Slowing Down The Compression Curve

The two most common tools used when mixing – at least, those most likely to be used in any given project – are EQ and compression. It’s easy to overdo either of these, but the benefits can be significant…

Squashing the Feel

Looking at compressors in particular, even without getting into arguments about the loudness wars, it’s easy to squeeze the life out of a mix by overdoing the compression settings.

The first victim is often the transients – the early snap of a snare drum, the ping of a guitar strum – which can be an essential part of the rhythm and feel of a recording. When using compression, you need to preserve the dynamics as much as possible, whilst reining in some of the more volatile surges that disrupt the flow of the sound. In essence, the compressor could be thought of as an engineer with their finger on the mix fader – with extraordinarily fast reaction times – who pushes the level up and down slightly in response to the music.

In practical terms, preserving transients can be achieved by slowing down the attack setting on the compressor – the exact setting will depend on the recording, but if you set it to come in just after the initial surge of the instrument, you can control the body of the sound without losing the liveliness of the beat.

It’s about the Process

There are plenty of general tips that apply to both EQ and compression (or indeed any sort of post-processing) and are worth bearing in mind here; for example, don’t listen to your mix too loud, as this can distort your perception of the overall sound. Keep the monitors at a relatively low level for most of your work – and occasionally listen back at a barely audible level (or occasionally crank it up) just to make sure you’ve calibrated correctly.

Another thing to watch for is applying too much processing with a particular track on solo – it might be OK to occasionally solo a track to get a sense of what it’s doing, but ultimately everything needs to work in the context of the overall mix, so that’s where most of your processing should take place.

For some more observations, the pro audio files has listed a number of useful tips for compression here


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