Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, make sure you grab my free drum mixing cheatsheet, which is packed with more tips and tricks that will take your drums to the next level. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.
So tell me if this sounds familiar. You listen to your favorite records, and the drums always sound super punchy and impactful. The kick feels like it just cuts through the mix, and the snare hits you right in the face. And then when you listen to your mixes, the drums sound soft and mushy, and they don’t really cut through the mix.
Now if this sounds like you, if this is the problem that you’re struggling with, the solution is compression. Compression is one of those tools that we can actually use to shape and manipulate the punch and the impact of our drums. And if we’re trying to make our drums cut through the mix more, trying to add that punch and the impact that we’re looking for, compression is the way to do it.
But here’s the thing about compression that makes it tricky. So the settings that you choose when you’re applying compression are absolutely crucial. Because the same compressor can actually add punch to drums, but it can also take it away depending on the settings you choose. So it’s not enough just to add compression to a drum track if you’re trying to make it punchier, you actually have to make sure that you know exactly what you’re doing when it comes to compression. And the most important parameter that you absolutely need to get right if you’re trying to add punch and impact to your drums is the attack time.
The attack time on a compressor will control whether the compressor adds punch to drums or takes punch away from drums. So in this video I want to go into the attack time control in a little bit more detail, and show you exactly how you can use it to add more punch and impact to your drums.
So I have three different snare drum tracks here. It’s just a snare sample, so take a listen. This is dry without any processing. I’m going to loop this so it’ll loop.
And you can see here I have three different versions of this same snare track. So this one is just dry without any processing, and then I have a duplicate here, and I’ve added a compressor. In this case I’m using the Oxford Dynamics compressor, but you can use any compressor, doesn’t really matter. And you can see here I’ve set the attack knob to go as fast as possible. So you can see here 0.52 milliseconds.
So basically what we’re telling the compressor to do when we use a fast attack time, is whenever the signal, whenever the sound gets louder than the threshold, that’s the number right here, whenever the sound gets louder than -30 dB, we want the compressor to clamp down and pull down that sound right away, almost immediately. That’s what a fast attack time says. So we want the compressor to turn down the sound right after it exceeds the threshold, right away. We don’t want it to wait at all.
Now if we go back to the actual ProTools window here and I zoom in a little bit, you can see that if you look at the waveform, right at the beginning of that snare hit is a big spike right over here. And what that’s called is the transient. That’s the initial punch and impact right on the beginning of that hit. And so with a fast attack time, we’re basically telling the compressor to turn down that transient because that’s the loudest part of the sound. So that transient’s going to be above the threshold, which means when that compressor reacts, because it’s pulling down the sound right away, as soon as the sound exceeds the threshold, so right when that transient hits, the compressor’s going to jump in and say okay, now we need to turn down the sound.
And so the result is that we actually turn down the punch and the impact. So even though we’re using compression, because we’ve set it up with a fast attack time, it’s actually in this case doing the opposite of what we want. We’re turning down the punch and the impact. So I want to compare this snare drum sound with a fast attack compression to the original. So I’m just going to flip back and forth, and I want you to listen to the punch and the impact. And notice with a fast attack compression how the punch and the impact right at the beginning of that snare drum actually goes away. So take a listen.
So all that thwack, that punch right on the beginning of the snare gets flattened out completely because the compressor’s turning down that transient right at the beginning of that drum hit. On the other hand, I have this same snare sound here on a third track, and I’ve set the compressor up with a slow attack time. So basically what this is telling the compressor to do is when the signal gets louder than the threshold, we want the compressor to wait a little bit before it turns down the sound. We don’t want it to jump in right away and turn it down immediately, we want it in this case to wait 15 milliseconds.
And so the result, zooming in again and looking at the waveform, is that the compressor actually waits. And it looks over this initial punch or impact, and waits a little bit before it grabs the sound and turns it down. So what ends up getting turned down is not this transient right at the beginning of the sound, but the rest of the drum sound. So the tail of the drum sound actually gets turned down, but the transient gets left there.
And so now when we turn up the sound after using makeup gain, what we’re actually turning up is the transient. We’re making the transient louder. So we turn the tail up back to its original level using this makeup gain, but the transient actually becomes louder, because the compressor didn’t actually touch that at all. So it’s almost as if we’ve boosted this transient right on the beginning of the snare drum hit. So the effect is that we actually add more punch and impact to the sound by using a slow attack compressor.
So I want to take a listen now, and I want you to compare this snare drum with a slow attack compression, and we’ll compare it with the fast attack. And I want you to notice how much more punch and impact we get on the snare drum sound with the slow attack versus the fast attack. Let’s take a listen. We’ll start with the fast attack.
So see how all that punch and impact and that thwack right at the beginning of the snare drum hit comes back with that slow attack time? That’s the key to adding punch and impact to drums. It’s all about the attack time.
So we can use a compressor, but if we haven’t set it up with a slow attack time then we’re actually going to end up doing the opposite of what we want in this case. If we’re trying to add punch and impact to drums, a fast attack time is going to take that away.
So here’s the big takeaway from this video. If you want to add punch to drums, make sure that you’re using a slow attack time. On the other hand, there are times when you want to remove punch from drums. Maybe the drums sound too punchy. And in this case, you actually want to use a fast attack time. So you can use the compressor to turn down that punch to make the drums sound like they hit a little bit softer. So attack time is the key here. If you’re trying to add punch to drums, then you want to make sure that you get that parameter right.
Now if you enjoyed this video and you’re ready to dive deeper, make sure you also grab my free drum mixing cheatsheet, which is packed with more tips and tricks just like this one that will take your drums to the next level. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.
And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – what’s your go-to compressor plug-in for drums? I’d love to hear from you, so leave your answer in the comments section below.
And for more mixing tips like this one, check out my YouTube channel, or visit my website BehindTheSpeakers.com.