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So I showed you how to used the Digirack compressor, but I want to talk a little bit more about why and when we use compression and limiting and mixing. Much like the three C's of using EQ, I like to break down my compression approaches into two general categories, blending and envelope shaping. So just as EQ will shape a signal's frequency balance giving the mixer the ability to fit elements effectively into the context of a mix. A compressor can be used to blend or shape a track's dynamics helping it sit nicely in the mix when volume, pan and EQ aren't enough.
Why is this necessary? So many times instruments, especially acoustic instruments like vocals, acoustic guitar, bass, tend to be overly dynamic especially for dense mixes. So when it's too loud, some things pop out over the top of the mix and sound awkward and it can get too soft and sort of duck under the rest of the mix obscuring it. If you think about a set of mountain ranges with peaks and valleys, the compressor's goal will be to sort of tame the peaks while simultaneously allowing us to bring the valleys, so that the track can sit evenly in the mix.
So if we look at this diagram here, I can see a representation of a waveform being too loud and sitting over the top of a mix poking out or too soft and kind of dying out underneath the level of the other tracks. So what we are looking to do is take the compressor and sort of squeeze or even out the differences between the peaks and valleys to get it just right, so it sits right in the mix. Now some tracks you will be able to just bring up the fader and they work great, they are not overly dynamic whereas other tracks.
You will have to heavily compress to sit them in the mix. So compressors and limiters can also be used in more of a micro sense of reshaping a note envelope or attack and sustain. So if we think about a snare drum and giving it more snap or more attack over the denser section of a song, we are not thinking about evening out the snare drum hits. Generally, those are pretty even and the compressor is going to take care of that especially in a virtual instrument context, but we don't really have to worry about something being overly dynamic.
But what we want to do is give something more punch or more emphasis or extended sustained out in time. We can use a compressor and specifically playing with the attack and release settings, we can sort of extend the transient, or really make it punch and pop through and kind of shape the micro dynamics of an individual hit rather than sort of evening out things word for word, let's say in a vocal. So when we first learn to use compressors in mixing, try to recognize what sort of compression method you want to use, whether it's a balancing or blending kind of thing to get things sitting more evenly or if you are trying to add more punch to an element.
So determine the goal of the processing before you seek a solution and go from there. Some times it's going to be both sort of a blending as well as envelope shaping use of compression and I'll show you parallel compression a little later, which is kind of a combination best of both worlds.
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