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Thread: When to actually use a compressor (NOT HOW TO USE!)

  1. #1
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    Exclamation When to actually use a compressor (NOT HOW TO USE!)

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    I know what a compressor does and I know how to use them. I also know not to over compress. I know the differences between hardware compressors and software compressors. I know how to use a compressor in the context of gluing sounds together like bus compression and I also know that you should parallel compress a drums bus and of course sidechain compression. In these situations I know I have to use a compressor, I know what it does and why its there but I know compressors are much more useful especially in the mix down stages.

    My question is when should I use a compressor (other than the situations ive stated above)? I dont want to compress something for no reason and I definitely know not to compress for just loudness. Am I correct in saying that I should compress elements of a mix that are peaking so I end up only compressing those elements instead of the whole mix? How should I compress my synths (leads etc)? how should I compress my bass?

    I produce trap/moombahton so I am wanting quite aggressive masters but at the same time I want to hit that sweet spot between loudness and quality.

    thanks

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    Use the tools how you want. use it when you wanna compress something, not just because.
    Mix at a low volume during the mixing stage then bring everything up afterwards and make sure everything is somewhat flat.

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    I do not produce music that is in your stylistic range, but there are a couple of ways compressors can be used that should translate.

    In terms of bass, the compressor really helps even it out (as it should, it's a compressor). This is very important for the bass, since it plays in those tricky low frequencies. I tend to aggressively compress my bass with a fairly slow attack and enough release so that the bass recovers at least 60% by the time the next transient comes. The slow attack is to allow the attack to make it through without being compromised, and the recovery is just something I learned from someone very knowledgeable that seems to work well in terms of keeping the bass sounding even and natural (not sure this is what you are going for, though).

    A little trick I learned from the same guy (who claims he learned it from CLA) is using compressors on individual drums that have a long, undesirable ring (Kick and Toms specifically), but only making the transient make the GR needle flutter, nothing more. It seems to kill the tail a bit and make for a punchier sound. I've played around with this technique and I really like the results.

    I will say that I generally avoid compressors for most practical applications, though. If a snare track is uneven, I will edit that track manually with clip gain until I get it more even. I will still use parallel compression on drums, but in terms of "fixing" tracks I prefer to doctor them myself and leave the compressors for other things.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RuSty1 View Post
    I know what a compressor does and I know how to use them. I also know not to over compress. I know the differences between hardware compressors and software compressors. I know how to use a compressor in the context of gluing sounds together like bus compression and I also know that you should parallel compress a drums bus and of course sidechain compression. In these situations I know I have to use a compressor, I know what it does and why its there but I know compressors are much more useful especially in the mix down stages.

    My question is when should I use a compressor (other than the situations ive stated above)? I dont want to compress something for no reason and I definitely know not to compress for just loudness. Am I correct in saying that I should compress elements of a mix that are peaking so I end up only compressing those elements instead of the whole mix? How should I compress my synths (leads etc)? how should I compress my bass?

    I produce trap/moombahton so I am wanting quite aggressive masters but at the same time I want to hit that sweet spot between loudness and quality.

    thanks
    Hello!


    Those applications you've mentioned can definitely lead to a great sounding mix and/or master. Just for example: using compression on most individual tracks just before the point of audible freq-smearing or dynamic pumping will make you mix sound immensely more "professional", this being a step towards linear frequency distributions and linear dynamic action of all tracks with this transparent compression. As well, like you mention this same idea of avoiding overcompression leads to a "glued" sound when acute attention is utilized to you group/bus/master compression work. Some goes for para-comp and SC-comp methinks

    Again those techniques you've mentioned totally work without much effort beyond mindful listening and tweaking, but perhaps your additional thoughts about specific instruments and specific intentions related to use of these tools are truly related to style and overall artistic-approaches to crafting a unique mix specific to you as an engineer.

    Here, I think it may be helpful to take a step back and find a way assess and extrapolate an approach to mixing via objective point of view. What I mean to suggest here is: being able to clearly define your preferences and artistic-leanings can give you the obvious ingredients to create and commit to a systematic and organized mixing/mastering approach.

