Last updated on January 30, 2018 by Rob Mayzes

Compression is hard.

Even after you understand how it works… what’s it even for?!

In this video, you’re going to learn the only two reasons why you need a compressor.

Get a firm grasp of these two reasons, and compression will be easy. You’ll be well on your way to pro mixes.

So, if you want to learn when to use compression, keep watching because in this compression tutorial you’re going to learn when to use a compressor so you can start making mixes that sound professional and clear.

 

Compression is hard, even after you understand how it works.

What’s it actually for?

What is the point of compression?

Well, in this video you’re going to learn the only two reasons you need a compressor. Get these two reasons down and compression will be easy and you’ll be well on your way to pro mixes.

After mixing for over 12 years I can tell you that mastering compression is no small feat, but if you want your vocals to sound like this using technique number 1.

Or you want your snare to sound like this using technique number 2.

Keep watching.

Rob here from a musicianonamission.com and before we dive into those two reasons I just want to tell you about the compression cheat sheet. It’s been downloaded by over 6,000 people so far. If you want to master compression fast so you can enjoy mixing and start producing professional radio ready mixes head to the link in the description below or the link you see on the video now.

So, here are the only two reasons you need compression.

Number 1 to control dynamics and number 2 to control tone.

Don’t just use compression on every track for the sake of it. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but you need to have an intention when you’re mixing and using these two reasons as a guideline are you trying to shape the tone or you’re just trying to control the dynamics that gives an intention. So, it’s easy to adjust the settings and get the end result that you want.

Having no intention while mixing is like walking around with your eyes closed. Who knows where you’ll end up?

Forget everything you know about compression. Let’s keep it simple, because although compression itself as a tool is pretty complex its applications are simple.

So, let’s kick off with application number 1 controlling dynamics.

So, here I’ve got a mix that’s pretty much finished. I just need to compress the vocal. I’ve removed all the compression and we’re going to start from the scratch there.

So, all I’ve got is some EQ. I’m just notching out some room resonances. Doing a bit of tonal shaping here, tiny bit of saturation just to enhance the top-end, and finally a tiny bit of room reverb as well.

So, what we need to do is compress it.

Now, the lead vocal itself is already been automated heavily to make sure that the volume is very consistent and this is really important if you’re working with mainstream genres as well as sitting down to do this even if you just automate whole phrases just look for any words that are too loud or too quiet automate those.

And then, of course the signal coming out of here; you can see it’s going to the lead vocals buss which is coming in here.

So, now we’re going to add compression on this channel, because this has been automated then it’s coming to this channel.

So, coming in here we’ve already got a consistent signal and that’s really important especially for vocals.

So, now we’re ready to add some compression.

Now, the first way we’re going to use compression to control the levels is going to be the main reason that you’re using compression in your mixes, especially when you start out.

That’s what a compressor does it’s the smart volume control. We just wanted to turn down the words and the syllables that are too loud and then we’re going to bring up the whole thing so that the quieter parts are louder now in comparison.

So, what we’re doing compressing the loudest peaks bringing everything up.

So, to do that on a vocal let’s say we just want to make the whole thing more consistent. We don’t want to trim off the loudest words. We just want to have a constant compressor working at it, working away bringing down the quiet parts brining up the loud parts.

Well, that’s easy to do. Now we know what we want to achieve.

We want a lower ratio, because we want it to be kind of constantly engaging. If we just wanted to cut the loudest peaks we could use a higher ratio but instead we’re going to use low one. We’re just going to stick to the default attack and release time for now.

Let me just adjust the threshold until I’m seeing the desired gain reduction.

On a vocal like this probably you want to keep it below minus 5 dB I’m setting around 3 or 4.

So, now that we’ve clamped down a bit we want to add some makeup gain so that the signal coming out is the same.

It’s bypass effects, so I’ll make this clearer.

So, we’re not having huge impacts. We’re just leveling out the vocal a bit bringing down those louder parts.

