How did Phil Collins get that drum sound "In the air tonight" song?

The drum sound in Phil Collin's "In The Air Tonight" song was something they discovered by coincidence and it changed the sound of all drums in the 80s.

On my vintage video vlog, I sold a 45 record from the 1980s of the song "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins

And this got me thinking of a story that I heard about how that iconic drumline was created.

What is the drum effect in the song "In the Air Tonight"?

The particularly striking sound of the "In the Air Tonight" fill is a heavy gated reverb effect that's used on the drum take. It is not a drum machine.


How did Phil Collins think of this drum sound?

In the studio, Collins sat behind the drum kit playing a beat. The recording console had a mic allowing the audio engineer and producer to talk to the band while recording. That Mike picked up and recorded Phil's drumming revealing a thick full and cavernous drum sound.

picture of man behind drum set

Engineer Hugh Padgham recalls he and Phil Collins discovered the drum sound for "In the Air Tonight" like this.

While working on Peter Gabriel's third solo record along with Genesis drummer Phil Collins they were using a brand new SSL 4000 B console.

The setup included a TalkBack microphone in the live room for performers to communicate with the control room. 

The microphone itself was heavily compressed and designed to pick up even the quietest voices in the furthest corners of the room.

The whole idea was to hang one mic in the middle of the studio and hear somebody talking on the other side of the room. 

And it just so happened that they turned it on one day when Phil was playing his drums. 

And then they had the idea of feeding that back into the console and putting a noise gate on it. So when they stopped playing it sucked the big sound of the room into nothing.

Here is Phil Collin's describing the process they came up with to replicate it in the end

And drums in the 1980s were never normal again.

After this discovery, every album produced in the early to mid-80s had this drum sound. 

Therefore cementing the '80s drum sound forever to be big reverby boomy sounds.

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