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Once recording and editing are finished, audio engineers can take advantage of the training in Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools to punch up the final output. Digidesign Certified Expert Brian Lee White covers all the basic mixing tools that every producer and engineer should know, from using EQ to add clarity and focus to using compression and limiting to maximize track levels within a mix. Brian stresses the importance of setting up a solid mixing plan prior to any work in Pro Tools, and gives advice on the best plug-ins for each stage of the process. Exercise files accompany the course.
So you can think of a compressor or a limiter as just a level dependent volume control, just like an EQ is a frequency dependent volume control. The DigiRack Dyn3 Compressor/Limiter is the stock channel strip compressor in Pro Tools and it serves as a great way to familiarize yourself with the basic parameters of compressors and limiters. So if you can use and understand the DigiRack Compressor, you will be able to use 95% of the compressors out there, whether it's a plug-in or a hardware compressor.
So what I want to first show you is a really easy way to use most compressor plug-ins in Pro Tools or any DAW, and starting with the presets, I'm going to look at the Acoustic Guitar here. Now, because unlike EQs, compressors just sort of rely on the signal's dynamic interaction with the threshold rather than being frequency dependent, generally, how I can use most compressors is I can call up a preset. Let's say this is Acoustic Guitar, I'll call it the Acoustic Guitar preset, and I'm going to start with my Threshold at 0 and my Gain at 0.
These are very important. The Threshold and the Gain are two parameters that the preset is not going to know for you. But the Attack, Ratio, and Release are fairly straightforward and so the preset should match quite well. So I'm going to play this back and I'm going to pull the Threshold down until I start seeing Gain Reduction and we'll talk about what Gain Reduction is after this little example. (Music playing) So I'm getting between 3 and 6 DBs of Gain Reduction, which is going to control and balance out that acoustic guitar and then what I can do is based on amount of Gain Reduction I'm getting I can take the Gain and turn it up by that same amount.
So I'm going to turn it up by about 4 DBs and this is called Make-Up Gain. It's going to allow me to recover from any of the Gain Reduction. So if we listen now. (Music playing) Effectively what we are doing here is we are taming some of those peaks, the strums that kind of pop out a little too much. By taming those, we are able to bring up some of those lighter strums and some of them are a little lower, some of them are a little louder, and we just want to even those out, so they are going to sit in the mix a little bit better.
And I did not touch Attack, Release, Ratio or Knee. I just relied on a simple preset to kind of match with what I was looking to do, and I controlled just Threshold and Make-Up Gain to get a little bit of Gain Reduction, and get that track sitting in the mix. Now if you are really scared of compressors, you are not sure what to do with them, generally you can use this method as an easy way to get some basic Gain Reduction. However, I'm going to show you how to use all of these controls to make it sound even better. So if we look at the interface of the DigiRack Compressor/Limiter Dyn3.
Dyn stands for Dynamics. Let me just go through some of the parameters in this plug-in here, starting with Threshold. So Threshold is going to be the level at which the compressor decides something is loud, or in this case, too loud. So you see as I move the Threshold, this orange line in the graph moves. Now, it represents when the compressor is going to turn-on or activate. So whenever a signal here where it says IN, whenever it breaches that Threshold, it's going to tell the compressor to turn-on and start compressing.
Now, none of these other controls matter until a Threshold breach has occurred. So you are not going to have to worry about Attack, Release, Ratio, or Knee until the signals actually breach the Threshold. So if I leave it at 0, nothing is really going to happen. Now, moving on here to Ratio, I'm going to skip Attack and Release, and come back to those. The Ratio is going to define when the signal breaches the Threshold, what's going to happen. It's sort of the rule. And in the compressor, we are actually turning the signal down, sort of an automated volume control that when the signal breaches that Threshold, that orange line, something is going to happen.
The signal is going to get turned down. Ratio determines by how much that signal will be turned down. So if I set it to a Ratio of 2:1, anything pass the Threshold is going to be turned down or cut in half effectively. So if something is 10 DBs over the Threshold, it's going to come out of the compressor at only 5 DBs louder. Now, if I increase the Ratio up to 10:1, this effectively becomes a limiter.
So when 10 go out pass the Threshold, only 1 comes out of the compressor, and I could take this all the way up to 100. So if we listen here, what's going to happen is that anything pass the Threshold which is set at -20 is going to squash the signal down, and make sure that it's coming out right at -20. (Music playing) Now, we can always see how much damage we are doing in terms of Gain Reduction, and we can see how the Threshold and the Ratio are causing the compressor to compress or turn the volume down, and it's always important to kind of watch the Gain Reduction but also use your ears to determine how much compression you want to achieve.
Now, once the signals breached the Threshold, how the compressor reacts to turn in that signal down is going to be defined by Attack. So if we set our Attack to let's say around 66 milliseconds, what's going to happen, as soon as the compressor detects a Threshold breach, it's going to wait about 66 milliseconds and then turn it down. It's sort of how long the compressor takes to react to a signal. Now, slower Attacks means the compressor doesn't grab on and attenuate that signal very fast, and this actually can be a problem with really fast sounds.
For example, a snare drum might Attack and sustain and decay all within less than half-a-second. So if you are setting your Attack to grab a snare drum and it's too slow, you might miss it all together. It's like someone throwing a football at you, and you kind of try to catch it late, and then it just fall between your arms. Now, Release is going to be the opposite of that. So when the signal falls back below the Threshold, how long does it take for the compressor to return the volume back to normal? So if it's a slower Release, the compressor is going to hang on a little bit extra to that signal as it goes back below the Threshold.
If it's a faster Release, it will let go very quickly. Now, the idea with Release is you generally want the compressor to let go to the signal before the next note comes up. So if it was a vocal and I was saying words in a phrase, I would generally want the compressor to what's called Recover by the time the next word comes up. Now, the Knee here, you are going to find this on maybe half the compressor's use or maybe a little bit less than that. What it does is when it's set to 0, the Threshold point or the transition into Gain Reduction, the transition into turning that signal down is instant.
It sort of goes from uncompressed to compressed at the Threshold point. But if we take the Knee, we can actually soften that transition out. It's sort of like you could think of as if you knew your show was going into a commercial, and you could kind of start turning it down and anticipating that. For certain instruments, it's going to help the compressor sound a lot smoother. So if I go back to our acoustic guitar example, if I wanted to set something out from Scratch, let me go through a workflow of that. I'm just going to reset this to the factory default, and I'll bring my Threshold to 0, and my Gain to 0.
This is fine, a Ratio of about 3:1 and we'll start with the Attack of 10, and the Release of 80. I find that most compressors kind of come set up with their default setup from the factory in a way that's going to sound good on most material. So I'm going to play this back. (Music playing) So what I did there is I adjusted the Threshold until I got a good amount of Gain Reduction, an amount that I could actually hear, and then I added some Make-Up Gain back up and what that's going to do, it's going to bring up the valleys after I attenuated the peaks.
At that point, I could start adjusting things like the Knee to make it a little bit softer which might be nice on this acoustic guitar, and then I can start playing with the Attack and Release to control how the compressor works over time when a signal breaches that Threshold. I will get into that more in other videos, how we can really manipulate Attack and Release to totally change or transform the sound of a signal's envelope or sustained over time. So the DigiRack Compressor is a no- nonsense channel strip dynamics processor.
It's not intended to be a colored or saturated compressor, and depending on the genre of music and your stylistic goals, you may ultimately opt to use a compressor with a bit more character. But I guarantee you learning the DigiRack is a great way to familiarize yourself with the common controls found in most compressors, and its presets serve as a great starting point for understanding the thought process behind things like Attack, Release, and Ratio relationships.
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