Dynamics processors are on of the most important tools in any producer's toolbox, yet they're not especially intuitive, and many producers struggle to understand how they really work, which sometimes results in them doing more harm than good to their mixes.
What you need, then, is a solid grounding in the fundamentals of how these vital mix tools work, of the scientific-sounding terminology that goes along with them, and the tried-and-tested techniques and starting points that'll allow you to use them with confidence.
Full a full briefing on the art of compression, expansion and more, pick up the April issue of Computer Music (CM202). Here, for a start, we'll talk you through an essential technique that will help you get the most out of your drum sounds.
Step 1: Compressing drums is a balancing act: you're aiming to control the transients without crushing them. 'Snap' compression is a great technique for retaining the transients but still getting a fatter overall sound. It's particularly good for snare drums, rimshots and - sometimes - kick drums. Start by soloing a snare and slapping a compressor on it.
Step 2: We need to set the Attack time just slow enough that the transient can make it through the compression unscathed. Doing this by ear, we end up at around 50ms. We then select a 6:1 Ratio and lower the Threshold until we get moderate gain reduction of around 8dB.
Step 3: The idea is to compress the snare tail immediately after the transient, to make it feel punchier, and 'flatten' the tail, giving the impression of increased sustain. So, the final job is to set the Release very fast and readjust the Threshold to taste. The result is a much fatter snare drum with enhanced transient 'crack'.