Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing
Illustration by John Hersey

Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing

with Brian Lee White

Video: Get in the Mix: Using compression to add punch and sustain to drums

Let's take a look at how to apply compression Let's take a look at a snare drum note's envelope.
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  1. 4m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 43s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
    3. Using the exercise files
    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 41s
    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 7s
    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 16s
    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 39s
  5. 26m 50s
    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 4s
    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
  8. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing
2h 25m Appropriate for all Dec 22, 2011 Updated Jan 10, 2014

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Measuring amplitude
  • Understanding dynamic range
  • Introducing compressors
  • Utilizing compression ratios
  • Applying attack and release
  • Evening out a vocal performance with compression
  • Adding punch and sustain to drums
  • Using compression presets intelligently
  • How to record with compression
  • Solving common mix problems with limiters
  • De-essing a vocal track
  • Using gates and expanders
  • Controlling frequency content with multiband compressors
  • Using sidechains creatively
  • Keying gates and compressors
  • Fixing overcompressed tracks
  • Using mixbus compression
  • Working with parallel compression
  • Compression and limiting best practices
Audio + Music
Logic Pro Pro Tools Waves
Brian Lee White

Get in the Mix: Using compression to add punch and sustain to drums

Let's take a look at how to apply compression to a single note, using it to draw out the attack or sustain of a signal and letting that note punch through dense musical sections of the mix. This type of compression is often referred to as envelope shaping or transient shaping. A shape of a note's waveform is called its envelope. The envelope describes how a note evolves over time. Think of envelope as the trip a signal's wave form takes from initial development through final decay. Let's take a look at a snare drum note's envelope. We start with a sharp transient, this is referred to as the attack.

This sharp transient is followed by a brief sustained and final release period as the sound dies out. Because a compressor reacts to a signal's amplitude as it changes over time, we can use compression to play with the shape of a signal's envelope. Listen to the snare drum without any compression, pay attention to the sound of the attack and release. Now listen to the same same snare with compression applied and listen for how the sound has changed. Notice how in the compressed version, the attack of the signal is pulled up and has more punch. This is achieved by adjusting the attack time of the compressor to allow a bit of the original transient through before being compressed.

An attack time of between one and ten milliseconds works great for this. But any longer, and I risk missing the transient altogether. After making up the game from the compression, what we end up with is a larger transient, or initial attack portion of the sound than we started with Because the body or sustained portion of this sound has been attenuated, thus changing the dynamic relationship between the two. A muted copy of the processed wave form has been provided as a visual reference underneath the active snare track. Now listen again to the snare and the context of the full mix and pay attention as it automates the settings to apply the compression.

I'm exaggerating a bit here, so you can really hear the compression. But notice how the punchier snare helps the drum kit drive the song. Dynamics are all about relative relationships and amplitude, and in this case I've changed the relationship between the attack and the rest of the snare hit. The more aggressive the threshold and ratio settings I use, the more distance I create between the transient and the rest of the snare hit. We can achieve the opposite effect by using fast release times. Let's take a listen to very fast release time on the snare drum. Again, I've exaggerated the effect, so you can really hear the change in the shape of the snare envelope.

>> Trouble bound, we hit the town. And I'll never forget, that sound. >> By allowing the compressor to compress the initial transient body of the snare drum, and quickly release the compression before the softer decay section, we can use the makeup game to inflate the tail of the signal and draw it out longer in time. Notice how I'm driving the compressor a little harder here. Achieving more gain reduction.

This trick works best with more aggressive threshold and ratio settings. Feel free to zoom in and look at the processed example tracks waveform to better visualize what's happening. You want to watch your attack when you reach these levels of gain reduction. Even a small amount of transient escaping through un-compressed can eat up all your head room, and clip the output. This trick doesn't work on every kind of material, or with every compressor, so use your judgement. Sometimes I split the track in to two, and process one for a sharper attack. And another for more sustained.

And then blend the two to taste. Some compressors are better at each of these tasks than others. In order to achieve effective envelope shaping with the compressor, we're generally looking for a processor with a very fast attack and release time. A slower compressor or one without attack and release controls may not be fast enough to really draw out the envelope precisely.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing .

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Q: This course was updated on 1/10/2014. What changed?
A: The Get in the Mix videos have been updated to the most recent version of Pro Tools. Also, the course now includes free Get in the Mix sessions for two more DAWs: Logic Pro X and Pro Tools 11.
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