Last updated on January 12, 2018 by Rob Mayzes

Compression is hard. You can spend YEARS learning how to mix, and still not fully master compression.

In fact, there are 10 common compression mistakes that will ruin your mixes FAST if you aren’t aware of them, and after teaching over half a million people, I see these same compressor mistakes time and time again.

So, if you want to learn how to use compression like a pro, keep watching because in this compression tutorial, you will learn how to avoid these 10 crucial mistakes, so you can start making radio-ready mixes that sound professional and clear.

 

Compression is hard. You can spend years learning how to mix and still not fully master compression. In fact, there are 10 common compression mistakes that will ruin your mixes fast if you aren’t aware of them.

And after teaching over half-a-million people I see these same compression mistakes coming up time-and-time again. So, if you want to learn how to use compression like a pro keep watching, because in this compression tutorial you’re going to learn how to avoid these 10 mistakes. So, you can start producing radio ready mixes that sound professional and clear, but first make sure you grab the free compression cheat sheet that’s going to help you to get this right every single time. Over 5,000 people have already downloaded this cheat sheet and used it to improve their mixes and now I want to share it with you. It’s completely free, so just head to the link in the description to download that and start improving your mixes today.

Mistake number 1 is ignoring the gain reduction meter. This is the most important visual feedback you’re going to have in your mix and you’re going to look at this a lot. So, if you don’t pay attention to this you’re going to never know truly how much compression you’re applying and after awhile you’re going to learn how to use age, you’ll learn how to do it naturally by just increasing the ratio and listening out for how much compression has been applied. But when you start out you need to watch this meter so you can see okay how much gain reduction, how much compression am I actually applying with this plug-in.

I’m going to jump into Logic now just to show you how to do this. Regardless of what compressor you use there’s going to be some kind of visual feedback that shows you how much compression has been applied. And if you’ve never paid attention to this before then you’re making a huge mistake because this is vital, this is how you know if you’re applying loads of compression and you’re applying 20, 30 dB of gain reduction which is loads, but if you’re not applying any compression because if this needle is not moving that means the compressor is not actually doing anything.

So, let’s just look at this now. So, yes I adjusted this threshold I want you to watch when I decrease it we go from applying no compression when it’s at zero to suddenly applying loads of compression when it’s up here.

Okay. So, that’s how you know how much compression you’re applying. If you’re struggling to hear the compression, because you’re only applying 2 or 3 dB like this.

That’s without.

So, this is without.

This is with.

If you’re struggling to hear the difference there then this is going to be vital, because this is going to tell you how much gain reduction you’re applying, so you’ll know if you’re going over-the-top or if you’re not applying any compression at all.

Mistake number 2 is using super fast attack time. Now, what fast attack times do is they clamp down on the transient, they attack the onset of the note, and if you do this too much, if you over compress with a fast attack time your mix is going to end up sounding flat as a pancake. Now, sometimes you do need to use a really fast attack time on drums for example, but everywhere else you want to avoid fast attack times because using a slow attack time is going to add more aggression and more excitement to whatever you’re applying compression to because it’s going to leave the transient the attack of the note intact.

So then, instead you’re clamping down on the tail, and this has the effect of now the transient is louder so it sounds more aggressive, it brings out in the mix more, and it’s also easier to avoid over compression if you’re apply 10 dB of compression to something to really keep you under control. It’s much safer to use a slow attack time, because otherwise you’ll be clamping down on the transient way too much and that’s when you get this over compressed sound.

Mistake number 3 again to stay on the topic of over compression always using fast release times what you’re doing is essentially letting go of the source before the note has rang out. So, imagine the compressor engages, it comes down on the transient if you’re using a fast attack time, and then you use a fast release time and now it’s just letting go straightaway and sometimes you can hear that, you can hear the noticeable pumping. Now, again there are situations where that’s desirable.

If you’re working with drums sometimes you do need to use a fast release time, if you’re working with vocals and you want to make them sound really loud sometimes fast release time is great for doing that. But if you’re always using fast release times it’s going to start to sound unnatural and your go-to should be medium to slow or slower release times, because that’s always going to sound more musical, it’s going to sound more natural, it’s going to sound more subtle. So, you should default to medium to slow release times, and then just use fast release times when you have a specific reason for doing so.

