What is Drum Compression and How to Use It

Compression, specifically Drum Compression is one of the most essential tools a producer has for adjusting the dynamics of their audio in order to give their tracks a smooth, crisp, modern sound. It can be truly useful when attempting to add punch to specific elements ones productions.

What is Drum Compression?

Basically drum compression, as it is applied to the signal, reduces the distance between the peaks and valleys of the audio signal, smoothing out the dynamics of the audio.

Here’s an image example of compression to help give you a better idea of what is going on.

For example, say you have a recorded vocal where half of the lyrics are sung too quietly, and half are sung too loud, by applying compression, it will bring the peaks and valleys of the signal closer together.

Ideally this evens out the levels between the lyrics that are sung to loud, and the lyrics that are sung to quietly, which will result being compressed into an ideal loudness.

Why is Drum Compression Useful?

Now that you have a little background on the seemingly mysterious nature of compression, we can begin to discuss some of the wonderful things compression can do for you, and your mix. If you don’t have an example to work with, head over and download one of our sample packs for EDM to experiment with.

Now that you got your audio file ready, we can get started.

Since drum compression reduces the distance between the peaks and valleys of your audio signal, compression can be used to fatten up elements of your song or make certain elements pop.

One pitfall to always keep in mind...
When applying compression, if you over compress, instead of fattening up the signal, your compressed signal will sound muddy, dampened, and squashed, because you are removing too many of the audio sources dynamic elements.

Specifically when mixing your percussion, you can use a technique called parallel compression.

This might sound complex, but in essence it is very simple:

Check this out – all you are doing is blending a dry signal (uncompressed) with a separate wet signal (compressed).

You’re doing this in order to to make up for the loss in dynamics that applying a decent amount of compression can cause.

Basically you’re minimizing the negative side effects of applying drum compression.

This way you can have the thickness and punch of a compressed signal, but also keep the sharpness and dynamic range of an uncompressed signal.

Here are some illustrations on how to do this in Ableton Live.

How to Use Drum Compression

1. Right click to insert new return track.

You will be adding compression on this return track.

2. Add compressor of choice to return track.

3. Solo return track, and turn return track up,

you are doing this in order to listen to the return track by itself, so you can adjust the parameters on the compressor to achieve the desired results. As you can see, the drum track is currently muted (vu meter is blue) and the only track that you can currently hear is Return C (C Parallel C). Once you have isolated return C, adjust the parameters on the compressor to achieve desired results.

4. Bring return volume back down, un-solo return C, and with the percussion track now audible, mix return C back in. 

Once you un-solo return c, you will be able to clearly hear the difference the compression makes on the audio. Be conscious as you mix return c back in to only turn up the volume just enough to add the desired punch, and not overwhelm the production with the compressed signal. As you can see in the screenshot below, -20 db is a sufficient level for return c to be at to achieve the desired punch and fullness.


Once you have mastered this technique, the possibilities are truly endless. This is an essential technique if you are looking to add some of the wonderful fulness that compression can achieve, without compromising the integrity of your audio, which compression can also do if used incorrectly, or in the wrong instance. Hopefully this was useful information, and good like trying out these new techniques!

Happy producing!

– NoDusk Team