    Perhaps and example here would be similar to this:
    -Play around with specific compressors on specific instruments---play til your ear and mind clearly hear and feel what specific qualities make you excited or feel the needed emotions within the mix
    -Play around with specific approaches to compression (2-stage compression, bus comps, elaborate parallel compression routings, etc)---(repeat encoding mentioned in first example)

    Your mention of the sweet spot between quality and loudness is pretty much like cooking a tasty pie in the oven---what temperature and time limit takes your ingredients and effort to a place in which a brilliant pie will emerge? This is also unfortunately/fortunately a matter of personal preference BUT ALSO there are some clearly observable measurements that help us see when our ingredients, or the pie as a whole, are being turned to ashes.

    In short "overcooked" tracks with compression is squashing your instruments or song's waveforms into squarewaves, i.e. eliminating peaks as you've mentioned. Squashing these waves almost always sound like distortion or bizarre pumpy things. This obvious boundary aside, It has been my observation (and I truly have no empirical or formally educated evidence for this) BUT: to approach the sweet spot between quality and loudness and avoid a pie from hades is having thoughtfully constructed eq/frequency balances and applied compression stages which gradually approach squarewaves as the final product in desired tracks. This may be perhaps the sweet spot for people talk about in our modern professional-cultural expectations and overall frame of reference in the audio-music world right now.


    perhaps these thoughts are not nonsense!, and either way: I am wishing the best


    -MadHat

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    Quote Originally Posted by RuSty1 View Post
    I know what a compressor does and I know how to use them. I also know not to over compress. I know the differences between hardware compressors and software compressors. I know how to use a compressor in the context of gluing sounds together like bus compression and I also know that you should parallel compress a drums bus and of course sidechain compression. In these situations I know I have to use a compressor, I know what it does and why its there but I know compressors are much more useful especially in the mix down stages.

    My question is when should I use a compressor (other than the situations ive stated above)? I dont want to compress something for no reason and I definitely know not to compress for just loudness. Am I correct in saying that I should compress elements of a mix that are peaking so I end up only compressing those elements instead of the whole mix? How should I compress my synths (leads etc)? how should I compress my bass?

    I produce trap/moombahton so I am wanting quite aggressive masters but at the same time I want to hit that sweet spot between loudness and quality.

    thanks
    In various genres you tend to want a certain sound that is signature to that genre, not only in terms of the production signature but also in terms of the dynamic signature.

    It is possible to achieve this to some degree with broad stroke multiband compression but has a too negative impact on the stereo image.

    So to achieve the desired dynamic signature engineers are commonly trying to create that by applying compression more narrowly much earlier in the overall process.

    It is however important to understand that the bulk of the dynamic signature comes from the hardware and what impacts on that hardware to sound a certain way and controlling that is key. That is a science in and of itself, highly important.

    These decisions are made during production and recording.

    But because there are so many dimensions to balance, there might be some residues, some bits that need some further tuning that is best done when keeping everything else as is and this is best done during mixing.

    At mixing you are also weighting in various qualities from a slightly different point of view that results in some balancing work that slightly alters the sound and the combined dynamic signature with it.

    You might also want some icing on the cake that did not make sense to apply during recording.

    All of these things impact on the dynamic signature and therefore it becomes a task for the mixing engineer to use compressors to re-balance and maximize the quality of the dynamic signature relative to the dynamic qualities in the recorded material.

    If you do not have a good tone and dynamic response in the material you send to mastering, the master will not come out the way you want it.

    Compression in mixing is hence your insurance policy for the desired dynamic signature.

    Relative to that, compressors in mixing can be used to balance the signal in a number of ways and relative to a number of intents that are all aligning to the overall creative vision that the mixing engineer has, including having the mindset necessary to get the most out of the dynamics already present in the recorded content, the skills required to spot where/how the recording has to be slightly different in balance in order to make up the desired mix of those recorded elements and a true awareness of how listeners will perceive the mix on their playback system.

    The general answer is that software compressors should not be used and that forming the dynamic signature should be done as early as possible by effectively engaging the right hardware. The rest is specific relative to individual dimensions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RuSty1 View Post
    I know what a compressor does and I know how to use them. I also know not to over compress. I know the differences between hardware compressors and software compressors. I know how to use a compressor in the context of gluing sounds together like bus compression and I also know that you should parallel compress a drums bus and of course sidechain compression. In these situations I know I have to use a compressor, I know what it does and why its there but I know compressors are much more useful especially in the mix down stages.

    My question is when should I use a compressor (other than the situations ive stated above)? I dont want to compress something for no reason and I definitely know not to compress for just loudness. Am I correct in saying that I should compress elements of a mix that are peaking so I end up only compressing those elements instead of the whole mix? How should I compress my synths (leads etc)? how should I compress my bass?

