Phil Collins sure loves his gates

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I can safely bet that when you hear the word gate, you don’t immediately think of Phil Collins. Sadly, myself and plenty other recording engineers out there might.

It’s pretty normal to think of a gate as something that opens and closes, allowing things to pass in and out. Well, in the audio world, this is exactly what a gate does.

Let me sum it up really easily for you. Everyone knows the badass drum part on “In The Air Tonight”. DO DO, DO DO, do do, do do, do, do. That spotlighted the use of gates (more accurately gated reverb) on drums.

And Phil Collins was, and still is, the god of using gates.

“In The Air Tonight” was not the only place the gate was used, Phil took it a step further to include it on many mellow songs in his extensive catalog. Why? I guess he just loved the sound.

Let’s take “Another Day In Paradise” for example. There’s no need for the “snare’ to be cut so short by the gate. But he did it and you probably have never even thought twice about it. It’s basically a way to take something that should be acoustic, reverberant sounding, and making it electronic and huge for a brief second. (definitely an 80’s thing) Have a listen. It won’t take long to hear what I’m talking about.

Another Day In Paradise

Can you hear the opening and closing of the gate? The “snare” should normally ring out more. It shouldn’t be cut short like it is. But when Phil is behind the boards, that’s what he wanted. I’m not sure what kind of impact it’s supposed to have, but the man definitely created a unique sound.

Here’s a visual representation of what a gate does: (via Wikipedia)
Notice the input and output level. The input level is the sound you would normally hear from the drums if Phil didn’t decide to gate them. But also notice the sharp drop offs to and from the output level. That’s what our ears are hearing when we listen to the songs. The output level is at zero. This image shows that you can modify how fast the gate kicks in and how you want it to release.

I’ll leave you with this. Pull out some records from the 80’s and give them a closer listen, hopefully understanding a bit more what a gate is. And when you hear it, know that Phil Collins was the pioneer behind it all.

2 Responses to “Phil Collins sure loves his gates”

  1. Alex says:

    Is he side-chaining white noise into his snare in that song as well, or is the reverb just really in front?


  2. Jim says:

    I think it is “just” reverb. But reverb means an overhead mic on the drums played in a reverberant room as oppposed to a reverb plug in or reverb plate.

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