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Phat Drums: New York Style Parallel Compression (Part 2)

Continued from New York Style Parallel Compression (Part 1)

Step 3: The parallel drum compressor

Waves Mercury Native Software

Waves Mercury Bundle price check


The API plugins from waves sound great and are used to create the sounds for this article. They are a bit pricey but well worth every penny.

Time to have some fun and add the compressor! You can use just about any compressor for your NYC effect. I prefer the Waves model of the API 2500 but any compression plugin with do. We are after kind of a dirty sound so even a lot of the free compressor plugins you can find on the net will work great. The key is to try a bunch out and evaluate their sound. Stick with what works for you!

Add the compressor as an insert on your NYC track. Solo the NYC track for now (assuming your DAW does it the cool way, see step 2). As previously mentioned, we want a very dirty kind of sound. This is not the time for subtlety or the kind of transparent compression you often read about. We want a very noticeable effect here. This is how I set up the API 2500 compressor:

compressor settings
New York compression settings

If you’ve been around a compressor and back a few times, you may notice instantly that these are not nice settings. The attack is set all the way down to 0.03ms (yes, three hundredths of a millisecond, very fast). The release is set to 0.05sec (50ms) which is also very fast for a release. The ratio is set to 10:1 which is very close to hard limiting on this compressor. There aren’t a lot of things you’re going to compress at 10:1 in everyday mixing. These are extreme compression settings which will cause a lot of very audible pumping… Awesome!

Find the Thresh (or Threshold) control of your compressor. Next you will want to locate the Gain Reduction meter of your compressor plugin. The one in the Waves API 2500 looks like this (notice GR is lit to signify Gain Reduction). The Thresh and GR Meter work together. Though I show a VU type meter for my plugin, sometimes it is a vertical “bar graph” type meter, or just a numeric reading. All three are fine, just make sure you find it.

gain reduction meter
Gain reduction meter (notice the GR is lit)

Now start playback of your track (remember, we have the NYC track solo’ed). Start moving your Thresh control up and down and watch how it affects the GR display. The GR display should be showing you how much compression, or gain reduction, is taking place at any given time. As you move the Thresh setting you should see the GR meter start to jump every time there is a drum hit. I like to adjust the Thresh so I am getting at least 6dB of compression on almost every drum hit. Depending on the plugin, this could be read as either positive 6dB or -6dB. I don’t mind if the gain reduction is even up to 12dB or more on the very loudest parts, I’m just looking for a min of around 6dB with an average between 6dB and 12dB. I put emphasis on the around because this is not an exact science. Just get it it really dirty sounding.

Speaking of sound, you may have noticed your solo’ed NYC track is starting to sound like something off a hip hop record. This is exactly the effect we’re looking for. If your compressor has settings for the shape or knee, then go for the hard setting for an even more pronounced sound.

Step 4: EQ on the NYC drum track

This step should be considered optional but I really like the results so try it and decide for yourself. We’re going to play with a little bit of EQ on our NYC track. I really like the Waves API 2500 compressor for the NYC track because it can get very dirty and analog but still retain clarity. For the same reasons, I like using the Waves API-550B equalizer on the NYC track, but again, any cool EQ plugin will do! Again, we are not exactly looking for subtlety here so don’t be afraid to try some free EQ plugins too. I like to add some extra oomph to the lows and some extra sizzle to the highs. Remember, we are eq-ing the kit as a whole (from the submix into the NYC track) so this isn’t the kind of thing where we are targeting a specific drum. Here are my EQ settings:

low nyc eq
Low Shelf
high nyc eq
High Shelf

Again you can see some very extreme settings. Both bands are boosted 9dB, the lows at 100Hz and the highs at 7K. Remember, these are set up as shelving bands so they don’t just affect the set frequency, but every frequency below 100Hz and every frequency above 7KHz too. You may need (or want) to adjust these frequency points, but you should immediately hear a lot more oomph from the kick and lower end of snare and toms, while getting a lot more of that live feel out of the hats, cymbals, and sizzle of the snare drum. We should still have the NYC track solo’d and it should still sound a bit like a stereotypical Beck record.

Step 5: Mixing in the parellel compression

Sounding like a rap record is great and all, but it’s time to get down to business and use this track as seasoning rather than a main course. Un-solo the NYC track and pull its fader all the way down. Playback should now sound no different than if you never added the NYC track to begin with. For this step it can be fun to just solo the submix and NYC tracks and play around, but for the real mixing you will always want to do this step with all the other instruments playing. That is the only way to gauge the correct NYC level for your particular mix. So go ahead and start playing your track. Listen closely to how the drums interact with all the other instruments, particularly the bass.

As your track plays back, slowly bring up the fader on the NYC track. At some point you’ll just start to wonder if you hear it. Keep bringing it up and you will think you are sure you hear it. Bring it up a bit more and it is suddenly too loud and your band has turned into a DMX tribute act. The sweet spot is somewhere in between the “think you hear it” and “wow that sounds like rap!” Just keep finessing the NYC track fader up and down until you find that sweet spot.

Parallel New York Compression

That is really all there is to it. If this is your first time playing with parallel compression then I hope you had a good time and maybe even learned a trick or two. You will most likely want to play with a few settings here and there to see what you can dial in. The EQ frequency points are probably going to have the biggest effect on your final sound. Try moving them up or down a notch at a time and see what happens. Conduct your own audio experiments and post your findings and comments!

4 replies on “Phat Drums: New York Style Parallel Compression (Part 2)”

Hello Ben,

While working on a pop song mix, I Googled a bit for EQ-settings for specific instruments (and drums!) and found your blog. I already read a lot about this stuff but you are summing it up very well! Thanks so much, I am also going to experiment with you NYC tips for drum (as I am working on a faked live recording).

Cheers and all the best,

Peter

(for those interested in excellent reverb IRs, check out my website – there is a completely FREE and very complete library of the Bricasti M7 for you to download).

Amazing! Thanks for all this brilliant info, Ive found it so helpful to get the big rock sound I need out of a project recording. Your advice makes for perfect mixing starter blocks, abnd good advice on the waves comp to, worked a treat!
Many Thanks

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