Why Use Compression Anyway?

compression

Compression destroys a lot of mixes but everyone loves to discuss just how amazing it is. So why is it held with such high regard? Should we be using it in our mixes?

Everyone loves to talk about how awesome compression is, but it’s also ruined so many mixes. So what’s the deal with compression? Should you be using it in your mixes? If so, why? And how?

Following an article I wrote on equalization, today I want to share the simple truth about compression.

Automatic Gain Fader

Compression was first developed to keep things from exploding. Well more than that it was used to make sure that electronic equipment wasn’t being overloaded. On the hole, music is very duynamic, from the snares, to the vocals, to the guitars. These can all be very quiet and then become very loud at a moments notice.
more on dynamic range compression here.

So before compression was invented, the engineer had to control all of these peaks by hand by using the volume fader and riding it as it went to tape.
Eventually someone wise up and decided that this was something that needed to be automated. How much easier our lives became after that point. No more need to ride the fader (unless you want to of course).

I personally believe that this is the best way to control volume dynamics – with compression. With little bits of compression here and there you can control the peaks and valleys of your audio for a much more pleasing experience for the listener.

Give Me Some More Energy

Compression is also a great way to add more life to a tack. By setting the compressor up with a slow attack, you can bring the quetier parts up and the louder parts down, all without destroying the front end of the audio – or the transients.

This is a little trick that can be very effective on vocals or acoustic guitars. By having the peaks and values closer to one another, you are bringing out more excitement in the audio sigle. This of course results in a much more exciting song.

More Length and More Awesomeness

Did you know that a compressor can have a sonic footprint that will impart a certain characteristic to your audio?

Basically they are instant tone machines. That’s why 3 different compressors can actually give your vocal a much different sound.

They also can be used to lengthen sustain of a sound. By using a fast attack to remove some of the transient and then turn the make up gain control up so you can effectively lengthen the audio.

Don’t Go Too Crazy

Just like with equalization, the compressor should be used sparingly and only as needed in your mixes. Remember we are trying to enhance the record and not butcher it. You need to develop your ear so that you can hear when and when not to use it, but with time you should be a master compressor user.

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