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How to Drive Your Drums with Vintage Power: StudioRack Unchained

Your drums might lack the power they need. Hear how StudioRack’s built-in Drums Driver preset can add that power and presence to your drum bus, thanks to a tasty combination of vintage console effects and Eddie Kramer compression.

By Craig Anderton

How to Drive Your Drums with Vintage Power

The right drum processing is crucial to obtaining big, present drum sounds. But you don’t need to pile on effect after effect to obtain the desired result. The “Drums Driver” chain preset—included in the free StudioRack plugin chainer—shows how using even a limited number of effects and Macro controls makes it easy to dial in a big sound.

Let’s listen to some audio examples, and you’ll hear how Drums Driver can make a drum loop come alive. Note that all sounds are normalized to the same peak level:

Example 1: The original drum loop sound with no processing. Dull, isn’t it…

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Example 2: This turns up the “Hot!” macro to increase the saturation, but doesn’t use the “Push” macro.

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Example 3: With this loop, “Push” is extreme, but there’s no “Hot!”

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Example 4: This big, nasty sound adds Push and Hot!, while pulling back on the Highs for a more 60s type of sound.

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The Plugins

Here’s what this chain looks like. Just three plugins in this chain—SSL E-Channel, NLS, and Kramer PIE:

How to Drive Your Drums with Vintage Power

The NLS Channel adds “heat” to the drum’s character. The NLS Channel’s Mike console (modeled on the classic EMI console, now owned by Mike Hedges, which was used on Dark Side of the Moon), is arguably the smoothest of the NLS consoles because it retains the natural sound of attacks. So, the Mike console is the logical choice for a hotter sound, while adding character is more the role of the Kramer PIE compressor. (However, Mike does seem to emphasize the low end a bit, so the Low Cut control described later can be useful when needed.)

The Kramer PIE plugin is all about compression. Kramer PIE models the Pye compressor, which was often favored for bus compression in Olympic Studios—so it makes sense to include it in a Drums Driver preset. Many of the sounds you hear on Eddie Kramer’s recordings took advantage of the Pye compressor’s character.

Although the SSL E-Channel is first in the signal chain, we’re describing it last because it’s useful for trimming the sounds after processing by the NLS Channel and Kramer PIE, which alter the character and timbre. After adjusting them as desired, you may want to use the SSL E-Channel low- and high-cut filters to fine-tune the overall tone.

Using the Macro Controls

The Macro controls show how relatively basic parameter changes can nonetheless be effective.

How to Drive Your Drums with Vintage Power

The Hot! Macro control varies the NLS Channel’s Drive control over its full range. The Low Cut and High Cut controls affect the SSL E-Channel’s low and high filter frequencies respectively, and like the Hot control, vary the parameters over their full ranges.

The Push control is the most sophisticated of the four Macro controls. When fully counter-clockwise, the PIE compressor is turned off (the #S4:On/Off parameter). Turning up Push increases the amount of compression while simultaneously increasing the output level to compensate for the level loss that occurs from adding more compression.

Applying Drums Driver

Although Drums Driver works on individual drum sounds, it comes into its own when used for bus compression. There are several strategies for adjusting the controls, but the one that works best for me starts with setting the Hot! Macro control for the desired amount of drive. The Push control is next, to set the compression amount. It may be tempting to add a lot of compression, but as always, the musical context is what matters—sometimes a lighter touch is more appropriate, and sometimes, a heavier one. As to High Cut and Low Cut, settings for those are a matter of taste. Reducing high frequencies tends to give a more “analog” sound, while reducing lows gives more space for bass, floor tom, and the like.

Substitutions

The NLS plugin incorporates three different console sounds, so it’s worth trying the Nevo (Neve) and Spike (modeled from Spike Stent’s SSL) consoles to determine whether they create a sound that fits better with your music. But you have many other options with which to modify this chain, if you want.

To substitute for the Kramer PIE compressor, any “character” compressor will come close…but you probably don’t want to use a compressor that’s more associated with vocals, like the CLA-2A. The dbx 160 Compressor/Limiter is a go-to choice for aggressive drum compression, while the H-Comp provides more “vintage” sounds. For a traditional compressor sound with more warmth and a detailed midrange, consider the V-Comp.

The SSL E-Channel handles tone control, and in some ways, this is the least critical of the plug-ins. However, the E-Channel does have a specific sound. For example, although you could substitute the SSL G-Channel, it has different equalization characteristics due to its steeper filter slopes and a variable proportional-bandwidth design. If you’re not looking for “character,” the Renaissance Equalizer is a good choice. To “split the difference” between and character and transparent EQs, the V-EQ4 and PuigTec EQ are solid options.

Get this chain preset in the StudioRack plugin chainer.

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