and happy to sound very digital. It just seems that it doesn't matter how much I play with these plugin compressors because in the end I have to just give up and hide away the inadequacies somewhere in the mix with EQ.

    Can you tell me where my firewire cable is? Do I need a shower?

  7. alimoniack

    alimoniack Guest

    Hey Coffee! Valve compression etc. will add some harmonic distortion and no doubt will control dynamics to an extent, but you probably need some pretty expensive gear to get close to tape-like behaviour.

    From what you're saying I reckon you'll probably never be truly happy until you've tried slammin' the kit onto tape. You should copy davedog, and get hold of a 1" 8 track machine - you can pick up a Tascam TSR 8 on ebay pretty cheap if you look hard enough. I used one for a while and loved it before I realised I liked absolutely everything on tape and went 24 trk. But then I usually work on big horrible filthy rock'n'roll bands...

    It's worth taking into account that tape is one continuous sound without tiny "holes" between samples like digital, so if you cut to vynil straight from an analog master tape your tracks will hit 'em in the face like the old stuff did. So a 1/4 inch machine is a handy thing to have lying around too. I only mention this since you referred to compressing the mix in your first post.

    A distressor might be useful to you since it can be used as a compressor in it's own right, or just used to add colouration (i.e. sweet harmonic distortion), or both. However the EL-8 will cost more than a tape machine. If you want both it might be time to sell the wife & kids into slavery or get your ass down to the docks. Hello Sailor Boy!

    Definitely shower after that...
  8. alimoniack

    alimoniack Guest

    Duh! sorry coffee, you didn't post that. I get confused sometimes...whatever.

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