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dbx Processing Key To Drum Sound Of Nashville Engineer/Producer Robert Venable

dbx processors add key elements for creating signature drum sounds in the studio

By PSW Staff April 13, 2015

Robert Venable is the owner of Off The Wall Studios and has worked on recordings by Megadeth, Scott Stapp, Disciple, INXS, Neal McCoy and dozens more. Venable has won a GMA Dove Award, has been nominated for a GRAMMY and is known for his ability to develop a personalized “sound” for each of his artists, most recently on Kelly Clarkson’s latest album Piece by Piece. One of Venable’s specialties is drum sounds – with the Harman dbx 160x Compressor/Limiter and 386 Dual Vacuum Tube Preamp as key sonic elements.

Venable became a fan of dbx compressors while working at his first recording studio job at Phase 4 Studios in Tempe, Arizona. “The producer pulled up a track and the bass drum was hitting it just right. I asked what he was using to make it so punchy and he pointed to the dbx 160 sitting on top of the rack. It was one of the older units from the 1970s but still sounded amazing. From that point forward I was sold.”

Venable currently has two dbx 160x compressors at Off The Wall. “I use them on literally every drum recording session I do. There isn’t another compressor you can just insert into your bass or snare drum signal path that just sounds right.” He likes the fact that the 160x is easy to use. “You don’t have to tweak attack or release settings – because you can’t. Just set the Threshold to taste and it’s like you’ve patched in a ‘make your drums punch you in the face’ preset.”

In addition to tracking bass and snare drums through the 160x, Venable uses his as parallel buss compressors on drums. In his rock mixes he’ll mult the drum buss and route it through the 160x units, “slam” them with signal and bring them up under the main drum buss. He notes, “Say hello to thickness and piercing drums.”

In addition to the 160x Venable is a fan of the dbx 386 dual-channel tube mic preamp, which is a favorite for running hi-hats through. “I love the way it sounds when you mic up a hi-hat and feed it into the 386 with some drive.” Another technique is for Venable to set up a mic in the studio’s stairwell to add some natural reverb and decay to drums and guitars. “Take the sound off that mic, push it through the 386, compress it to death and push it up in the mix…it’s gold.”

Now, everyone can enjoy Venable’s slamming drum sounds – he and his business partner Lester Estelle Jr. have just released OTW Drums, a drum sample library that includes more than 4,000 samples of vintage, classic, custom and other drums. The dbx 160x was used on every single bass and snare sample. OTW Drums offers users unprocessed and processed samples of every drum. “The unprocessed samples are basically raw hits and we didn’t really do anything to them,” he noted. “The processed samples are a little more ‘put together’ and polished, and sound like ‘my’ signature sound.”

dbx is an essential element in Venable’s drum sound and nowhere is this more evident than on Kelly Clarkson’s new album Piece by Piece and the track “War Paint.” The song is drum-heavy and called for a lot of tom toms. Venable overdubbed the floor toms two or three times to get a “stacked” sound, but then had to make sure the bass drum would punch through. He placed a dynamic mic just above the drum, aimed towards the edge of the snare shell towards the drummer’s lap. “I ran that signal through the 386 to give it a little more edge, then ran it into the 160x and compressed the snot out of it. Even with all those low frequencies bouncing around all over the place, the attack of the kick was perfect. Need energy in your track? Do that.”

Venable has tried other compressors and keeps coming back to dbx. “There’s something about the dbx compression curve that makes the attack work so well with drums and electric bass. I challenge you to find a comparable compressor in the price range that sounds this good, without having to fight to get there. With the dbx 160x I know I can get the sound I want.”

Harman Professional
OTW Drums


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