Extremely Dirty "Compression" Method Using Reaper's Custom Actions

While there are hundreds of software compressors out there fighting for transparency, sometimes we want something much more dirty. I'm going to show you a very simple technique for supercharging your drums in a way that is raw, unapologetic, and overall more gritty. It is something which I've been working on and have found it to be incredibly useful for drums in genres such as Dubstep, and Drum & Bass, where the transients are fully retained, yet the sound is destroyed in another way to achieve the ultimate loudness.

The technique can be a bit hands-on for the first time you try it, but if you make use of macros and custom actions (e.g in Reaper's powerful custom action editor), it can be achieved at the push of a single key command.

First thing to do is to add a drum loop. I took one from a future percussion sample pack.

You then want to set your grid to smaller divisions (if not already). I have set my grid to 16th notes which makes it much more handy to split the items. At each grid line, split the item.

After you have split each the item into 16th beat chunks, select it all and normalise each one.

The reason we do this is because if we normalise the item as a whole, it will make the loudest peak hit the loudest possible point. If there is a single loud hit, the rest of the sample doesn't increase by much. By dividing it into 16th beats, each individual slice is normalised to it's loudest point meaning the quieter beats between the louder ones are brought up too.

Glue the item back together and enjoy! If you look at the above photo, you will see the unedited version, and the edited one below. The hats (blue hits) are the most apparent, being much bigger peaks than they were, in comparison to the kick. If you notice, the kicks remain more or less the same, and none of the transient has been snipped at the top, like it would have been with a normal compressor.

If we want to get technical, we could argue that this resembles an upwards expander, more than it resembles a compressor, however the technique results in a very similar outcome.

For more "compression" try chopping it into 32nd beats instead and the slices will be smaller, meaning more can be brought up. This is a much more obvious effect and for long tails, you get a stutter like effect as each segment hits it's loudest point again.

Above, you can see the different amounts of "compression" applied by different grid size divisions, going from 16ths, to 128ths. Cool artefacts arise with different sizes of grid slicing, some of which resemble delay-like features. 

When using a sparse drum beat with room ambience the effect can be incredibly powerful, great for techno styles where sudden, brief bursts of loud ambience chop in and out between the beats.

Below is a sound demo showing the benefits and flaws of the technique. Each different division from the original sound, through to 128th divisions are indicated by a brief saw wave beep.

You can hear that at 1/16th, and 1/32nd, there is still quite a subtle effect, increasing to pretty full on distortions sounds as it goes further. I used a long tailed kick to show that it doesn't sound great with long releases in the higher levels of the effect (hear how it sounds pretty awful), so make sure to use a short kick for best effect. One thing to note is that the hats and less so, the snares are much more preserved in quality.

The best way to use this then, is to keep the kick short, perhaps with medium-tailed snares, and an occasional long tailed tom hit sounds good too. Perhaps layer this under an original un-effected version to maintain some of the sound quality (or even keep the kick separate all together). 

I will show you the Reaper custom actions which I used to assign this whole process to just the push of one of the number pad keys (each key gives a different grid division). It is important, when dealing with custom actions and macros to reset everything you have changed temporarily at the end. In this case, I changed the grid size at the start of the custom action, and reset it at the very last stages. I also added, at the very end, one final normalisation of the whole, glued item, just to make sure nothing was peaking after the gluing process though that is simply precautionary.

You can also see below, how each one has been assigned a key shortcut (along with some of my other custom actions). If you haven't already, look into using custom items for Reaper, or the equivalent macro controls for your DAW of choice, because the workflow efficiency increase can be immense! 

For Reaper, if you want to learn more, check out the SWS Extensions, and ReaPack for extra custom actions, as well as some Youtube tutorials on generating custom actions and macros for yourself. These are great if you find that you have to repeat the same process over, and over, and want the efficiency of a keyboard shortcut controlling the whole process.

It is a great way of programming the workflow without needing to know any computer code yourself. One of the best things I have found it for is in sample creation, where you can create drum samples mapped across all tempos, from just a single MIDI loop. Another great trick (seen above) is mapping a MIDI melody across every key signature, or even chopping up a sample in a form of Reshuffle effect.

One final note, is that this effect is destructive so make sure that you add the effect to a copy of the original loop if you want to retain the original. A great way of doing this is by having the originals in a muted track, and just copy them into the tracks where you want to apply the effect.
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