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In this first installment of the Foundations of Audio series, author Brian Lee White shows how to improve the sound of a mix with compressors, limiters, gates, de-essers, and other dynamic processors. The course explains the fundamentals of sound waves, and amplitude, explores common compressor controls, and shows how to eliminate unwanted noise using gates and expanders. The course also demonstrates best practices in compression and limiting in a variety of audio applications and covers sculpting the attack and decay of individual notes with transient shapers and applying frequency specific dynamics control with multiband compressors. Exercise files accompany the course and include special Get in the Mix session files.
Now that we have a good idea about why and how multiband compressors work, let's take a look at a specific example of using multiband compression to control frequency content in a mix. Take a listen to this loop. Notice how on Beat 1 of the loop we have a super-bassy 808 drum that seems to overtake the low end of everything else. Now, this can be cool, but I think the low end is a little too much, especially if there's going to be other low-frequency elements added to the mix, like another kick drum. (music playing) Because this is a loop and I don't have the 808 hit on an isolated track, I can't simply turn down the 808. Nor can I use EQ to treat the low end, because that would affect the low end of the bass synth as well.
What I can use is a multiband compressor on the low frequencies of this loop to see if I can get it to give me a little gain reduction only on the downbeats, when the 808 is strongest. To accomplish this, I'll first pull up my multiband compressor on the loop track. I'm using the Waves C4 plug-in here. I'll start by bypassing all of the frequency bands except the low-frequency band. Now, I can start working on the threshold setting to find the sweet spot that only trigger serious compression on those 808 hits, when the bass from the 808 and the synth really add up and overpower my subwoofer.
(music playing) Because I'm dealing with sub-bass here, I want to make sure my release time is not so fast that it causes the compressor to distort. I'm using a release of 45 milliseconds.
This is plenty of time to keep the compressor from distorting on the oscillations of low-frequency waveforms. I can also use the Range control to limit the total amount of gain reduction to no more than a specified value, regardless of the threshold interaction. Certain compressors feature range or max gain reduction controls that allow us to use deeper threshold settings while restricting the total amount of gain reduction to the DB amount shown on the range control. This can help make sure the gain reduction is triggered more evenly across all sections, regardless of how soft or loud the passage is, and help louder, more dynamic signals preserve their power and punch, receiving less gain reduction than they would have otherwise.
I chose this specific example to showcase how multiband compression can be used to solve a problem when separate tracks are not available. If I had not been working with the loop and had access to the individual elements as separate tracks, I would work with those individual tracks, using level control automation, single- band compression, and EQ, to get them to add up to what I was looking for.
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