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Compressing tracks

From: GarageBand '11 Essential Training

Video: Compressing tracks

Every track of audio you could record and indeed every one in this song we're working on has a dynamic range. The dynamic range of a given recorded track is a way of quantifying how soft the soft parts are and how loud the loud parts are. A simple way of describing it might be that if the softest note I played on the bass is at -4.0 dB and the loudest note I play is at +4.0 dB, then the bass part has a dynamic range of about 8 decibels. Audio compression seeks to reduce the dynamic range of a given track, compressing it at a defined ratio like 2:1 or 4:1.

Compressing tracks

Every track of audio you could record and indeed every one in this song we're working on has a dynamic range. The dynamic range of a given recorded track is a way of quantifying how soft the soft parts are and how loud the loud parts are. A simple way of describing it might be that if the softest note I played on the bass is at -4.0 dB and the loudest note I play is at +4.0 dB, then the bass part has a dynamic range of about 8 decibels. Audio compression seeks to reduce the dynamic range of a given track, compressing it at a defined ratio like 2:1 or 4:1.

Results are often that the softest things become louder and the loudest things become softer, sort of allowing you to raise the overall level of the entire part without having peaks that jump out over and start distorting. Compression raises the quiet stuff and turns down the loud stuff. The effect is often that the sound is tighter, brighter, maybe even slicker, and when some people say that something sounds very produced, one of the factors that is playing into that pro sound is the use of compression. Sometimes you want a lot of compression, for example, on drums, compression can really make them pop out and sometimes you just want a little bit of compression.

For instance, on an acoustic guitar part, you still want to maintain some of the natural ups and downs, the nuances of an acoustic guitar performance. But a little compression will bring up some of the finer sounds and make them audible, while reducing some of the booming or roundness of the sound. One thing to be sure of is you should always EQ a sound before compressing it. For some reason, GarageBand has your Effects channel set up so that the compressor comes before the EQ. I think that's because the Visual EQ that's positioned here is sort of considered to be something to help you fine-tune your overall sound of the channel after you've applied a lot of effects.

But I think it's a little bit misleading. There's no need to compress a bunch of low-end energy that you're just going to EQ out of your sound. If you have a sound that's producing a lot of low end and you compress it, you're using that bassy sound in the compression algorithm. And then maybe taking it back out again with EQ doesn't seem to make sense. So to me, the way I like to put it is let's create a sound that we would like that has no compression and no additional effects on it, using EQ if necessary, to modify what was recorded live.

And then if you want to compress the sound, go ahead and compress it. If you want to then do some EQing afterward, that's another discussion. So for me, I'm going to start listening to this vocal track and make sure that I like our EQ and then we'll deal with compression. Right now, I've got a little bit of a slope here, taking away some of the bassier parts of my voice and raising up some of the higher sounds to kind of open it up. Anything above 5K that you raise a little bit on vocal tends to make it sound clearer and brighter. So I'm just going to play it and watch the analyzer here a bit and make sure I like my EQ.

(Music playing) Now watch that middle part there. (Music playing) Don't want to go too far. (Music playing) Check the chorus. (Music playing) Okay, so that sort of takes a little bit of the wind out of the sails of these huge notes.

Obviously, there's a lot of energy there in that note, so it's going to be jumping out of the mix like crazy. So one of the ways you can tame something like that is by reducing that frequency range and sort of taking a little bit of the honk out of the middle of it, sort of reducing some of that overall energy that's pushing through. We'll also deal with it on a volume level when we talk about automation a few movies from now. But for the moment, we're pretty happy with that EQ adjustment. I might even bring it down and touch more on the vocal. So I'll just hear those big notes again with the band here.

(Music playing) So now that I have taken care of some of that what I would call offending frequency sort of in the middle of that sound, now I can bring my compression into the mix here and start to work with adding some compression to the sound to make these softer parts of the line a little bit louder and also tame the really loud notes at the end. So again, I'm sorry to subject you to these soloed vocal, but it's really sometimes the only way to do vocal editing and processing is really solo it out and listen to it.

So we're going to do it. (Music playing) We could actually almost hear it when the Threshold passed 16.5 dB; in other words, when this loud part happened. This is set to Fast, so the Attack was very quick where you could almost hear, it's like someone spun a volume knob to the left and sort of turned it down really quickly just a little bit. That's the compression kicking in.

So if you want to try to find a level of Attack that isn't noticeable, that still achieves the end you want. So let's listen to it again really fast just so you can hear on how it sort of jumps down. (Music playing) It's almost a moment right after that change where it comes out, where everything sort of jumps down a little bit. So I definitely want to try to smooth that out a little bit, see if it will help to move it there. (Music playing) It's sort of still here. I'm going to drop it a little more.

See how things are with the second line. (Music playing) So it's less noticeable, so I'm going to go with it like that. (Music playing) All right! Our Gain is fine. Ratio is pretty high. 8:1 is actually pretty darn high theoretically, but again, here I am attempting to mix with my brain and not my ears. How does it sound at 8? Does it sound overly compressed, or am I just thinking that 8 is too high? So let's just listen carefully and make sure the sound is what you're going for.

(Music playing) Okay. I'm not going to make you listen to that again and again. That's funny thing is when you're mixing, especially when you're Soloing out a line like this, you're often playing it repeatedly. And you sort of have to get into a headspace where it's not funny and annoying to listen to something over and over because you're actually trying to fine-tune that sound. So it's really helpful to hear something again and again when you're trying to work with something like that. Okay, so additionally, another effect that we have here is Bass Reduction.