Mistake number 4 is only using one compressor. If you’re trying to really control something or add a lot of aggression to something, and you’re applying 10 dB of gain reduction it’s going to sound more musical to use 2 or even 3 compressors in a row, each doing 3 dB of gain reduction that all the time they work together and by the end of that chain it’s going to come out the other end sounding compressed and dynamically consistent and it’s going to sound more musical because you’re not making plug-in do all the work. You kind of want to use several plug-ins that work together to control the source.

Mistake number 5 is relying on compression alone. If you really need to control the dynamics of something like a vocal then you’re going to need automation in combination with compression. Sometimes you can get away with just compression if it’s like a heavy rock track and it sounds great with a really compressed, aggressive vocal. But a lot of the time if you’re working with pop or other genres you need automation to get the vocals to that level of consistency and you can’t rely on compression alone for that. And the same goes for the instruments. If there’s a section of the song that’s too quiet you just don’t want to whack a compressor to bring down the louder sections. Instead you can just automate up that whole section and that’s going to sound way more natural and again more musical than just over compressing it and really clamping down on it.

Mistake number 6 is ignoring genres. Every genre is pretty much the same when it comes to mixing, right? No, of course not you need to approach every genre in a different way, especially with compression more so arguably than any of at all because if you take something like jazz or classical or acoustic music you’re going to be using little to no compression. But take something like rock, heavy rock, hardcore music you’re going to be using loads of compression to get that characteristic sound of energy and aggression.

So, you need to think about those genres and need to think about how compression sounds in that genre. If you struggling with that use reference tracks listen to a track in that genre, listen to how much compression is applied, and then apply that to your own mix.

Mistake number 7 is not having an intention. You don’t want to just load up a compressor the bass, the kick, the vocal, the guitar everything because you feel you have to. Instead you want to actually have an intention, so you’re working with the bass you’re trying to get it to sit right in the mix and you find it doesn’t quite sit right it’s all over the place. Well, it needs to be more dynamically consistent then and you’d load up a compressor.

The intention to come first, same with vocal, you could say this vocal sounds kind of dull. It’s actually dynamically consistent. I’ve automated it. It’s sitting well in the mix, but it sounds kind of boring. Well, there’s your intention you’re going to use a compressor to bring out the excitement and aggression of that vocal, but you need to have the intention first.

Mistake number 8 is ignoring stock plug-ins, because the stock compressors in your door in many ways are better than a lot of the premium compressors out there. When it comes to compression lot of the plug-ins model older analog compressors and this sound great, they often have a certain character to them but the downside to that is you end up with 10 different plug-ins and in the heat of a mix you have to decide which plug-in you’re going to use.

It’s kind of looking backwards. Surely we should look to these versatile workhorse compressors like FabFilter they make a great compressor, but your stock compressor is exactly the same. Most stock compressors in a door have a wide range of attack times, release times you can do anything with them. So, get really good at using your stock compressors first before you even think about buying premium plug-ins and getting to know them.

And that leads nicely onto mistake number 9 which is having too many plug-ins, having overwhelmed because you’ve just got so many compression plug-ins, loads of different analog modeling plug-ins that every time in the mix – in the heat of the mix you have to make a decision which plug-in am I going to use, and every time you buy a new plug-in you’re wasting money, you’re wasting time on learning it, and you’re never going to truly learn it because you don’t have time to learn 10 different compressor plug-ins.

So, you kind of know a bit about each of them, but you don’t truly understand, and you can truly use any of those plug-ins. Whereas if you just have one go-to compressor like your stock compressor or a compressor that’s versatile you get to really know it and you can get a range of tones out of it, you only have one decision to make when you’re using compression just load up your go-to compressor and you don’t have that deliberation in the heat of the mix because every second in that mix is vital.

And then, mistake number 10 just to reiterate that is sticking to analog compressors, because if you’re at that point now where you’ve got 5 different compressors from different manufacturers or you’re even before that point and you’re thinking about buying plug-ins I recommend looking out there for really versatile compressors like the FabFilter compressor and taking the time to just learn one rather than feeling like you have to buy or you have to stick to all these analog compressors that you already own.

So, that’s it from me. Make sure you download the free cheat sheet, because inside that recapped these mistakes, I also gave you more tips for approaching compression, it includes my go-to settings and all of that is going to help you to get compression right every single time. It’s going to remove that confusion and frustration around compression, so that you can focus on the music and start using compression to improve your mixing, and start to make them sound more radio ready and professional. So, there’s a link in the description. It’s completely free go and enter your details to grab that. I’m Rob from musicianonamission.com and I’ll see you next time.

 

Audio professional, musician and founder of Musician on a Mission.

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