BIG drums: Nick Batzdorf explains how to release your inner caveman using parallel compression.
Nobody knows why parallel-compressing drums is called the New York drum sound, but it’s a production trick that will make drums of all kind (drum kits, taikos, congas… anything) sound like they’re being slammed by a huge gorilla as hard as he can.
You can use it for the pounding movie trailer percussion sound, or just to punch up percussive sounds in general.
By tradition, effects such as reverb and chorus are combined with the dry signal – they’re connected in parallel. Compressors, on the other hand, were originally intended to be signal processors, meaning that you run the entire signal through them in series. They were invented to shape and control the dynamics (after all, they’re just super-fast volume reducers) – dynamics processors.
But the New York drum sound uses the compressor in parallel. You combine the original dry signal with a drastically compressed version. The original retains its dynamics and feel, while the compressed track adds slam and brings up the lower-level details and density.
And that’s what the wet/dry control on many compressor plug-ins is for. You insert them on the drums’ channel strip without having to worry about plug-in latency in a send-return setup. The wet and dry drums have to be aligned perfectly – unless you want a phasing effect.
There are no painting-by-the-numbers settings for this technique (nor for any dynamics settings), but it’s easier to dial in this or any effect when you start with exaggerated settings and then back off from them.
Having said that, this is a reasonable starting point:
1. If there are any automatic settings, turn off anything other than automatic makeup gain. Set the wet/dry knob all the way wet so you hear just the effect.
2. If your compressor has hard and soft knee settings, pick hard. Soft knee means the gain reduction ramps up gradually as the signal approaches the threshold, but you probably want it to clamp down right away.
3. The ratio should be at least 4:1, meaning every 4dB over the threshold setting in results in 1dB out. 10:1 or higher is considered limiting rather than compression, but it’s not at all extreme for this application.
4. Adjust the threshold so the compressor gives at least 5dB of gain reduction, probably more.
5. Attack and release are the most important settings, and their effects are easy to hear. Start with an attack time of maybe 14 mS; anything shorter will cut it off (which you may or may not want).
Set the release time somewhere around the same. Longer release settings will shorten the drum sustain.
And that’s it. It takes experimentation. Just don’t be shy—this doesn’t have to be subtle!