Drum busses and compression

Just beginning to work on the Haggis piece. Curious about something…

How much do y’all use compression on individual pieces of the drum kit vs only on busses? I know the only rule is “if it sounds good, it is good,” but I’m curious about common practices ind, in general, how you go about these things. So, if both kicks go thru a kick buss, just compress the buss?

Do you compress the entire kit? Or only compress thru parallel compression?

I get that there are no hard 'n fast rules, but how do you go about making those decisions?

Embarrassed to ask cuz it’s probably a lame question that has newbie written all over it. Sorry in advance, but any thoughts would be appreciated.

It’s not mutually exclusive for me - I use both + parallel compression.

I don’t want to side-track your thread, but compression is not the only way to control levels. Clipping and saturation are good tools as well.

This tutorial is in my “Tutorials Not To Forget” playlist. He covers a lot of ground and talks about drums a bit, so it’s not entirely off- topic. :wink:

Definitely worth the watch when you have time…

I think this is the one where he goes through clipping specifically on the drums.

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I think the same way most people do - I get a rough fader/pan mix, then start working out what I need to do. Because, like, you might get that rough mix and the drums sound fantastic in terms of how they punch, the blend of impact with tone, quieter details sitting where they want to be, and overall dynamics as the song progresses.

But usually in practice, I start with a compressor on the drum bus that just adds cohesion and controls the louder parts a bit. If I end up wanting more punch from the kick and snare in a dense track, I’ll create a parallel bus with a compressor that gives lots of smack and blend that in. Same if I want to supress the punch and bring out more sustain/tone/body - parallel comp and sneak in as much as I need.

I only compress close drum mics sometimes. Kick maybe with a little compression just to even out the low end (quite often there’s a HPF sidechain on the drum bus comp) and very, very occasionally snare to get a little extra pop - but more often than not I find snare compression just brings up annoying spill.

One individual track I do quite often compress is the room mic/s. Because I want them to be all tone, not loads of attack and maybe to pump a little in time with the groove, as that, in rock at least, is cool for adding attitude.


There is no real shortcut - compression takes LOTS of practice and listening, and lots of trying different approaches to find the one that suits you personally.

The thing to remember is that compression has so many uses in mixing. It can be used to control dynamic range, to reshape the envelope of a sound, to tighten up and separate, to mash together and glue, to give movement to a sound, to brighten up, to dull down, to harden, to soften etc etc etc.

I recommend diving headfirst in and just using it and abusing it. Try every different method you hear about in turn.

You will make mistakes - some that won’t even become obvious to you for years - and you will over use it. But that is really the point. Use it, then listen - rinse and repeat. Some things that compression is doing will become so obfuscated in the heat of ear-fatigue that you will not recognize them until after a nights/weeks/months/years break, only to embarrassingly reveal themselves starkly in the cold light of the next listen.

No-one “gets” compression right the first time, but if you’re determined, you will get there.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to learn as much as you can about it. Here are a few landmark articles and resources that fed my personal “compression education”:





Finally, go to this podcast and navigate to Episode 36 “Compression 101”… no videos, just listening - the best way to learn about compression:


+1 on the Recording Lounge podcast. It appears that Kendall may not do the podcast anymore (or is at least on a long hiatus), but there’s some absolutely amazing episodes in the catalog.

Compression is a funny beast. Once you understand the concept behind what it does and why you’d want to use it, there’s a whole other world of how you can make it sound musical and not just as a utility.

For drums, I tend to use a lot of compressors. Kick, snare and toms will get light to medium compression. If I want more whack out of them I’ll tweak attack/release or change the comp and maybe hit them a bit harder. OH get some, rooms get smashed to shit, and I do some pretty light overall compression on the bus. Also sometimes I’ll use a parallel chain if I want some extra stank on stuff. Now, there are certainly exceptions to this, but that’s generally how things shake out.

In terms of how I make these decisions, it comes down to how elements sit in the mix dynamically, and is there an effect/sound/tone I’m looking for that can be achieved through compression, or a combination of compression and something else. That being said, those decisions usually drive how much I’m using compression, as opposed to whether or not I use it.

As @ColdRoomStudio stated above, it takes a ton of practice and listening. For years (and still now!), I over-compress things… but as time has moved along, instead of crushing everything I’ll lay back on the individual tracks and try to achieve a better overall kit sound that’s still well controlled dynamically.


Is this a playlist you have on YouTube that could be shared here?

I’m happy to pass it along, but it’s pretty specific to MY needs. It goes anywhere from Studio One to Bass Tips to Mixing Tutorials to how to use reverb etc. I PM a few of them to you offline so I don’t side-track this thread. :slight_smile:

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Perfect, thank you!

@miked, I listened to the first video on how saturation can increase the perception of loudness on sources with short transients (like snares), while at the same time decrease actual spikes in the waveform. That’s crazy. Thanks for posting.

Didn’t get to the second one yet…

Yes, he does really practical no-nonsense tutorials. Here’s the one that got me hooked on his site… :grin:

I just experiment with different comps and settings and sometimes dont use any on the master bus .Sometimes a tad of multiband just taking off maybe a db can work really well.Sometimes just a bit of clipping before a limiter can also work well .Just experiment really.

Just saw this thread.

Everyone else has given a ton of great info. I don’t disagree with any of it.

I didn’t use a parallel bus or even a drum bus at all on this last one. I pretty much mixed everything strait from the single tracks. I think the grouped the overheads and room mics, but that’s about it. Also, I didn’t use any compression whatsoever on the room mic.

If you notice in his rough mix, @ColdRoomStudio and @Jclampitt both pushed their drum compression really hard. Their kicks and snares have that aggressive CLA type slam and a whopping boatload of punch.

The way this is usually done is by getting multiple samples blended then mashing them up with an aggressive compressors with a very short attack time and a pretty short release time. Usually there’s another layer of tone shaping compression that comes after this. And usually the EQ is set on the brighter side when you go for this sound.

If you listen to my last rough mix, I sacrificed some of the raw energy that both of them had in theirs in an attempt to make things breath differently. Instead of ramping up the drums to the nth degree, I relied instead on guitar layering and heavy processing on the synths for thickness and width. I don’t know if its good enough to beat either of theirs, but it was a different approach, and I thought it was worth giving it a shot :slight_smile:

The title of this video is great and I think we can all identify. I liked the part about 1/2 way thru when he talked about using plugins with limited options/choices. The example of only being able to choose between a cut/boost at 500 or 700 (for example) is limiting and yet it’s freeing. That makes me want to go find plugins with those limited options.

That video resonated with me big time (and still does!). I find it’s always in the back of my mind now when I start going down rabbit holes. Of course, sometimes you need to go deeper to see what’s in there… :wink:

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