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Setting up the compressor

From: Audio Mixing Bootcamp

Video: Setting up the compressor

In this video we are going to look at how to set up a compressor. I am going to show you how to configure the compressor so it breathes with the track, how to turn it into a limiter, and how to determine how much compression is right for the track. Timing of the attack and release is importance so the compressor works correctly and makes the sound punchy or fatter or makes the note have a longer decay. One of the easiest ways to set that up is to use a snare drum as your template, then use the same approximate Attack or Release settings for the other instruments. The idea is to make the compressor breathe in time with the track.

Setting up the compressor

In this video we are going to look at how to set up a compressor. I am going to show you how to configure the compressor so it breathes with the track, how to turn it into a limiter, and how to determine how much compression is right for the track. Timing of the attack and release is importance so the compressor works correctly and makes the sound punchy or fatter or makes the note have a longer decay. One of the easiest ways to set that up is to use a snare drum as your template, then use the same approximate Attack or Release settings for the other instruments. The idea is to make the compressor breathe in time with the track.

So the first thing we are going to do is going to go to our snare top mic and add a compressor. In this case, what we are going to do is we're going to put the compressor before the EQ here, and the reason for that is the sound is different if you put the compressor after the EQ. What ends up happening is if you put it afterwards is that anything that's emphasized on the EQ, for instance if 3k is turned up, then that frequency is going to be compressed, and it's going to be emphasized by the compressor as well.

So it usually sounds better if you put the compressor prior to any EQ that you have. If doesn't mean that that's the way it always should be, but most of the time that's the way it looks best. So let's listen to this soloed without any compression at all. Here is the snare drum. (music playing) So now what we want to do is set the compressor up so it breathes with the track. So what we are going to do is we are going to take the Attack and turn it all the way to its longest, and then we are going take the Release and we are going to turn it all the way to its shortest.

Now let's play it again. (music playing) Let's bring the threshold down. (music playing) So we see some compression. Okay there we go. (music playing) So we've got about 6 dB of compression here. I am going to take the attack and I'm going to move it back. I am going to make it shorter. (music playing) Hear how the sound changes? (music playing) We are cutting off the attack on the snare drum, the first part of the sound of the snare drum.

You can see we've got lot more compression as well as we do that. This isn't what we want, because it makes it sound unnatural, so I am going to move this back. We just begin to hear a sound change. (music playing) Somewhere in there is good. (music playing) Going to begin to move that back. (music playing) You can see over here on the Gain reduction meter, this is the amount of compression that we have.

You can see how it's breathing with the track. Let's move this back a little more. (music playing) What we're doing now is we are making the decay longer. (music playing) So it sounds like the decay lasts from one snare hit to the other.

(music playing) Now let's Bypass for a second. (music playing) Really hear the difference there. This is without any compression, and here is with it. (music playing) You can hear how much punchier it is. Let's move this Attack back a little bit more. (music playing) Let's listen in the track, hear what it sounds like.

(music playing) Okay, I am going to play it again. We are going to bypass it this time. (music playing) Now watch the meter here and watch the different levels of hits. I am going to play it again, and watch sometimes it goes -10 and sometimes it goes -6 here. Watch.

(music playing) You see some go -10; some goes little bit higher. And in fact this drummer is actually pretty good, because he is pretty consistent. But what we are trying to go is we are trying to get that snare hit to be the same every time. So now let's play the same thing with the compressor in. (music playing) And that determines how much compression we are going to use.

We are going to use enough that in fact the snare hit in this case is pretty much the same, so it doesn't change that much. You can hear how much more punchy the sound gets though, when we have the compressor in. (music playing) One more time, only Bypass. (music playing) And with compressor in. (music playing) So what will happen here is we'll also do the same thing on the kick drum and we will do it on the bass.

We will probably do it on the guitars. We will do it on the vocals. We will do it on any instrument that has any kind of variation in dynamics, because what we are trying to do is control the dynamics here. You can't make the dynamics completely go away--and you don't want them to--but you don't want the variation to be great as well. If the go, oh, 3 dB either way, that's probably good; if it goes more than that, it's probably too much. Let's try the compressor over on the vocal. Now the first thing we are going to do is we are going to add it in here, and again, this is just a native compressor that comes with Pro Tools.

Don't forget that just about all the parameters are somewhat the same, but even if they're different, it doesn't matter; what we're trying to get is the sound. We are trying to get the compressor to breathe with the track, and that's the most important thing. So let's listen to the vocal without the compressor. (music playing) This is pretty good, because it's actually been compressed when it was recorded, but we can still do a few more things to it.

In this case what we are trying to do is make sure that every word is heard, so we don't want a word to drop out at all; we want them all to be the same. There are some that will drop out anyway that you'll have to use automation and actually goose the fader a little bit so you can hear it, but for the most part we can get most of them with the compressor. So let's set this up. Let's unbypass it. So the first thing what we are going to do is we are going to set our Attack and our Release approximately the same as we did with the snare drum. This might change a little bit, but this is a good starting point.