And that’s how you’ll start compression. If you find a vocal, a guitar something just isn’t sitting in right in the mix. One minute you want to turn it up the next second you want to turn it down. You’re fighting with the volume fader just to apply some compression so it sits in its place in the mix and doesn’t move around too much.

With the vocals this is especially important, because we want the vocal to sit on top of the mix all the time. So, it needs to be really consistent in terms of volume.

And another really obvious use-case here is on the low-end parts, on the kick and the bass we want to provide a solid foundation to the track so we want a constant level of volume. Essentially we want every hit to be basically the same.

So, on this kick here if I load up my compressor, this would be before compression.

Now, let’s bring that compressor in.

I’ve a similar thing going on with the bass here. Let’s have a listen to that.

So, I’m applying quite a lot of compression minus 7 dB and on the low-end parts that’s important because we do want this solid foundation.

So, now let’s talk about tone and how we can use a compressor not just to control the volume and make things more consistent, so actually change the way things sound as well.

So, I’m going to go back to the vocal here for our example and let’s load up our compressor, let’s solo this just so it’s really easy for you to hear, and what I’m going to do is apply a lot of compression. So, we’re going to try and get around 10 dB of gain reduction.

And then, I’m just going to show you before and after so you can hear how the tone changes even at the same volume.

Without.

So, you can hear how it’s adding in lot more aggression to the voice, it’s changing the way that the vocalist is singing it. It sounds like they’re spitting the words out.

Now, that’s because we’ve got a slow attack time. So, down here you’ll see the attack is about 15 milliseconds. If we had a fast attack time let’s say 0.5 milliseconds it’s going to be a very different story. Listen to this.

Now, it sounds thicker and heavier. Almost sounds like the vocalist is singing more from the throat. This is without.

Whereas if we use a slow attack time so let’s just go all the way to the other extreme. Listen to now how the vocalist is spitting the words out.

That’s slow attack.

Slow.

Fast.

So, this is how we shape tone with compression. It really comes down to the attack time.

The release time is important too. If your compressor has an auto-control I recommend you use that just leave it on auto that’s absolutely fine, but play around with the attack time because this is where we start to hear this difference.

I highly recommend you give preference to slow attack times. When you’re using fast attack times and a lot of compression it’s much easier to over compress things and make them sound flat because that’s what you’re doing you’re squashing the transients and you’re mixing the sound flat as a pancake.

If you’re going to use a fast attack time to make things sound thicker and heavier make sure you know what you’re doing.

Now of course in most cases you can’t help but do both, and here even though I’m shaping the tone with the compressor I’m also of course controlling the dynamics.

A compressor naturally does both, but if you have a primary objective that’s going to help you to dial-in the setting you want. If you load up a vocal or anything it sounds a bit dull and boring. So, you add some compression with a slow attack time to make it more aggressive and exciting that gives you guidance and makes it easier to adjust the settings to find what you want.

Equally let’s say you’ve got a bass guitar and you just wanted to provide that solid foundation you’re going to dial-in enough compression to get that foundation and get that level of consistency and these are the two reasons why we need compression.

And having a primary objective when you load up a compressor is going to help guide you through adjusting the settings.

So, they are the only two reasons you need compression.

But you might still be wondering how do I actually use a compressor?

What are the different parameters?

What settings should I be using?

How much compression should I be applying?

All of those questions are answered in the compression cheat sheet. It’s completely free.

As I said, it’s downloaded by over 6,000 people, so 6,000 people have downloaded this used it while mixing to improve their mixes.

I want you to do the same thing, so your mixing can sound professional and radio ready.

There’s a link in the description below or there’s a link on the screen now.

And now, I want to hear from you leave a comment below and tell me which application you use most.

Do you generally find yourself using compression to control dynamics or do you generally find yourself using compression more to control tone?

Obviously it’s going to be both I’m interested to see which you do more.

So, that’s all from me.

I’m Rob from a musicianonamission.com and remember create regardless.

 

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

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