Music Production – Enhancing Actor Stature

Last week I developed a somewhat strained audio production metaphor, which likened the stereo soundfield to a stage, with the individual sounds/instruments being the actors thereon. The first thing a director/producer needs to do is decide which actors to use, then to place them on stage. However, if an actor isn’t imposing enough, there are ways to make him stand taller…

Learn Production Rules, Then Do What Sounds Right

As previously mentioned, the fewer sounds you have ‘on stage’, the more you can expand them. As you add more actors, the more overlap you’ll have, and the more control you need to apply so that the overall mix still sits coherently.

Once you have grasped the basic rules that govern how sounds interact with one another, you can then proceed to break them as you see fit, but it’s important to know what you’re breaking, and why.

Compressing For Expression

Compression is used primarily for controlling peaks. If a track has several peaks that rise above the body of the sound, you can reduce these peaks with a compressor. This creates extra headroom, so you can then raise the overall loudness of the track if required.

Headroom is the space between your highest peaks and 0 dBFS. Generally speaking, the closer your average level (RMS volume) is to 0 dBFS, the louder the track will sound.

There are other factors which determine how ‘loud’ we perceive a sound to be; the area of psychoacousics comes into play here. Because human ears are a non-linear device, they respond to different frequencies in different ways – as can be seen from the Fletcher-Munson curves. Taking this one step further, each person’s ears are slightly different, and the shape of your ears can also affect how you perceive sounds.

You can read more about using a compressor in this post, but it’s worth pointing out that you should only use a compressor if you feel it’s necessary, not just for the sake of it.

A compressor is very good for smoothing out irregularities in a performance, if you want a tightly controlled sound. Bass guitar generally benefits from compression, as you probably want to keep all the notes at around the same level. If there are a few notes that leap out above the others, then a compressor can be used to bring them down.


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