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Say you've just got a fancy new compressor and notice it was loaded with tons of presets. Descriptions like "best vocal sound ever" and "snare to die for" fill this list, and you're thinking, this is it, I finally unlocked the secrets of mixing by purchasing this plug-in and all my problems are solved. While there's no doubt that presets are excellent starting points for discovering the features of a new tool, when it comes to presets for dynamics processors, there are a few simple rules to follow to set yourself up for success.
First off, dynamics presets can actually be pretty awesome and often do exactly what you're looking for right out of the gate--if you know how to use them. The secret to using compression presets is to understand that the preset has no idea what kind of signal level is coming in. Therefore, the default threshold and makeup gain settings are almost always going to be completely wrong, either giving you too much compression, too little compression, or even worse, clipping. Here's how I approach compressor presets.
What I've got here is the C1 comp from waves, and the first thing I am going to do is call up a preset. Pick this one that says Great Vocal here. Now what I'll notice is that the threshold and the makeup gain already have settings. So the first thing I am going to do after calling up that preset is reset them both to 0. Next, I am going to play back my session. Then I am going to adjust my Threshold to get the right amount of gain reduction that I want and then use my makeup gain to bring that back up.
(music playing) I like to start with 4 to 6 dBs of gain reduction and listen from there.
At this point, I'll start tweaking, adjusting the threshold to achieve more or less gain reduction. Or I will adjust the other controls to better suit my signal. Again, the trick to using any kind of preset is to accept that the person who made the preset has no idea what your signal sounds like or what you're trying to accomplish in your mix. How could they? Unless they have a time machine or magical powers, they are probably building the preset based off some recording they have access to. This is why we need to adjust the parameters that we know aren't going to match up from the get-go.
In the case of dynamics processors, we start by adjusting our threshold and makeup gain to suit our signal's input level. Remember, because some compressors do not have a dedicated threshold control, you may have to adjust the input and output controls to achieve the right amount of gain reduction. In these scenarios, let the gain reduction meter be your guide.
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