Should I use compression during drum tracking?

Discussion in 'Mixing & Editing' started by gunsofbrixton, Jan 25, 2010.

  1. gunsofbrixton

    gunsofbrixton Active Member

    Nov 22, 2009
    Hi all,

    I am relatively new to recording drums and I would be grateful if some of you could share your drum compression strategies.

    In particular, I'd be interested to know if you use compression during tracking, and if yes on which mics and how you set up your compressors.

    The idea that I am currently pursing is the following:
    - Compress the drums during tracking with a low ratio (2:1), the quickest possible attack time (< 1ms) and a fairly quick release. Max. gain reduction of about 6 dB. The aim is to catch the occasional peak so that the main compressors which will be used as channel inserts are presented with a more even signal.
    - Main compression takes place during mixdown. Main aim: Make drums snappy. I use medium ratios, short attack and medium release times. (this applies mainly to snare, toms and overheads.)
    - Drum Bus compression: Main aim is to increase loudness / density. Parallel compression works best most of the times.

    Do you think this makes sense? I hope I'll get a few new ideas from you.
  2. harryevans

    harryevans Guest

    First of all, as i'm sure you have heard many many times.. there is no "right" way to record something. It IS an art, using sophisticated tools but the end result is completely subjective. There is no baseline that you have to meet. Having said that, you have to listen. Listen. Listen to what you are doing. Experiment. Try setting the attack faster... what happened? did you like it? try a shorter release... try a higher ratio.. a lower ratio... try an optical compressor... try different things. And listen to the results. Here is a good rule of thumb. Higher ratios with fast attack times will squash the transients of drum tracks. This can sound wickedly cool. This can also be completely wrong, depending of course on the music you are making. It is the transient portion of the drum sound (the initial attack) that makes drums feel good.. be very careful when compressing as once you commit it to tape you can't undo it... i don't care what the plug-in companies tell you. To make drums "snappy" you want to use longer attack times (letting more transient pass before the compressor locks down). try not compressing at all.... when you record get your drums to peak as close to -1db as you can without blasting into the red. (i presume you are recording to some DAW) and most of all.. tune your drums before you start. if they don't sound great in the room, they won't sound great on tape/hard drive/wax cylinder. Also be sure to check your phase between mics. This is as simple as listening to all the mics on with drummer playing and flipping the phase switch on each mic pre and listening... generally when a mic is out of phase it will sound hollow with decreased bottom end. Phase plays a major roll in making things sound right.. outta phase=not great sound.
  3. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Distinguished Member

    Feb 21, 2009
    If you are using the compressor as a safeguard for tracking then don't worry about it, that's not what a compressor is used for. Use your input volume control to make sure it doesn't overload. If you want to catch the occasional 6dB transient then use a limiter on top and shoot for -10dB or so RMS on the fader. Once you get a good clean capture then you can send that signal back out to the compressor if you'd like, but I wouldn't risk losing an otherwise perfect performance because your compression made your snare hits sound like a baseball bat whacking a sack of dirt.
  4. gunsofbrixton

    gunsofbrixton Active Member

    Nov 22, 2009
    I didn't start this thread to learn the "correct" way of recording and compressing drums. I know there is no right or wrong with audio recording. What I am after is just new ideas and inputs. I'd like to know if and how you guys compress drums during tracking. Then maybe I will think "hey, that sounds interesting, I am gonna try this myself...".

    You have a point there, Guitarfreak. If I want to catch the occasional peak I should probably use a limiter rather than I compressor, or a compressor with extremely short attack and 20:1 ratio (which is basically a limiter).
  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW

    Since you state you're "relatively new to recording drums" I wont bore you with any details on "how" to do it or make a list of "rules" that wont apply to your question.

    I will say that in order to get what you have outlined in your post, you need to concern yourself with mic positioning and source rather than think there is some magical setting that will get you where you want to go.

    There is one other thing you should comtemplate about tracking with compression.......there is no 'undo' button.
  6. jg49

    jg49 Distinguished Member

    Oct 16, 2008
    Frozen Tundra of CT
    "Should I use compression during drum tracking?" I had lunch today with a recording engineer who has been in the business 30 plus years and has a beautiful pro studio. I on the other hand consider myself more of a musician and novice recording enthusiast. We were discussing this Remy Rad quote excerpted from

    "Good preamps with plenty of headroom really make drums sound good. If you don't have a great console, you may very well want to initialize the microphone pad and/or keep your gain trim lower to increase headroom. This is what really makes the huge difference in sound between cheap microphone preamps and the real deal."

