A reader recently contacted me to as about how he might go about emulating the drum sound on this recent Lower Than Atlantis song using EZdrummer. He was sending each drum component to its own channel to be mixed, before sending the kit as a whole to a bus where he then applied reverb. Each component of the kit had some degree of compression applied to it, so he was wondering whether it would then be overkill to add more compression to the kit as a whole on the bus channel,
Well, the first thing to say is that this song is pretty extravagantly compressed, and in a general sense any compression setting is fair game as long as you like the sound of it, so there’s no need to second–guess yourself on that count. However, if you’re already working with a MIDI–triggered drum instrument which effectively gives you complete control over the simulated performance, then one of the fundamental roles of compression is rendered redundant, namely its ability to make the performance more even. As such, I’d concentrate more on what compression has to offer in terms of shaping per–hit amplitude envelopes and adding appealing tonal coloration/distortion. In this context, I’d expect to be using more compression on ‘mixed’ channels such as the overheads or room signals (and indeed the whole drum mix) than on individual ‘virtual mic’ channels, because it’s easy to stamp the life out of each drum’s attack if you’re not careful — and you need all the life you can get when you’re working with virtual drums as it is!
The reader also mentioned using Stillwell Audio’s The Rocket compressor a lot, but I’d suggest expanding the repertoire of compressor plug–ins. It’s not that I don’t like The Rocket — I use it regularly — but it’s very fast, which means that if you rely on it for everything you may lose too much transient definition across the board. It’s also a compressor with a particular tonal character and it may not suit some sounds as well as it does others. If you like the Stillwell plug–ins, then try out Bombardier too, which works especially well for mixed bus signals because of its automatic attack/release time, RMS window, and side–chain contouring options.
Another thing to notice about this Lower Than Atlantis mix, though, is that the amount of drum room sound and/or reverb being used varies a great deal during the song. With that in mind, be careful how you compare your own work–in–progress with this production. If you reference against the verses (where it’s easier to hear the details of the sound) you’ll almost certainly mix too dry, and the temptation may then be to over-compress your own sound to achieve greater sustain during your choruses. Automation is the way to avoid problems here — consider riding up the room–channel and reverb–return faders for the more high–energy moments of the arrangement.