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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 understand why bus compression is so powerful as a mixing tool, let's get hands on with an example, and get in the mix. Take a listen to this full mix with the bus compression bypassed. It sounds pretty good. But I want to get just a little more lift out of the lower level details, and tuck in the transients a bit to glue everything together. Now listen with the bus compression enabled. Here I'm using an attack of five milliseconds, to allow some of the transience to punch through and a release of 200 milliseconds or about an eight note in this song, based on the tempo.
Generally, I only want to get no more than a db or two of gain reduction. Just enough to tie things together and give me that lift and tuck on the whole mix. In this example, I exaggerated my threshold settings just a bit, to make the effect more audible. But in a real mix, I might go back and ease off the gain reduction. While mixed bus compressors are great for gluing a mix together, they can often do more damage than good when pushed too hard. Flattening your mix, and sucking all the life out of it. Listen to this example of too much bus compression.
Hopefully, you heard the pumping and breathing of the compressor digging into the mix too aggressively. While certain styles of music take advantage of this aesthetic, it is generally a sign of too much bus compression. So be extra careful with processors that affect your entire mix. Especially when it comes to compression, as it's very hard to undo later in mastering. Many times I will use no master bus compression in a mix. Or only bus compress specific groups of tracks. It all depends on the style of music, and what I think will benefit the song most.
For instance, in electro-music, the pumping effect over the entire mix is part of the genre. The four on the four kick drum drives the compressor into gain reduction on every beat. Causing the compressor to swell and breathe to the beat of the music. Tweaking the attack and release settings of the bus compressor can really change the attitude and transparency of this effect. To create this effect, try using slower attack and faster release times, with a decent amount of gain reduction.
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