    He was in full agreement with this in fact he went on to say that one of the big mistakes was not leaving enough headroom for transients in drum recordings or recording in his words "too hot." It is his opinion that in 24 bit recording there is just tons of room to lower input levels enough to allow for extreme transients and not worry that you are getting solid tracks. He also said that compression and limiting is often overused in drum tracks and that proper micing and tuning will take you farther than a compressor or limiter. Not to say that he does not compress drum tracks, he does I've been there, but he hardly uses any EQ and that is because of his signal chain, room and dedication to getting the sound right to start with something I have also witnessed. Maybe this is not a new idea to you just something to think about in this age of I'll fix it in the mix. Old school: I'll get it right the first time.
  7. MadMax

    MadMax Distinguished Member

    Mar 18, 2001
    Sunny & warm NC
    Home Page:
    I "normally" don't compress during tracking... but tracking is so subjective... why not compress it until you get what sounds good and commit to the red button.

    There is NO formula as far as I know. So...
    Sure... sounds fine on paper... but, how does it sound?


    If is sux rocks, then don't do it. If it sounds badarsed... DO IT!

    In my last session, we slammed the kick & snare on Distressor's at 3:1 and 4:1... sounded wicked good... so we committed. If it has sounded like crap... we would have (and did... hint, hint) made as many adjustments until it sounded like what we wanted.

    So... if it feels good... DOOOOEEEEEET!
  8. gunsofbrixton

    gunsofbrixton Active Member

    Nov 22, 2009
    Interesting. Funny though that many engineers are very enthusiastic about the sound they get when they slam their API pres really hard. Myself I would also tend to drive preamps hard because I like a bit of distortion ;)

    I wonder what kind of music this guy records. I mean, in rock and pop music there in not much room for extreme transients these days...

    I definitely agree with you all that mics, mic placement and also preamps are way more important than if you compress during tracking or afterwards...
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    I usually dont NEED to compress during tracking. I may WANT to. Mic placement.....source......choice.....
  10. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Moderator

    Feb 23, 2005
    Cheap preamps sound like garbage when you push them. They smear and fart with drums pumping them, do you want THAT? I like to spank the kick alittle bit, and the sometimes the snare (but a good dynamic like a 421 or a 57 provides its' own compression-ever so slightly- when they take a hit from that drum)...Mic'ing drums is just like real estate- location, location, location!
  11. Jaike

    Jaike Active Member

    Sep 15, 2005
    There's an interesting thread regarding this matter, right here:

    Not sure you should be aiming for -1dB...
  12. Duncanjp

    Duncanjp Guest

    I've tried and tried to find a use for compression on my drumkit, but it never sounds as good on playback as it does with no compression at all. It seems to suck a measure of life and breath out of the overall sound. My setup is a D112 on the kick, 57 on the snare, a C1000S overhead and a room mic using either a Rode NT1000 or a U87. I've also gotten some rocking, organic-sounding results using the Rode as an overhead along with the C1000S and no room mic per se. My best-sounding tracks have almost always come from attenuating the input and getting the mics positioned correctly, rather than applying some non-organic process like compression or limiting to a hot input. That said, gating the snare has led to some decent results. I do add a little compression to the mix later, but I've virtually abandoned compression on the front end and have concentrated on positioning my mics correctly and setting the right levels to avoid clipping. That's just how I do it. No right or wrong to it. Frankly, I think four more bass traps would serve my purposes better than using compression.
  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Distinguished Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    My take on this is that if you have to ask, you shouldn't compress while tracking. If you have top of the line analog compressors that you know like the back of your hand, great preamps, and good mics that you know just how to place then...sure...put the compression on during tracking. But then, you wouldn't be posting this question. The ability to compress after tracking with plugins and experiment and tweak for hours without destroying the original tracks is a huge boon to people without experience. It is a great teaching tool. You can learn more in an afternoon mixing a drum track than you can in months of running live sound. Use this to your advantage.

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