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Using compressors and dynamic processors

From: Ableton Live 8 Essential Training

Video: 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.

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.

Show transcript

This video is part of

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Ableton Live 8 Essential Training

69 video lessons · 16956 viewers

Rick Schmunk
Author

 
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  1. 1m 30s
    1. Welcome
      49s
    2. Using the exercise files
      41s
  2. 8m 43s
    1. What is a digital audio workstation?
      4m 13s
    2. Choosing the right gear and setting up a system
      4m 30s
  3. 12m 59s
    1. Setting up audio preferences
      3m 54s
    2. Setting up MIDI preferences
      3m 31s
    3. Optimizing performance
      5m 34s
  4. 35m 42s
    1. Understanding Session view
      8m 7s
    2. Working with Live browsers
      5m 3s
    3. Working with Live clips
      7m 57s
    4. Understanding clip properties
      7m 52s
    5. Working with Live scenes
      6m 43s
  5. 28m 16s
    1. Building Live Sets and projects
      4m 25s
    2. Learning Live file management
      4m 2s
    3. Exporting content from Live
      7m 32s
    4. Importing and exporting Live Packs
      3m 17s
    5. Searching for and auditioning clips
      4m 58s
    6. Setting up frequently accessed folders
      4m 2s
  6. 23m 3s
    1. Preparing to record MIDI
      5m 51s
    2. Recording and overdubbing MIDI
      4m 32s
    3. Working with alternate MIDI entry methods
      6m 49s
    4. Using multi-output virtual instruments
      5m 51s
  7. 24m 26s
    1. The MIDI Editor
      4m 49s
    2. Quantizing MIDI data
      6m 6s
    3. Advanced MIDI editing
      6m 49s
    4. Setting up groove in editing
      6m 42s
  8. 9m 18s
    1. Preparing to record
      5m 0s
    2. Recording audio
      4m 18s
  9. 22m 37s
    1. Understanding Arrangement view
      3m 41s
    2. Recording in Arrangement view
      3m 51s
    3. Recording from Session view to Arrangement view
      5m 21s
    4. Reworking clips
      9m 44s
  10. 27m 57s
    1. Understanding Live's mixer
      12m 38s
    2. Using sends and returns
      3m 47s
    3. Building headphone cues
      3m 49s
    4. Grouping tracks
      7m 43s
  11. 43m 14s
    1. Working with effect devices
      4m 56s
    2. Understanding EQ and filters
      7m 14s
    3. Using compressors and dynamic processors
      7m 28s
    4. Building interesting effects with delay effect processing
      8m 18s
    5. Using reverb effectively
      8m 22s
    6. Setting up side chain effects easily
      6m 56s
  12. 15m 37s
    1. Creating rhythmic patterns with the Arpeggiator effect
      8m 38s
    2. Building background parts with the Chord and Scale effects
      6m 59s
  13. 25m 24s
    1. Building automation patterns
      8m 44s
    2. Editing existing automation information
      5m 3s
    3. Using fades to mask audio pops and clicks
      4m 10s
    4. Understanding the power of clip envelopes
      7m 27s
  14. 20m 17s
    1. Understanding the basics of looping
      6m 54s
    2. Creating tracks that loop smoothly
      7m 50s
    3. Using warp features to quantize audio
      5m 33s
  15. 17m 47s
    1. Using the computer keyboard to control Live
      6m 39s
    2. Mapping device controls to the MIDI keyboard
      4m 36s
    3. Using Live's instant mapping feature
      6m 32s
  16. 10m 44s
    1. Exporting audio
      5m 37s
    2. Freezing tracks
      5m 7s
  17. 20m 45s
    1. Building with the Impulse virtual instrument
      11m 35s
    2. Working with the Simpler virtual instrument
      9m 10s
  18. 36m 22s
    1. Overview of Live racks
      10m 13s
    2. Combining instruments and effects into a single device
      8m 22s
    3. Adding effects with Drum Rack
      11m 28s
    4. Assigning rack parameters to macros
      6m 19s
  19. 13m 53s
    1. Setting up ReWire with Pro Tools
      7m 3s
    2. Setting up ReWire with Logic
      6m 50s
  20. 33m 43s
    1. Preparing audio clips with the Warp tool
      14m 31s
    2. Triggering clips using follow actions
      8m 9s
    3. Using Live as a sound source
      11m 3s
  21. 7m 21s
    1. Working with video files
      7m 21s
  22. 37s
    1. Further Recommendations
      37s

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