So I will put 188 in for the Attack, and we will 12.3 in for the Release. And let's dial in the Threshold. The Threshold actually controls at what signal level the compressor is going to begin to work at. And let's move this back, so we can hear it working. (music playing) There we go. We can hear it there. (music playing) Now what's happened here is these Attack and Release settings have to be tweaked because you can hear the change in the vocal sound, and that's not what we want-- we want it as pure as we can get it.

So the first thing we are going to do is back off the Attack a little bit. (music playing) Back off the amount of gain reduction. (music playing) By the way, we are reducing the gain on the peaks, so that's why they call it gain reduction, but it's the same thing as the amount of compression. Here's what it sounds like. (music playing) Okay, let's listen in the track.

(music playing) Okay let's listen without it now. Let's bypass it. (music playing) Here is with it in. (music playing) So you can hear the difference in the vocal with the compression and without the compression.

With compression, it almost sounds like the vocalist is in the room with you; he comes closer to you in the mix. You can hear every single word that happens. In fact, there is a byproduct here. You can keep the vocal lower in the mix and still hear it really well. Without the compressor some of the words of the vocal will drop out and you won't hear them. One of the reasons why we would like to keep the vocal lower in the mix is it emphasizes the power of the band. On a pop record, usually the vocal is really on top of the band; it's really loud compared to the rest of the band.

But if we want the record to sound really powerful, then we would like to keep the vocal down even with the band, and the only way you can do that well is if you compress the vocal; otherwise it will sound weak. So this is what we'll do with all the other instruments that need it as well. We will go and we will listen to them and we will see if there's a big variation in dynamics, and if there is, we will insert a compressor. The amount of compression that we will use is the amount that will keep the dynamics relatively solid so you hear all the chords; there's not one that drops out that we can't quite here.

And that's what gives you the feeling of having the vocal in the room with you. So let's talk about limiting. Right now, we have the Ratio set to 3 to 1, but anytime the Ratio goes beyond 10 to 1, this turns into a limiter; it goes from a compressor into a limiter. Now compression is used to control dynamics. What we are trying to do is take any peaks and bring them down, and we're trying to bring up any of the notes that are getting lost. What we are trying to do with limiting is to keep the next stage in the signal path from distorting.

So in this case what that means is it's going to take 11 dB before even 1 dB comes out, and that will probably mean that we can take any kind of peaks and not have a problem with the stage afterwards distorting. So there's a different mindset with using each of them. Sometimes we use limiting of 11 to 1 or 20 to 1, or even higher, in order to change the sound of an instrument or a vocal. Because usually anything that's 4 or 6 or 8 to 1 is just controlling the dynamics and we don't really hear it work, but anything that goes beyond 10 to 1, we begin to hear the color of the compressor.

Sometimes that's what we want; sometimes it isn't. Okay, let's listen to the difference between compression and limiting. We are going to go back to a ratio of 4 to 1 and have a listen. (music playing) We can hear the sound change, but listen when we go 10 to 1. (music playing) Now all of a sudden the sound of the compressor is what we hear more than sound of the vocal, and it gets more severe as we go.

Let's go to 30 to 1, which is really quite high. (music playing) Let's listen in the track. (music playing) In this case, we can actually hear the compressor working, and what it's doing is its taking some of those peaks and it's actually bringing them down too low.

So the vocal sounds unnatural. That's why we like to use compression rather than limiting most of the time. There are times when limiting is really desirable--for instance, on a bass. The reason why is we want to keep the bass at a pretty solid level. We don't want it to vary too much, because as it varies it makes the song sound not as powerful. It sounds a lot more powerful when the bass is at one level. So that's one time we might use limiting instead of compression. Most of the time would like use compression, though. So that's how to set up the compressor.

You should time the compressor so it breathes with the track by using the Attack and Release controls. An attack that's too fast will dull the sound of the instrument or vocal, while a release that's too short will cause it to pump. A ratio setting of 10 to 1 or more is considered limiting, because it's trying to limit the output rather than control the dynamics. The more compression you use the more you will hear it working, and the amount of compression depends upon the song, the arrangement, the player, the room, the instrument or vocalist, or the sound that you're looking for.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Audio Mixing Bootcamp
Audio Mixing Bootcamp

