Using compressors and dynamic processors
Video: Using compressors and dynamic processorsIn this video, we will learn about compressors and other dynamic processors, become familiar with their parameters, and discuss when and how to use them. As a group, dynamic processors are devices that change the dynamic range of a signal, and they include a number of different devices, like compressors, limiters, expanders, and gates. We might use them to reduce the dynamic range of a signal that would otherwise be too big to capture; we might narrow the dynamic range of a signal so that fits in a mix better, like a vocal for instance; or even out the attacks of rhythm guitarist or bassist.
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Ableton Live 8 Essential Training with Rick Schmunk offers a comprehensive overview of Ableton's live audio and MIDI sequencing software and the techniques required to compose, record, and edit music, in real time, on stage, or in the studio. The course includes tutorials on compiling live sets from audio and MIDI clips, loops, or samples, applying MIDI effects, warping audio, and recording and producing songs in any number of contemporary styles. Exercise files are included with the course.
- Putting together a DAW system
- Setting up Ableton preferences
- Importing and exporting content
- Recording MIDI
- Editing and quantizing MIDI data
- Recording audio
- Recording in Arrangement view
- Using sends and returns in the Live Mixer
- Grouping tracks
- Signal processing
- Creating and editing automation envelopes
- Using fades to mask audio pops and clicks
- Looping and warping audio clips
- Mapping device controls to a MIDI keyboard
- Working with virtual instruments
- Integrating Live with Pro Tools and Logic
Using compressors and dynamic processors
In this video, we will learn about compressors and other dynamic processors, become familiar with their parameters, and discuss when and how to use them. As a group, dynamic processors are devices that change the dynamic range of a signal, and they include a number of different devices, like compressors, limiters, expanders, and gates. We might use them to reduce the dynamic range of a signal that would otherwise be too big to capture; we might narrow the dynamic range of a signal so that fits in a mix better, like a vocal for instance; or even out the attacks of rhythm guitarist or bassist.
So let's add a compressor to the kick drum track here. Let me go in the Live Device browser and find the compressor. I am going to drag that on to the kick track and drop that after the EQ. So the line here in the middle of this graph display shows us what's happening to the signal as it passes through the compressor. When the line goes from the lower left-hand corner straight up to the upper right-hand corner, nothing is happening. So the first thing that we would do would be to determine where to put the threshold. And the threshold determines when the compressor will actually start working.
When the signal is below the threshold, nothing is happening. When it goes above the threshold, that's when the compressor kicks in. So I am going to play the track, and I am going to set that threshold point. (Drums playing.) Okay, and as I move the threshold down, you heard some of the soft sounds in the kick track actually get picked up, and they are little bit louder now.
That's part of what happens with the compressor. Even though it's kind of pushing down on the top of the signal, in the end, we are actually going to make the overall signal louder. So after I set the threshold, I will set the ratio. And the ratio determines how much compression is actually going to happen. So if you think of the ratio as, on the left-hand side, the input, and the right-hand side, the output, it will help you to understand what it's doing. So a ratio of 2:1 says that after I cross the threshold for every 2dBs that I pass the threshold, I'll only output 1.
So if I go over the threshold by 10 decibels, I'll actually only output an additional 5 decibels. A ratio of anywhere in the 1:1 up to 3:1, that's kind of a modest amount of compression; 3:1 up into the 6:1 range, that's kind of a medium amount; and then anything over 7 up into the 10 range is actually getting into quite a bit of compression. So with a kick drum like this, I might start somewhere in the 3, upwards of maybe 5:1 ratio. Let's give that a shot. (Drums playing.) Okay. I like what I'm starting to get at that point.
After the ratio, I would move to the attack and release times and adjust them. Now initially, I would suggest that you start with longer attack times and shorter release times. And part of the reason why is that with really short attack times, you're actually going to wipe out a lot of the high-frequency content that's contained within a particular sound, because a lot of the high frequencies are around that attack. And if we lose those, a lot of times you end up with a very muffled, lackluster sound. And so it's best to start with them a little bit longer and then dial those into taste.
And it's also different with different instruments. On a snare drum or kick drum, they have pretty fast attacks, and so around one millisecond is probably going to work. But with other instruments that have longer attacks, that could actually really have an adverse effect. So let's work with that attack time. (Drums playing.) So hopefully you heard that as I dialed the attack time down to zero, we actually started to lose a lot of the punch on that. And as soon as I got that little bit over one millisecond, it really started to sound a lot better.
Now the last thing that I would take a look at with a compressor is, as I use it to compress the signal, I am actually going to lose gain. And our purpose is not to actually make the signals softer, but to make the average level in a tighter dynamic range, and that's going to help us to fit it into the track. And so one of the last things we do is set the output level. Now Live has a nice setting here where you can actually do that automatically by clicking this Makeup switch, and then you can dial in fine adjustments using this slider right here.
So one of the things that I'll do is play the track, and I will click the activator switch on the plug-in to actually bypass it, so that I can kind of compare the overall levels. (Drums playing.) Okay. And I was just touching up on the Ratio just a little bit there. I was hearing a little bit of decay was being lifted up in kind of a negative way that might add to that mix.
So that's a compressor. Another device that we might use that's a similar device, and that's referred to as limiter. And a limiter is actually a kind of compressor that uses heavy compression. And you might use a limiter in live sound to protect your speakers, but in mixing and mastering, limiters are more often used to increase the overall loudness of a mix by reducing the overall dynamic range. And so oftentimes, we will put a limiter actually on your master track. So let me grab that, drop that over here on the master track.
Now, we can see that we have fewer parameters to deal with here. So the Gain knob actually boosts the level before limiting occurs, and then our ceiling amount sets a point at which the level of the signal can't get any louder. And then last but not least, the Stereo setting actually determines whether or not the limiter is being applied to the left and right together, or separately. And I would suggest in most cases, you're going to want to actually apply it to both channels simultaneously because if you don't do that and you have a lot more signal on one side and you compress only that side, you can actually end up skewing the stereo image.
So let's give this a listen, and I am going to kind of boost the gain and set my ceiling level so that get the overall sound that I'm looking for. (Drums playing.) So you can hear how I am overall getting a higher average of signal level, but at the same time I was actually looking over here at the fader on my master track, and it was always peaking just below that 0 level.
So I was down there at that -0.94 level. So dynamic processors, like compressors and limiters, are complicated devices and often misused. Practice using them to get familiar with what they can do and how the results sound.
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