‚Äč
Free Courses & Downloads

How to Compress Percussion

compression
how to compress percussion

There are a lot of different percussion instruments out there, and most of them benefit from some compression! In this guide you'll learn some of the most popular compressor settings for common percussion instruments, as well as tips for applying "glue" compression to your compressor bus.

Note: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning I would receive a commission - at no cost to you - for any products you purchase.

 

Challenges of Compressing Percussion

 

To me, percussion is a broad term for any rhythmic instrument that acts as a peripheral to your typical drum set. 

Percussion instruments include shakers, tambourines, cowbells, bongos, congas, djembes, and much more! The difficult of compressing these types of instruments is that they all have vastly different transient characteristics. 

A set of bongos will sound much more like a snare drum, meaning it will require different settings than a shaker or tambourine. Here's a description of all the different drums and percussion of the world.

I usually compress percussion for two reasons:

 

 

Cowbell Compressor Settings

 

The cowbell is an instrument with a heavy attack and a quick sustain and release. When it comes to cowbell compression, you’ll need settings that can catch the transient to keep it from poking out of the mix.  

I often like to start with a ratio between 3:1 and 6:1, and a slightly fast attack, anywhere from 10-20ms. The release can also be fairly fast, especially if you want to maintain the tail of the cowbell. An 1176-style compressor is great for this type of fast control.

The key is making sure your attack isn’t so fast that it diminishes the transient of your cowbell in any way, as this could take away from its rhythmic properties. 

 

Conga & Bongo Compressor Settings

 

I often think of congas and bongos like snares when treating them in a mix. With fast transients and uniquely tonal sustains, there’s a lot of character that’s easy to destroy with the wrong compression settings.  

I’ll typically start with a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio and dial in around 5-6dB of gain reduction to keep these instruments in place. The attack setting is by far the most important here, as you can use it adjust the amount of snap your hand drums have. 

A slower attack will give you more snap, while a faster attack will give you less. 

 

Tambourine Compressor Settings

 

A tambourine that is too dynamic can be incredibly annoying to listen to, which is often why I use compression to limit the dynamics between the louder and softer parts of the rhythm. The snap of a tambourine on an accentuated beat often needs control to sit back in the mix, especially when doubling the snare. I usually like to approach this part of a tambourine’s sound like a snare, due to its snappy qualities. 

You can often use a medium to fast compression and a fast release with a ratio between 3:1 and 4:1, dialing in around 3-5dB of gain reduction

 

Learn more about Mixing with Compression

 

This is only one part of mixing with compression! Luckily, I've put together a bunch more articles to help you master this crucial mixing skill!

 

From a Frustrated Producer in a Ragtag Bedroom Studio to Major Placements on TV Earning $1,000s!

 

My name is Evan, and I've been making music since around 3rd grade. I'm from San Diego, California, but I've lived in Washington, DC for the last 20 years.

After 3 grueling years of grad school, though I had put aside serious attempts at making music. I found myself spending my days doing work that was dreadfully uncreative, with a ton of student student loan debt.
 
Which made me feel like my favorite parts of myself were withering.
 
But I didn't know what to do about it.
 
Being in my early 30s with tons of student loan debt, in a world where there is "no money in music," I felt like my youthful dreams of trying to "make it big" were dead. Like my music would remain unheard in my head and hard drive. 
 
Frustrated by my inability to get my music heard, I started researching solutions.
 
Instead, I wanted to find a way where I could focus on making the music and let someone else deal with promoting it. 
 
I realized the music licensing was the perfect opportunity for a solo artist like me to get my music heard, without having to do any promotion. I just need to focus on improving what I could control - my songwriting and my production skills.

While I still have a full-time day job, I have created systems that have allowed me to produce dozens of songs a year in my spare time.

My¬†songs have been on Netflix, TV shows like the 90 Day Fiance, an award-winning indie film, and NPR‚Äôs ‚ÄúAll Thing Considered.‚ÄĚ They've also been streamed millions of times.

In addition to being a music producer, I am passionate about teaching people how they can make professional-sounding music and earn money licensing it, all in their spare time.

Thousands of musicians, like yourself, have trusted me to guide their musical journey. My YouTube videos have been watched nearly a million times. And my story has been in Forbes, Side Hustle Nation, and the Side Hustle School.

You Can Achieve Your Musical Dreams Too - Attend the Free Music Licensing Workshop!