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Building healthy compression/limiting habits

From: Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing

Video: Building healthy compression/limiting habits

I hope you've seen and heard how powerful dynamics processors can be when used effectively. They have the ability to make tracks come alive, providing power and strength. But the same tools that can make a track stand out can also destroy it. Too much compression can take the life out of otherwise lively, brilliant tracks, making them sound weak and dull. Here are a couple overall concepts to keep in mind when deciding how much is too much compression. Just as a compressor can exaggerate a signal's transient response, making it sharper or snappier, it can just as easily take this away.

Building healthy compression/limiting habits

I hope you've seen and heard how powerful dynamics processors can be when used effectively. They have the ability to make tracks come alive, providing power and strength. But the same tools that can make a track stand out can also destroy it. Too much compression can take the life out of otherwise lively, brilliant tracks, making them sound weak and dull. Here are a couple overall concepts to keep in mind when deciding how much is too much compression. Just as a compressor can exaggerate a signal's transient response, making it sharper or snappier, it can just as easily take this away.

Remember, loud is only relative to quiet and hard is only relative to soft. If you push too hard, you can actually flatten out a track's transient response, making it sound flat and lacking punch. Dynamic differences are what make sound and music move us. They're what make the speaker cones move and our chest thump to the beat of a loud woofer. You want to control your dynamics, not obliterate them. Remember, when increasing a signal's average loudness and reducing its dynamic range, you're making a sacrifice between total perceived loudness and punchiness.

When you use a brickwall limiter to maximize the level of your mix, be careful not to squash all the impact out of your drums just to pick up some extra average level. A compressor pushed to the extreme will in effect flatten out a track's frequency response, especially in the low and high end. This is why it is common to add EQ to a signal post-compression. But there's a fine line between post- compression EQ touchup and totally needing to rebalance your signal's tonal curve due to overcompression. Every compressor sounds different.

Don't be surprised if the exact same parameters on one compressor don't work on another, and don't be surprised when one setting that works on your guitar track today doesn't work on the next guitar track you record. Always approach each situation with a fresh mindset, willing to experiment and try different things. Presets are great starting points, but use your ears. If it sounds bad, tweak it. If it still sounds bad, take the compressor off. The most transparent form of compression is often a track's volume control and your DAW's automation.

Don't be afraid to use the waveform's amplitude display and draw in your own dynamic control. Understand compression's aesthetic use versus its utility use and use that to your advantage. Extreme compression can be amazing when used in the right context, but sound amateur when not. It's not uncommon to use too much compression when you're first starting out, simply because your ears are not used to hearing small changes in dynamic range. This is normal. Embrace the learning experience and listen, listen, listen.

Check your work against your favorite mixes and seek constructive criticism from peers and mentors. My best advice is to experiment, a lot, and find what works best for you in your style of music. By listening and experimenting with your own tracks, you'll be better able to sonically identify what the norms are in your favorite genre.

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This video is part of

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  1. 4m 56s
    1. Welcome
      1m 49s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      32s
    3. Using the exercise files
      53s
    4. Using the "Get in the Mix" Pro Tools and Logic Pro session files
      1m 42s
  2. 13m 47s
    1. What is amplitude?
      1m 51s
    2. Measuring amplitude
      1m 57s
    3. What is dynamic range?
      4m 8s
    4. What are dynamics processors?
      3m 36s
    5. Hardware and software dynamics processors
      2m 15s
  3. 38m 40s
    1. Introducing compressors
      1m 45s
    2. Understanding threshold
      1m 29s
    3. Utilizing compression ratios
      3m 0s
    4. Understanding makeup gain and gain reduction
      3m 13s
    5. Understanding attack and release
      2m 12s
    6. Applying attack and release
      5m 22s
    7. Demystifying compression controls: soft knee vs. hard knee
      2m 43s
    8. Get in the Mix: Using compression to even out a vocal performance
      4m 55s
    9. Get in the Mix: Using compression to add punch and sustain to drums
      4m 39s
    10. Intelligently using compression presets
      3m 6s
    11. Recording with compression: Why or why not?
      2m 53s
    12. Recording with compression: How to do it
      3m 23s
  4. 18m 50s
    1. Introducing limiters
      1m 59s
    2. Types of limiters
      4m 17s
    3. Get in the Mix: Maximizing mix loudness with brickwall limiters
      5m 58s
    4. Solving common mix problems with limiters
      2m 58s
    5. Using layered dynamics processing
      3m 38s
  5. 26m 49s
    1. Understanding and using de-essers
      3m 46s
    2. Get in the Mix: De-essing a vocal track
      3m 30s
    3. Understanding and using gates
      4m 41s
    4. Understanding and using expanders
      1m 35s
    5. Get in the Mix: Gating a drum track
      3m 18s
    6. Understanding and using multi-band compressors/limiters
      3m 31s
    7. Controlling frequency content with multi-band compressors
      3m 3s
    8. Understanding and using transient shapers
      3m 25s
  6. 36m 38s
    1. Effectively using side-chain inputs
      2m 6s
    2. Using side chains creatively
      5m 4s
    3. Keying gates and compressors (and/or ducking)
      4m 12s
    4. Managing gain staging and headroom and fixing over-compressed tracks
      3m 20s
    5. Compression first or EQ first?
      2m 56s
    6. Understanding mix bus compression
      3m 26s
    7. Get in the Mix: Using mix bus compression
      2m 47s
    8. Get in the Mix: Working with parallel compression
      3m 46s
    9. Working with "modeled" vintage compressor/limiter plug-ins
      5m 57s
    10. Building healthy compression/limiting habits
      3m 4s
  7. 14s
    1. Goodbye
      14s
  8. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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