Here are 5 of the top compression mistakes that I've come across over the years.
by, 07-25-2012 at 10:21 PM (3084 Views)
I had posted this in july's digital cup comp and had a few say that i should post this as a blog post. There were a few that had said that they had learned some things from this post on compression so here it is. Here are 5 of the top compression mistakes that I've come across over the years. If your guilty of any (or all) of these don't worry I am too.
1. Waiting until the end of the mix to add compression to the mix bus.
This is the easiest way to unravel a great mix. If you want to compress the entire mix (which is totally fine to do), make sure you add the compressor to your mix bus EARLY in the process.
Then make all your mix decisions while listening to the mix THROUGH that compressor.
2. Using compression instead of automation to bring out quieter parts in a lead vocal.
Doing this WILL make everything the same volume, but it can sound super squashed.
3. Compressing each piece of the drum kit BEFORE adding compression to the drum bus.
This is similar to number 1. If your drums tend to sound too compressed, try compressing the drum bus FIRST, then decide if you need a little more compression on individual tracks.
Sometimes the bus compressor makes individual compressors unnecessary.
4. Not using an “aggressive” compression setting — even though it sounds good — because you think it’s “wrong.”
I oftentimes squash the crap out of bass tracks. Why? Because it sounds good in my mixes.
If it sounds good, you’re doing it right.
5. Using too much make-up gain, so the compressed signal is always louder than the uncompressed signal.
I like to be able to bypass the compressor and hear the track at the same volume. If the compressed signal is louder, it will sound “better” to me, even if it actually sounds worse.
Make ‘em the same level, and you’ll be able to tell if the compressor is helping or hurting.
Hey, compression is one of those things I couldn’t figure out on my own. I needed someone to teach it to me, THEN things got really fun (really fast).
I always WORK BACKWARDS.
Most people have a particular order they use for compression.
Let’s use drums as an example.
First they’ll use compression on the individual tracks. Kick, snare, maybe toms. They’ll probably squash the room mic, too.
Next, they’ll compress the drum bus. (Route all the the drums to a stereo bus or aux and add a compressor plugin to that bus.)
Then they’ll compress their entire mix by putting a compressor on the master bus.
So let’s follow our friend, Mr. Snare Drum, on his journey, shall we?(this would be your crash cymbal)
First he runs through his individual compressor and gets squashed pretty heavily. Next he goes through the drum bus compressor, where more squashing happens. Then, if he’s got any strength left, he runs through the mix bus compressor.
Poor little guy. He never had a chance.
If I feel like I’ve over-compressed a track, it’s usually because I haven’t worked backwards.
Rather than starting with the track, start with the mix bus. If you’re going to compress the mix anyway, do it at the beginning.
Next, compress the drum bus. You may find that simply compressing the drum bus gives you the EXACT snare drum sound you want.
You’d never know that if you compressed the snare track first.
So there you have it. Work backwards.
This works for anything, not just drums. Sometimes I find the lead vocal gets compressed quite a bit at the mix bus compressor, which causes me to use less compression on the vocal itself.
Of course, knowing the right order to use compression is helpful, but only if you know how to set up the compressor.
Listen Before You Compress
I know this seems like an obvious piece of advice, but do you really listen to a track before slapping a compressor on it? I admit, I’m guilty of this. I just assume the track needs compression before I really critically listen to it.
Your goal should be to make the music sound as amazing as possible with as little compression as possible. Do I think you shouldn’t use compression at all? No way! The problem, though, is that unnecessary compression can create a whole bucket of new problems for your mix. Rather than making things harder for yourself, listen to the track first, then decide what changes need to be made to make it sit better in the mix.
Only then should you reach for a compressor, and even then, you should have a very specific goal in mind for what you want to accomplish sonically with that compressor. For example, you may want to bring out the attack of a kick drum part. Or maybe you want to tame some of the louder bass notes.
What I Do
With that said, there are a handful of tracks I almost always compress. Kick drum, snare, bass, and lead vocals usually get some compression. However, it really depends on how the parts were tracked.
Things I don’t like to compress? Percussion, acoustic instruments, mandolin, piano, cymbals, pads, ect. That’s not to say I won’t compress them if they need it, but I find that compression on an acoustic instrument can change the tone WAY too much. A piano, for example, has so much harmonic content. When you compress a piano track, these harmonic frequencies get louder, potentially making it sound a bit unnatural.
Just like everything with mixing, use your ears. Know what you want it to sound like, and work hard to get it to sound that way.