    I produce trap/moombahton so I am wanting quite aggressive masters but at the same time I want to hit that sweet spot between loudness and quality.

    thanks
    The simple answer is: it's never a 'should use' on anything.
    There are actually a lot of alternatives to just compressing the hell out of everything. Saturation, distortion, exciters, tape emulators, transient shapers.

    You're right that for a loud mix and master, you want to manage the peaks early on. No uneven spikes.
    A compressor is actually pretty terrible at managing that... it has an attack time so it lets a lot of the initial peak through before it even does anything.
    The release time means it'll continue compressing for a while after the incoming signal has dropped below the threshold.... that can kill the transients and impact of anything that follows it.
    If you're dialing in short attack times, high ratios and short release times to counteract this, you're essentially using it as a limiter. Might as well use a limiter in that case

    But seriously, try some of the other options. I've been getting a lot of mileage out them lately, and use very little actual compression.
    I'm getting much louder mixes than before (-12 LUFS) without even deliberately pushing things loud, it's just that level shit sounds good at.

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    Maybe this will help. FYI I'm just pulling directly from an E-book I'm writing on the topic.
    _____________________________________________________

    We want to begin to think of compression as more like the icing on a 5 layer cake. The 5 layers are great by themselves but maybe we want some icing to top it off.

    There are 4 perspectives I’ve used to understand what compression really is and how to use it:

    1. Compression is just an automatic volume fader. This is literally what a compressor should mean to you. It’s not compression, it’s an automatic volume fader.
    2. Anything a compressor can do, volume automation can do.
    3. Compressors are designed to make loud sounds quieter
    4. A compressor is just a glorified volume fader (I really want to drive that one home)



    "WHEN to USE COMPRESSION"


    There are 2 primary ways I use compression on an individual, track based level:

    1. To control and shape transients (attacks)

    a. Percussion shaping (attacks and tails)
    b. Percussive/Plucky Instrument Sculpting

    2. To control the volume of a sound over time

    a. The vocalist who’s volume is all over the place
    b. The guitar performance which is naturally very dynamic


    So there it is. Let me know if this helps.

    - Nathan
    Last edited by Nathan Alexander; 07-29-2017 at 01:01 PM.

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    Great indepth responses above, but to give a hopefully succinct answer-- for all of the reasons you mentioned in your initial post, and ever-the-much-more-so for _live_ instruments with _real_ (human) players. This is, of course, where all if the "magic" happens, but sometimes we can help it along a bit.

    Don't get me wrong, compression works on electronics too; sometimes surprisingly so. I haven't forgotten the first time I compressed a drum-machine snare drum-- already, a sample, already compressed, but when I added a bit of my own compression just to see what would happen-- Bam! The snare evened out perfectly and had much more punch (I had played the groove in manually, rather than programming step-wise). But compression on a real snare drum? The best studio drummer in the world isn't perfectly consistent. But when you add just the right amount? That snare goes from good to killer. Same for toms. Same, especially, for electric bass guitar! Compression can really smooth things out there.

    I would not use compression to trim a tail or avoid unwanted ring. That's why we tune, muffle lightly when necessary, or use gating as needed. And of course, as someone mentioned above, there's always manual editing.

    Hope that helps.
    Gregg Juke
    Nocturnal Productions
    The Sonic Vault Recording Studio
    Drum! Magazine Contributor






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    rhythmgj, I like that you point out how compressors help to control the dynamics and therefore make the mix as a whole more dynamically balanced, that makes the mix more friendly for repetitive playing as it to some degree helps to combat ear fatigue - you can find a perfect playback level where the mix is great sounding without the listener having to boost the playback level to really loud levels. This quality is to me what great compression is really all about and most top hit mixes tend to have this quality. Having said that, paradoxically for the mix to also be really dynamically interesting, the dynamic range might have to be intelligently expanded or modified, both generally as well as at various parts of the song. I like two stage and side chain compression for this reason (for other reasons as well). I guess when you combine the various types of compression, each tend to bring a certain dynamic quality into it. But overall, in my books nothing beats having the right dynamic signature - it makes the mix sound professional, it comes out properly across playback systems, low ear fatigue and good overall energy makes it exciting. It's an art but these are some things to think about when working with compressors/expanders/dynamic processors.
    Last edited by DarkRed; 07-30-2017 at 12:50 AM.

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