Another 'tips' post today and the topic is Compression.
In this day and age, if you produce dance music then there really isn't any need for external compressors. Yes, you can get a great sound by using hardware compressors, however, you can also get great results using software compressors, which is far easier. Software has come a long way, so if you aren't familiar with how to operate hardware compressors then don't worry about it.
Here are some tips when it comes to using compression in your productions.
· Rule number 1; Do not be compression a whore. Don’t just stack compressors on your track for the sake of stacking compressors. Does your kick really need more compression? Do you know why you are adding that third compressor to your bass line? Try to understand WHY something needs compression and HOW your compressor is affecting the sound.
· Compression is good, but dynamics are also good. Retain some dynamics! So do not completely squash the hell out of your track, unless of course that is the practice. Seems to me these days a lot of dubstep for example, or ‘EDM’ / Bigroom Etc. are completely squashed with absolutely no dynamic range. You want some sort of depth to your track and not just a huge wall of sound. ‘But but but I like that wall of sound!!!’…… That is fine. Disregard what I just said and completely squash your track, it is your music, do whatever the fuck you want :)
· Keep in mind a lot of good quality kick sample packs out there are ALREADY PROCESSED. Don’t just throw a compressor on your kick if it has already been done, you are eating up CPU and over compressing an already compressed sample. A lot of the time people put on a compressor, hear that it is louder and think….oh yeah that is great. STOP! Just use your volume fader. Louder is not always better. If you are going to compress your kick then allow a slower attack time, which allows the transient of the kick to come through without being squashed.
· Use Parallel compression to get a good balance between your dry signal and compressed signal. You can get great results without overdoing the compression. Great for your drum buss or even bass.
Great for vocals. Compress one vocal channel heavily and automate between the dry and compressed signals, listen how the vocal really breathes. With regards to drums, I often blend a dry signal and compressed signal together. Getting a balance between the compressed signal and a dry signal is a great way to make something cut through the mix.
· Before you start laying down compressors it is a good idea to understand how it is going to make your mix better. If it isn’t ENHANCING your mix, do you really need it?
· You can get some results by using inbuilt compressors on VST’s. For me I like to turn these off and compress on my inserts. Find what works for you. I rarely use compressors within VST plugins.
· Do not have a huge collection of compressors if you are not entirely sure how they work. This will only confuse you. Instead just use two or three and learn them well. I tend to use one particular compressor for my groups and one for single inserts.
· DO NOT KILL TRANSIENTS. Be very careful when it comes to attack times. Having the wrong attack time can completely kill the transients of sounds. I mentioned this before with regard to the kick drum. Make sure your attack times are long enough to enable the transients pass through unaffected. This is especially true for short sounds such as drums. You can be a bit more lenient with times on synths.
· Serial compression used subtly can allow for a more transparent sound.
· You can easily be fooled into thinking louder is better. When more often than not, it isn’t. Just because your compressor is making the sound louder does not mean it is making it better, you have volume faders for volume. If the compressor adds to the sonic quality of the sound then use it, if it doesn't then get rid of it. Use a volume fader for volume and a compressor for a specific reason to craft the sound.
· Consider using transient enhancers to aid in boosting transients after compression.
· Don’t be afraid to use presets in your compression plug-ins. Very talented guys developed the presets. If you want to be one of these guys who refuse to use presets then just use them as a starting point and change them slightly to fit your needs.
· Be careful on ratio settings, this is essentially how severe the compression will be. I like to use low ratio on things like drums, e.g. 2:1. In honesty I rarely find myself going over 4:1 on anything. I prefer subtle changes. Find what works and remember there are no 'rules'.
· EQ’s change the way compressors work on the sound. Compressors generally react to the loudest part of the signal irrespective of the frequency. So if you use an EQ before your compressor and do some boosting or cutting, you will effectively alter how the compressor’s threshold reacts at different frequency points. This in turn makes the compressor less responsive to that frequency. For me I like to compress my sound before I EQ it, but a lot of people do it the other way around. There is no right or wrong way here. Remember the end result is all about how something sounds, not how that sound was achieved. We listen to music with our ears not our eyes. EQing after compression means you are simply changing the tonality of a compressed signal and you aren’t changing how the compressor is working on the signal.
· Use side-chain compression for the desired 'sucking' effect. This is not limited to side-chaining everything to the kick. Try side-chaining instruments to drum loops, or side-chaining percussion lines to other top lines. Or side-chaining your lead synth to your vocal. Get creative. Side-chaining to the kick is essential in creating space for the kick but experiment with the other forms of side-chaining.
· Try using a small ‘trigger’ for your side-chain compressor. What I used to do when I used a compressor as a side-chain is this: Create a duplicate of my kick but fade out the tail of the waveform so I was left with a really short click sound. Obviously mute this so it is just a trigger for your compressor (ghost kick). Doing this means that the attack of your side-chain trigger is identical to the kick drum of your track, therefore; whatever sound you want to duck will duck in unison with your kick drum. It will be triggered exactly when the kick hits. Fading out the rest of the kick means that the trigger will only be short so your ducking sound will not be kept compressed for the full length of your original kick drum. Doing this gives you room to work with the parameters on your compressor to really craft the side-chain. If you don’t shape or shorten the ghost kick waveform then your trigger for the side-chain will be too long and all you will get is a sustained compressed sound which then suddenly whooshes up toward the end of the kick drum. Experiment with different triggers, I know some producers who use a small little ‘click’ or percussion sound as their side-chain trigger.
Alternatively......just use a sidechain plugin like kickstart or LFO tool. Its far easier and more time efficient.
· Consider using multiple compressors to get your gain reduction. Using one compressor to have a large amount of gain reduction can give un-wanted results. I like to use subtle compression and only get a few dB of gain reduction. If you really do need more then implement serial compression or parallel compression. This is the reason some guys stack numerous compression on their master buss, because they don’t want one compressor doing all the work. Gentle compression over numerous plug-ins and at different stages is generally better than using one to smash it.
· Your mastering engineer (or you if you do it yourself) will appreciate a compressor NOT being on the master chain at mixing stage.
. Please be aware that compressors bring up low level NOISE just as easily as they bring up low level signals.
· I really like the Oxford Dynamics plug-in. You can utilize a compressor and a limiter all in one plug-in. This is really handy for things like synth lines when you are opening the filter cut-off and the sound can get louder. Use the compressor and limiter together to tame the peaks and reduce the dynamic range and help minimize fluctuations in volume.
Well there are some tips for using compressors. Compression is a very broad topic when it comes to producing music but hopefully this post gives you some things to think about.
What tips do you have when it comes to compression? Let us know in the comments.