Noob question about using compression

I can see the idea in using compression in a mastering situation to lower louder elements and making the track more equal. But I do not understand the use of compression on single sounds like a kick drum or a snare. Most recommend using compression on those. Can someone explain, what compression does to a single kick drum sound, on that single wave sample? I can’t not hear a significant change between compression and non compression on a kick drum or snare. They say, that compression gives the kick drum and snare more punch. I can understand the use of compression on a acoustic kick drum to level the sound, but an audio electronic kick drum is the same audio file repeated, so levels should be the same, so why compression?

This could get a little wordy, and I can HIGHLY recommend books such as “mixing secrets for the small studio” by Mike Senior or “mixing audio” by Roey Izhaki for some really useful techniques with examples. That said, I shall try my best.

Generally we use a compressor in mix for one of 2 reasons - to control the sound or as colouration/an effect. For control, the critical components in any compressor are the attack & the release. The attack tells the compressor how long it must take to attain the set level of compression & the release how long it will take to revert back to the way it was before. I would use this on a kick or a snare to level out a part that varies in how hard & consistently the drum was hit. Both the mentioned books go into a lot of detail about this. The other critical setting is the threshold - this is the level at which compression will start to happen so if your threshold is set to above the peaks then you will never hear anything and on that subject, can I ask what your monitoring chain is please? I am more than a little concerned you are not hearing anything…

If your drum track is well played & well recorded, you may not need compression as this will smooth out some of the subtlety in a part, especially if your drummist is using grace notes on the snare etc. but in most cases of a real drummer compression of some amount is usually desirable. This may not apply with a sample library of course.
Electronic drums are a tougher chew though. One thing you can do is to use an external sidechain input - this means that you set up the compressor to listen for a different input, say the bassline and create a kind of ducking effect where the compressor on a kick drum is triggered by the bassline but that is for later.

Have a look for the books above - the latter can be found as a PDF, the former still has a website with all content that was on the DVD as file downloads with detailed instructions - I think you need to study the basics first otherwise we will be here all day!

thank you. I create the music using head phones. afterwards I am using Monitors, head phones, iphone headphones, car stereo in the adjusting/mixing process. I can hear the effect of using compression on the whole song, but not when using compression on a kick drum or snare alone. I am only making electronic music, so not using live instruments. but maybe I am understanding it correctly, when you write, that it does not have a great effect using compression on sample drums. is this correctly understood? I played around a bit yesterday with the multiband envelope shaper on my kick drum, and i can hear the effect very clearly, but I assume, that the multiband envelope shaper is not a compressor, or is it a hybrid? Thanks for advise regarding the tutorials…

I pretty much only use sampled drums, and yes… the samples probably have compression already, the envelope is flattened and more compression will be harder to hear. One use of compression would be to pull the drums backwards with a fast attack. This softens the initial transient sets the kick back a bit. Same with a snare sample that has too much click. This can also allow you to bring out the body or sustain.

A release control can work by shaping the tail of the kick, for either a flat release or a release that levels down after the initial hit. This can help to control color or dirt from the sample.

There are some sample packs with cleaner non-processed samples. Compression is really a matter of taste. Sometimes, I will compress for envelope shaping, but much less than I used to. I am more likely to compress the entire kit to get things to groove in a pocket. Still, if the kich’s transient or tial gave me an issue, I would not attempt to fix that one a buss. I go back to the sampler envelope controls, look at send level, try an envelope shaper, a tape emulator, possibly EQ, then consider compression or a combination of any of the above. Really listen/audition and make a plan to correct these things early on, and not hours into a mix.