Shape The Sound of Your Mix with Compression
Compression is as ubiquitous as EQ but much more ambiguous. From the first sight of a compressor's knee and knobs, you can easily become intimidated and standoffish. Mix engineer Matthew Weiss is here to show us that there's nothing to be feared about these studio staples, in his tutorial he covers:
- the compressor's anatomy
- his personal tricks
- how compressors evolved
- when to use parallel compression
- how to shape the dynamics of our audio
- using compression to manipulate tone and dynamics
One big room, full of bad dynamics:
In your mix there are elements you'll want to appear more present (i.e. a vocal or acoustic guitar) and there are elements you'll want to be more transient (i.e. snares and high hats). Once you know the shape you want for a particular sound, you'll be able to tweak the compressor's threshold, attack, release and ratio sculpt the audio. Matt shapes a variety of audio sources (from white noise shapes and drums to vocals and guitars) so we can see the types of situations we'll encounter and the compressor settings that might be applied in those instances.
It's not the size of the wave, it's the motion of the ocean.
Audio shape is determined both internally and externally. A one-shot sample like a drum has a basic ADSR envelope (a more internal, isolated shape) while a dynamic audio source like a vocal has a lot of variation in its peaks and valleys. In order to properly shape both sources, and avoid turning the stormy waters of your recorded audio into still lakes with no motion, you'll need to see how an experienced master treats these cases.
Below are 3 practical tips from this tutorial that you can apply to your mixes immediately:
1. Add release time to a compressed dynamic audio source like a vocal for a more natural decay, this makes the ending of the vocal phrases less in your face and more musical.
2. Create a more percussive effect for a sustained instrument like a bass or piano by having a low threshold, high attack and medium ratio.
3. To add "phatness" to a snare , have a fast attack and release so the transient gets pulled down in relation to the snare's resonance and sustain level.
Of course all of these should be tweaked to taste. Matt gives us a complete run down of compressors and compression techniques from their inception in the 1950s when radio broadcasts used them to make sure their amplitude levels weren't exceeding thresholds to their modern day artistic usage for shaping sounds. You can expect to leave this tutorial with a much firmer grasp on compression.
So now, when you're asked life's most pressing question...
... you can confidently answer "Yes!" after watching Matt Weiss's compression tutorial. Visit their website to learn more LearnCompression.com.