It's sort of a way to cut out some of the extreme lows that aren't necessary in this vocal part. And the Frequency is currently set to 76, so this is sort of another-- Bass Reduction is a sort of preset EQ that at 76 Hz-- Remember, in the Visual EQ here somewhere, 76 is somewhere around here. That it's going to basically roll off everything underneath that, sort of removing some of the unwanted lowest frequencies. (Music playing) So it sort of just reduces some of the low-end energy there.

Now let's just take a look at the drum part as well. We've already got the Drum Limiter Compressor preset set here. (Music playing) So that's a preset I got from within the Compressor preset list, Drum Limiter. And that's a preset that actually maximizes the sound of the drums and doesn't allow them to peak out, so it might help us with getting a nice loud drum sound but keeping some of the clipping at bay.

(Music playing) All right, great! Finally, let's listen to the piano part. See what the Compressor is set to here. When we are working on our piano sound before, we set up a little bit of compression and in this one we mixed our own settings so we're not actually using one of the presets.

But I could just go ahead and choose one if I wanted to. There are some piano sounds that sound pretty good, Smooth and Piano Upfront. I'm going to go ahead and save the one that I previously saved here and switch to some of these other ones real quick, just to hear some of the presets. We'll loop the section with the Cycle region. (Music playing) That really smoothed it a lot. Too smooth. (Music playing) I made it jump a bit. Sounds pretty good.

Let's compare it to the one I made. (Music playing) I think the one I made up is a little bit stronger, sort of -- (Music playing) All right! That sounds pretty good. Again, I need to listen to it in the context of the whole mix to really know if it sounds good. I'm going to mute the vocal for a moment and just play the band back for the chorus.

(Music playing) All right! That sounds good. So I'm going to go ahead and tweak the compression to the rest of the tracks and you can open up the 09_05 exercise file for the next movie as we get into adding reverb and echo effects and see how your compression settings match with mine.

Neither are right or wrong, but it's always interesting to see what one person would do versus what someone else decides to do with compression and EQ both.

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This video is part of

Image for GarageBand '11 Essential Training
GarageBand '11 Essential Training

50 video lessons · 23380 viewers

Todd Howard
Author

 
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  1. 2m 17s
    1. Welcome
      1m 13s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 4s
  2. 23m 4s
    1. Connecting instruments, MIDI controllers, mics, audio interfaces, and speakers
      4m 24s
    2. Setting important Mac OS X and GarageBand preferences
      4m 32s
    3. Creating a project with tempo, time signature, and key
      4m 37s
    4. Creating a track
      9m 31s
  3. 25m 42s
    1. Exploring Real Instrument tracks and setting a good input level
      6m 20s
    2. Exploring Software Instrument tracks, keyboard velocity, and MIDI
      6m 59s
    3. Exploring Electric Guitar tracks and monitoring
      7m 48s
    4. Positioning the cursor on audio regions to access different tools
      4m 35s
  4. 10m 23s
    1. Choosing a genre in the Project Chooser
      2m 3s
    2. Auditioning players in the band and hiring new players
      8m 20s
  5. 16m 45s
    1. Browsing and filtering the Apple Loops library
      5m 20s
    2. Dragging Apple Loops into your arrangement and choosing from alts
      6m 33s
    3. Jamming along with your composition
      4m 52s
  6. 35m 11s
    1. Setting tempo, enabling count-in and metronome, and dragging in a drum loop
      5m 22s
    2. Using GarageBand as a scratchpad for recording new ideas
      3m 29s
    3. Using the Arrange track to create song form sections
      3m 1s
    4. Splitting Apple Loops and choosing alternates to build a drum part
      6m 36s
    5. Recording multiple takes with cycle record
      4m 32s
    6. Punching in a small section of audio
      6m 20s
    7. Using Groove Matching to tighten up the rhythm of a performance
      5m 51s
  7. 33m 56s
    1. Tuning up and tracking a rhythm electric guitar part
      4m 26s
    2. Customizing the guitar sound using amps, stompboxes, and effects
      11m 44s
    3. Using Flex Time to fix a double-tracked rhythm guitar part
      7m 40s
    4. Using Cycle Record to record multiple takes for soloing
      3m 40s
    5. Compositing a final guitar solo from multiple takes
      6m 26s
  8. 19m 25s
    1. Recording a Software Instrument track
      3m 48s
    2. Editing the parameters of Software Instruments
      8m 44s
    3. Editing MIDI notes in the piano roll editor after the performance
      6m 53s
  9. 14m 12s
    1. Recording lead vocals
      6m 39s
    2. Correcting pitch with automatic tuning
      4m 16s
    3. Reordering, duplicating, and deleting song sections using the Arrangement track
      3m 17s
  10. 1h 7m
    1. Creating successful mixes
      7m 4s
    2. Pre-mixing
      15m 31s
    3. Equalizing tracks
      5m 51s
    4. Compressing tracks
      10m 13s
    5. Adding reverb and echo effects to individual tracks
      6m 39s
    6. Creating automated volume and pan moves
      10m 41s
    7. Freezing tracks to improve system performance
      2m 0s
    8. Using master track effects and automating a fade-out
      3m 31s
    9. Creating a final mixdown: Exporting a finished song to disk
      5m 40s
  11. 12m 51s
    1. Sharing your songs with iTunes and burning CDs
      3m 6s
    2. Opening a GarageBand project in Logic
      4m 26s
    3. Archiving GarageBand project files
      5m 19s
  12. 36m 44s
    1. Taking music lessons
      7m 32s
    2. Creating ringtones
      3m 50s
    3. Creating podcasts
      14m 12s
    4. Scoring a movie
      11m 10s
  13. 53s
    1. Goodbye
      53s

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