Today we look at how to compress drums for dance music.

We will be using the FabFilter Pro-C 2 compressor, which is an amazing single-band compressor for mixing and mastering music.

Dance drums are known for powerful punch and a bit of a longer tail than drums for hip-hop, but every track is different, and that’s just a general point.

Last point to share before getting into the how to compress dance drums tutorial is that drum samples you’d buy in a sound pack are much different than live recorded drums with a microphone due to the inconsistent playing of the drummer.

This makes one-shot drum samples much easier to use, especially if they are high-quality drum samples.

How to Compress Dance Drums (FabFilter Pro-C 2 Tutorial)

What You Will Learn:

  • Quick Overview of FabFilter Pro-C 2
  • How to Approach Compression for Dance Drums

Overview of FabFilter Pro-C 2

You can use any compressor to follow along in this tutorial, like the Fruity Limiter or Fruity Compressor, but not all compressors have the features that Pro-C 2 offers.

(That’s why I like FabFilter Plugins so much.)

FabFilter Pro-C 2 Compression Plugin - How to Compress Dance Drums Tutorial
FabFilter Pro-C 2 Compression Plugin
How to Compress Dance Drums Tutorial

Let’s quickly cover each knob from the FabFilter Pro-C 2 image above:

  1. THRESHOLD – Your audio has to go over the “threshold” in order for compression to happen!
  2. RATIO – The amount of compression you want to happen!
  3. ATTACK – How FAST you want the compression to happen. A small number like 1ms means it clamps down HARD on your audio. A large number like 150ms allows the initial spike (transient) to pop through.
  4. RELEASE – How long it takes to go back to normal volume after compression (after the audio goes below the THRESHOLD)!
  5. KNEE – Super powerful.. if you have a hard knee, audio has to go over the THRESHOLD exactly! If you have a soft knee, you’ll compression happens BEFORE the THRESHOLD!
  6. RANGE – Limits how much compression happens (Very useful for controlled aggressive compression).
  7. LOOKAHEAD – Allows the compressor to SEE AUDIO BEFORE it hits the compressor. This is very useful for SMOOTH COMPRESSION. Don’t be afraid to crank this up.
  8. HOLD – This is in between ATTACK and RELEASE. Sometimes compression can be pumpy, or you just can’t get it to sit right. HOLD will hold compression for the time set, then follow the RELEASE curve. (You can set a faster RELEASE with still a lot of control!)
  9. STYLE – The powerful thing about Pro-C 2 is you get tons of built-in compression styles.. so it’s not like you’re just buying “one compressor plugin”.

How to Approach Compression for Dance Drums

Now let’s talk about different ways you can compress dance drums.

We all know dance drums need to be loud and bassy, but when it comes to mastering your song, you may wonder why you can’t get your master as loud and full sounding as commercial music!

The secret answer lies in compression and distortion.

Audio has a lot of PSUEDO SCIENCE happening.. and without getting nerdy, the peaks of our audio don’t allow us to get loud masters.. we must reduce audio peaks while still retaining punch and dynamics through compression and distortion.

Dance Drums – Attack / Release / Hold Settings

Note, the Fruity Limiter has the “sustain” which is your hold knob!

The first place to start mixing powerful dance drums is..

Setting the drum volume so it’s actually being heard!!

Next, you have to think..

Is the drum standing out? Or.. is the drum standing out too much!?

(Yes, a drum being too loud is a thing! 😂)

Using the Pro-C 2 Attack for Drums:

If the drum is standing out too much, you may want a FAST ATTACK to clamp down on the drum peak to make it fit better. Having a FAST ATTACK pushes down the click, and keeps the bass tail!

You’ll notice if you simply just turn down the drum, you’ll probably still hear the “click” of the drum, but the “bass tail” is lost!

If you set a very fast ATTACK, and the click is still sticking out, enable LOOKAHEAD for an even faster ATTACK!

If the drum IS NOT standing out, you may want a LONGER ATTACK to emphasis the kick drum click! (Another trick to getting a kick drum to stand out is to simply increase the highs with an EQ!)

In this case of a drum not standing out in your beat, you may also want to use parallel compression to keep the click, but bring up the tail at your own leisure!

Release Settings for a Kick Drum

Now in both cases of a FAST or LONG ATTACK, the release is also very important, but it is a lot more subtle..

If you set a FAST RELEASE, the kick drum’s tail will be very loud, which may be what you want, but depending on how much compression is happening, it can cause a lot of weird PUMPING!

When it comes a single dance drum, the RELEASE setting may not be as prominent.. but let’s say in a rap beat where the drum loop has multiple drum sounds going into the same compressor (subgroup), this RELEASE setting really needs close attention.

In short, a FAST RELEASE will allow the drum tail to be loud. A LONGER RELEASE will allow you to control the tail of the drum to help it gel with the bassline and song.

If you can’t get the drum tail right with compression, then you can look into HOLD (also known as sustain on some compressor plugins).

What about Compressor Hold Setting?

The HOLD setting on a compressor is so powerful..

If you’re adjusting your ATTACK and RELEASE settings and just can’t get the pump to sound right, try playing with HOLD.

Very often you can have a FAST RELEASE with a bit of HOLD. You’ll notice you have so much control over the kick drum’s sound!

Wrapping Up: Compressing Dance Drums

The first place to start is to turn up the drum at a volume where it’s hitting hard and sounds good in the track.

Then grab a compressor to see how you can make it fit!

I first start with a long ATTACK to see if I want more click. If I don’t like it, then I try a fast ATTACK to see if the drum needs more tail (because it pushes down the click of the drum).

Finally, make sure to compare a BEFORE and AFTER, and that will be a great way to see if what you are doing is actually helping.

Another powerful approach to mixing dance drums is parallel compression.

It’s where you send a duplicated audio signal to another mixer insert, compress it hard, then blend it back in! This allows you to retain the transient of the drum, but bring up the fullness you’ve often after.

You may like: Why Do Producers Use Compression Course

Hope that gets you started to compress dance drums so they are much louder in your music.

You’ll find a loud and punchy mix comes from a lot of compression and subtle distortion happening to control the peaks of your audio, while also allowing a lot of clarity, too!

As always, feel free to leave a comment!