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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.
Many instruments tend to be very dynamic and when recorded, can result in a wide range of note amplitudes, with some very loud and some very soft. It could be difficult to balance these very dynamic tracks in a mix and still hear every nuance of the performance. Compressors can be used to restrict the dynamic range of an audio signal, making it easier to find a more steady level that works in your mix. Let's listen to a simple example. (music playing) The vocal track is very dynamic and parts of it are getting lost behind the music, while others stick out too much.
Now I will apply compression. (music playing) As you can see, and hopefully hear, by applying compression, I was able to reduce the dynamic range of the vocal phrase to help it sit better in the mix and be lyrically intelligible at all times. In the original uncompressed vocal line, the difference between the softest and loudest word was about 15 dB on average.
After applying compression, the dynamic range is only 5 dB on average. What's happening here is the compressor detects and grabs hold of the louder words in the phrase and turns them down, or compresses them. After compressing these louder words, I can then raise up the entire level of the vocal track, so that both the soft and loud notes sit comfortably within the rest of the mix. While I will cover many compression techniques throughout this course, this technique is one of the most common uses of compression.
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