When mixing drums, compression is an integral part of your toolkit. If you like the aggressive, smacky drum sound in many of my mixes, dialing in the right compression settings is one of the keys to getting it. For a starting point, try an attack time of 25-40ms, and a release between 100-150ms, and experiment with the ratio to get the sound you’re after.
And remember that not all compressors are created equal: each compressor has its own sonic character, options and quirks. One isn’t necessarily better or worse than the other, just different – and understanding the nuances of each one will help you pick the right one in any given situation.
Here’s five of my personal favorite compression plugins for bringing out the attack in drum shells, along with a few notes on how I like to use them.
Metric Halo Channel Strip 3
One mixer in particular has done more to popularise the Metric Halo Channel Strip in the world of heavy music than any other – Andy Sneap. It’s not the prettiest plugin in the world but it is hugely powerful, and if you need sheer aggression it’s hard to beat the compressor circuit’s MIO mode. Try it out with your favourite slow attack/fast release settings for a brutal transient character, instantly recognisable to fans of Mr. Sneap (aren’t we all?!)
One of the first plugins released for Slate Digital’s modular Virtual Mix Rack plugin, the FG-401 is designed after the workhorse channel strip compressors on SSL E-series consoles – think Chris Lorde-Alge’ drum sounds – combined with a modelled Neve output transformer circuit for subtle extra weight behind the sound. There are two switchable circuit types to choose from, but the default circuit 1 is the daddy when it comes to grabby, punchy drum shell compression.
Waves Renaissance Compressor
Another slightly dated interface, and a plugin that perhaps gets overlooked next to newer, shinier rivals, but don’t underestimate the trusty “RComp”. It has a more refined compression character that is still more than capable of giving all the smack you need. The “Electro” and “Warm” modes offer some nice tones to explore too. The output also features a brickwall limiter so you can boost the signal hot yet never exceed 0dB, a very neat feature if you want ensure your peak level is always under control.
In keeping with Fabfilter’s exhaustive approach to plugin design, this compressor has an incredible range of functionality and wonderful GUI that makes it a truly flexible tool for any compression needs, excelling in every way. The “Punch” mode will give you more transient impact than you could possibly need, but don’t overlook the many other analogue-styled compression modes too, many of which are more than capable of delivering the goods in their own unique ways.
Boz Digital +10dB Compressor
Modeled after the quirky ADR Compex hardware unit, a cult favourite unit capable of wonderfully exaggerated compression, the +10dB compressor plugin delivers a weighty and aggressive envelope that will instantly impress. The plugin design was aided by David Bendeth, who mixed the monster snare sound on Paramore’s “Riot”, legendary for its huge, over-the-top impact. +10dB, like the original ADR hardware, also features an expander and limiter circuit that can yield some very cool and unique results.