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How to use compression

Use compression here and some compression there.


The topic is everywhere in music production, because compression is an essential for every good mix.


Handling such a big subject in a small time can be frustrating and can take hours.


After this guide you will understand how compression works and why it's such an important tool.


Table of Contents:

1. What do compressors do?

2. Parameters

3. Why is using a compressor important?


How to use compression.

What do compressors do?


Compressors can help you to control the dynamic range of audio signals!

In music, the dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and quietest parts of your audio.


At this part, the compressor comes in.

Imagine having a dry vocal, it's completely normal that some sections are louder than others.


With the help of compression and the tweaking of some settings, the whole vocal gets clean and balanced.


The compressor solves that by tweaking the loudest parts and boosting the quieter sections, to get a balanced result.


With the help of compression, the dynamic range becomes narrower because the highest peaks and the quietest sections have fewer dB differences.


Before you start!

It's not smart to pull up a compressor without thinking about what you want to achieve.


Compression can level up a track or squash out the dynamics and destroy the mix.


Ask yourself:

● Why do I think about using a compressor here?

● What happens to my dynamic range?


Listen closely by bypassing the compressor and compare if it does sound better with or without compression.


With that thing in mind, let's talk about the parameters and how to use them!


Parameters

If you want to use compression, you should understand what the different parameters do.


Most compressors got 6 parameters: threshold, attack, release, ratio, knee, and makeup gain.


Threshold

The threshold determines the level that the compressor starts affecting the sound. Any signal above your threshold dB will get affected by the compression.


Setting up a high threshold will just affect the peaks and smooth them out.

A low threshold will affect the whole signal and more gain reduction will appear.

Both of them aren't wrong. It just depends on you and what you want to achieve with the applied compression


Ratio

The ratio determines how much gain reduction occurs once the signal gets above the threshold.


The lower a number in your ratio will give you more gentle compression.


A higher number will bring you a more aggressive effect.


To set the threshold start by 1:1 (no compression), play the audio, and slowly increase the ratio till you notice the gain reduction effect. Stop before the effect becomes too apparent to hold the natural feel.


Compression threshold, compression input level, compression ratio.

Attack and release


The attack time determines how fast the compressors start working.


The release time determines how long the compressor needs to disengage.


Setting up the right attack & release will help to hold a more natural feel.


Again, use your ears.


It will help to close your eyes while setting it up. This way, your brain can fully focus on the sound.

Listen and try to understand what happens.


Compression attack and release.

Knee

The knee determines how hard the compression feels.


If you think of a right angle, a hard knee would bring a sharp corner.

A soft knee would bring you a rounded corner.


Especially this one can bring you a more smooth and musical feel since it works against the sharp and digital production rules.


Makeup Gain

Since compressors will slightly change the audio level of your sound, there is a makeup gain parameter.


This knob brings up all the compressed audio.

It's important to notice that this can also bring up unwanted noises you couldn't hear before. For example background noise from a recorded instrument.


Be careful with this one because usually louder feels "better" to our ears but often it isn't.


Why is using a compressor important?

Compression is not just used to control the dynamic range, it can even add power and presence.


To achieve a modern sound, compressors can help to get a clean, hi-fi sound. They control elements to sit better in the mix, bring the body in song, and can shape the transient.


Transients

If you haven't completely understood compression, some basics about transient will help to understand it better.


Transients are the present moments in a waveform. As the piano hits there's a peak in the waveform.

This peak is called the transients.

The section behind is called decay.

Together they build the dynamic range.


Compression transients.

A small dynamic range will end up boring and lifeless.

The waveform would look like a rectangle.


Having too much dynamics (a lot of transients) is bad as well.

The track will sound all over the place, has no body, and has no "pressure" behind it.


To make things easier for us producers, a compressor will help you to find the perfect balance.


Time

Compression will be a hard thing to handle in the beginning.


Try to understand it and don't give up when it's not working immediately.


However, compressors are a significant part of music production, and it's essential to know how to use them!



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Written by: Pine 🌲


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