Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Making your drums sound punchier is one of those "holy grail" quests that seems to unite all electronic musicians, especially those making dance music. Indeed, plug-in manufacturers are constantly creating new ways to do just that. But, as the saying goes, the classics never die, and one of my personal favorite techniques for making my drums punch through better is by using parallel compression, also known as "NY Style" compression (although generally only old-timers still use this name).
Parallel compression involves mixing an uncompressed signal with a smaller amount of heavily compressed signal. The idea behind parallel compression is to add weight and body to your signal, without completely flattening your transients and squashing all the dynamics out of your signal. For this reason, the technique is almost always used on drums. So today, I'll guide you through the process of getting started with parallel compression to experiment with in your own work.
1. For our purposes today, let's keep it simple. In your DAW of choice, initiate whatever your drum sampler of choice is and record a simple, four on the floor kick drum beat.
2. On that kick channel, initiate a new send bus. Don't worry about the send level yet.
3. Go to the send channel bus you just created and insert a compressor. Remember we're going to crush the bejesus out of the signal here, so you might want to use something designed for that purpose, such as Audio Damage's free Rough Rider. I'm going to assume you're using Rough Rider here, and for purposes of demonstration, the default setting will do fine to get the point across. As you experiment more with the technique, you will want to mess around with different settings to find the spot that sounds sweetest to your ears.
4. Go ahead and set up your kick drum beat to loop and press play so you can listen to the signal. Now, slowly raise your send level until you can hear the effect taking place. You want to keep your send level relatively low or it will defeat the purpose of the technique and overwhelm the dry signal where your transients and dynamics are coming from.
And that's it! As always, I encourage you to experiment with this technique and see what other settings and combinations give you the best results, but it really is that simple. For those wanting to try something a bit more advanced, replace Rough Rider with a compressor that allows side-chaining. Assign the side-chain source to your drums and dial in the appropriately abusive compression settings. This acts to separate the transient of your dry signal from the super-squashed compressed signal a bit and can give you a bit more of a precise sound if you need it.