7 Compression Techniques For Mix Engineers
How many compression techniques do you know? Many use compressors aimlessly, some know their favourites like the back of their hand. Here are some professional engineering techniques for compression that you can add to your toolbox - take a look and see if you know them, or more importantly, let us all know what may have been missed.
1. Driven Ratio For Bass
A compression technique commonly used for basslines is to max out the compressions ratio when compressing the bass. Since the purpose of a compressor is dynamic balance, what maxing out the ratio does is make your bass notes consistent to each other throughout the song, resulting in a more solid bassline - give it a try.
2. 1176 & LA-10 Vocal Compression
Applying multiple compressors for techniques is not uncommon. If you use an 1176 compressor (Logic Pro’s black and orange FET compressor) on a vocal with around 6dB of compression, a heavy ratio setting, fast attack and medium release, feed that through an LA-10 compressor (Logic Pro’s white Opto compressor at the end) with a relatively low ratio and no more than 2dB of subtle compression - it can smooth out the vocal while adding crisp. This can be done with hardware such as the 1176 warm audio compressor and the LA-10 Optimization compressor or software - the same will work.
3. In & Out, 10 & 2
When you go to use your digital compressor, ensure a healthy signal is fed into it by setting the input knob at -10dB (10 o’clock) and the output knob at +10dB (2 o’clock). What this does is ensure the signal coming in goes easier on the input amplifier and sets the output back to neutral. You’ll find the settings have to be pushed harder, however this technique benefits the sound being compressed with helping the compressor function smoother with lower levels fed into it.
4. Duplicate Compression
Don’t be afraid to get creative. You could duplicate a sound that’s lacking in something you can’t seem to solve and apply a compressor to achieve it. A snare, for example, that lacks snap or punch and can’t be solved with other tools - duplicate the snare and apply heavy compression to it with a very high ratio, say around 10.1 and have it playing quieter on top of the original snare.
5. Attack & Release, Forward & Back
The attack and release knobs on a compressor serve more than just the compressors needle. The attack and release can also be used for depth and separation. A high/slow attack with a low/fast release will bring the sound forward in the mix, and vice versa a low/fast attack with a high/slow release will push a sound back into the mix. Keep this in mind when using compression on instruments and playing with the attack and release - consider where in the stereo field the sound belongs.
6. Parallel Compression For Attitude
Parallel compression is a classic technique originating from New York, used to place emphasis on the quieter passages of a song. If you need to give a sound some attitude, try these settings on your AUX compressor: set a high ratio between 5 and 9 dB, set the attack to 50 ms with the threshold brought down so that it’s in a constant state of compression with only the quietest bits passing through without triggering the compressors needle. You’re looking for aggressive compression for real attitude so keep that in mind when setting the release accordingly.
7. Parallel Compression For Transparency
Another parallel compression technique to maintain naturalness and transparency in a sound is as follows: heavy ratio from 5 to 9, attack set at 5ms, release at 2 seconds with the threshold brought down so that it’s in a non-stop state of compression, the needle never fully coming back down. This disguises the compression - compressing a sound so that it doesn’t sound compressed - hence parallel compression for transparency.
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