Bruce Aisher runs through ten essential tips for getting the most from your drums.
While there is often a lot of focus on compressing individual sounds or even the whole mix, there’s also a place for something that sits firmly in the middle: sub-mix compression (sometimes referred to as ‘bus’ compression). Compressing individual drums can give definition to each element, but compressing all of them together can act like a sonic gel, and may also improve the overall groove, giving the whole drum part a better ebb and flow.
What settings to use is really a matter of taste and is perhaps determined by how audible you want the final result to be. For example, we could use a clean-sounding compressor like a modern VCA design to nudge the drum mix in by a few dB at the peaks. The most common approach with this method would be to employ a fast attack and moderately fast (or automatic) release. Ratio can tweaked to taste, but don’t be afraid to use what seems like quite a low setting. Somewhere around 2:1 to 4:1 can often be very effective for subtle processing. Heavier compression and limiting may be best left for the overall mix (if at all).
The second approach would be to go in with all guns blazing and deliberately squash the hell out of the drums to create an extreme effect. This typically works best on sparse rhythmic parts.