103 video lessons · 19000 viewers

Bobby Owsinski
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 1m 16s
    1. Welcome
      1m 16s
  2. 8m 20s
    1. Determining the listening position
      2m 27s
    2. Fixing acoustic problems
      2m 5s
    3. Setting up your monitors
      3m 48s
  3. 20m 17s
    1. Setting up your session
      5m 52s
    2. Setting up your subgroups
      7m 50s
    3. Setting up your effects
      6m 35s
  4. 8m 45s
    1. Developing the groove
      3m 46s
    2. Emphasizing the most important elements
      3m 44s
    3. Knowing what to avoid
      1m 15s
  5. 1h 4m
    1. Learning the principles of building a mix
      1m 1s
    2. Assigning the drums to a subgroup
      3m 55s
    3. Building the mix from the kick
      10m 8s
    4. Building the mix from the snare
      8m 46s
    5. Building the mix from the toms
      5m 25s
    6. Building the mix from the overhead mics
      3m 53s
    7. Checking the drum phase
      4m 44s
    8. Balancing direct and miked bass channels
      3m 36s
    9. Building the mix from the bass
      3m 26s
    10. Building the mix from the vocals
      4m 19s
    11. Balancing the rhythm section
      2m 44s
    12. Balancing the rest of the instruments with the rhythm section
      5m 22s
    13. Making a mix without building it
      4m 20s
    14. Balancing the harmony vocals
      2m 35s
  6. 23m 2s
    1. Looking at the three main panning areas
      9m 23s
    2. Panning the drums
      6m 9s
    3. Avoiding pseudo-stereo
      7m 30s
  7. 1h 17m
    1. Understanding compressor parameters
      3m 42s
    2. Setting up the compressor
      14m 44s
    3. Compressing the drums
      7m 53s
    4. Compressing the room mics
      4m 9s
    5. Compressing the bass
      5m 24s
    6. Using the New York compression trick
      4m 23s
    7. Compressing the clean electric guitars
      4m 40s
    8. Compressing the distorted electric guitars
      4m 48s
    9. Compressing the acoustic guitars
      8m 7s
    10. Compressing the piano
      6m 35s
    11. Compressing the electric keyboards
      4m 32s
    12. Compressing the vocals
      4m 34s
    13. Compressing the horns
      3m 55s
  8. 25m 36s
    1. Learning noise gate basics
      9m 23s
    2. Using the noise gate on guitars
      3m 57s
    3. Using the noise gate on drums
      7m 38s
    4. Learning de-esser basics
      2m 15s
    5. Using the de-esser on vocals
      2m 23s
  9. 36m 4s
    1. Understanding equalizer parameters
      10m 16s
    2. Learning subtractive equalization
      8m 57s
    3. Learning frequency juggling
      8m 28s
    4. Using the magic high-pass filter
      7m 39s
    5. Learning the principles of equalization
      44s
  10. 49m 46s
    1. Equalizing the kick
      6m 7s
    2. Equalizing the snare
      2m 57s
    3. Equalizing the rack toms
      5m 4s
    4. Equalizing the floor tom
      4m 32s
    5. Equalizing the hi-hat
      4m 56s
    6. Equalizing the cymbal or the overhead mics
      6m 49s
    7. Equalizing the room mics
      5m 13s
    8. Equalizing the bass
      3m 59s
    9. Editing the bass rhythm
      4m 21s
    10. Equalizing the rhythm section
      5m 48s
  11. 47m 58s
    1. Equalizing the electric guitar
      8m 15s
    2. Equalizing the acoustic guitar
      4m 55s
    3. Equalizing the hand percussion
      3m 28s
    4. Equalizing the lead vocals
      6m 5s
    5. Equalizing the background vocals
      4m 14s
    6. Equalizing the piano
      4m 46s
    7. Equalizing the organ
      6m 49s
    8. Equalizing the strings
      6m 4s
    9. Equalizing the horns
      3m 22s
  12. 30m 47s
    1. Learning the principles of reverb
      1m 59s
    2. Understanding reverb parameters
      6m 49s
    3. Timing the reverb to the track
      6m 6s
    4. Equalizing the reverb
      2m 51s
    5. Using the two-reverb quick setup
      5m 35s
    6. Using the three-reverb setup
      7m 27s
  13. 59m 8s
    1. Adding reverb to the drums
      7m 56s
    2. Adding reverb to the vocals
      11m 59s
    3. Adding reverb to the guitars
      5m 17s
    4. Adding reverb to the piano
      4m 19s
    5. Adding reverb to the organ
      3m 43s
    6. Adding reverb to the strings
      5m 36s
    7. Adding reverb to the horns
      2m 57s
    8. Adding reverb to the percussion
      4m 46s
    9. Using reverb to layer the mix
      12m 35s
  14. 46m 8s
    1. Learning delay principles
      1m 40s
    2. Understanding delay parameters
      6m 54s
    3. Timing the delay to the track
      1m 28s
    4. Using delay timing variations
      2m 51s
    5. Equalizing the delay
      4m 23s
    6. Understanding the Haas effect
      2m 51s
    7. Using the three-delay setup
      7m 23s
    8. Adding delay to the vocals
      8m 43s
    9. Using delay to layer the mix
      9m 55s
  15. 21m 35s
    1. Understanding the types of modulation
      2m 43s
    2. Understanding modulation parameters
      4m 13s
    3. Modulating the guitars
      4m 7s
    4. Modulating the keyboards
      3m 17s
    5. Modulating the vocals
      4m 17s
    6. Modulating the strings
      2m 58s
  16. 12m 22s
    1. Mixing with subgroups
      5m 5s
    2. Using mix buss compression
      4m 21s
    3. Understanding the evils of hypercompression
      2m 56s
  17. 39s
    1. Goodbye
      39s

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