This is how you compress like the pros

By | April 4, 2021


With that said, I hope that the following tips can also be useful for you who are in the starting blocks regarding compression. Feel free to read the tip Five things to keep in mind when using a compressor.

Color and tone
Do not think of compression as something that just evens out and tames the dynamics. Instead, see it as a tool that adds color and character to the sound. For example, a quick release can really make the drums breathe and live with an almost distortion-like character. Very pleasant in many contexts. Urei 1176 is a classic example.

On the contrary, sometimes you want the compression to be as “invisible” as possible. Then you are right in steering a low ratio, soft knee, fast attack and release and a threshold value so that the compressor works fairly consistently. The result is that you hardly notice when the compressor kicks in or out, at the same time as the sound will never feel pressed. If you want to take it all a step further (and even more subtle), just pull the mixer a little for old-fashioned parallel compression.

In parallel
Speaking of parallel compression. Instead of using the mixer knob on the compressor, it is often a good idea to duplicate the original track and compress it (rock hard if desired) and then mix in with the unprocessed original. In this way, you can also work with equalizer and other tools to put a lot of color on the parallel track. Very useful on everything from vocals and drums to bass and guitars.

The more chefs…
The better the compression. Or rather, compression in series often works wonders. Instead of compressing -12 dB with only one compressor, you can compress -4 dB with three in a row. This way you can compress more, without the compressor tying a knot on itself. By the way, this is also a great idea if you want to limit in a more “natural” way.

When it comes to the mix bus, or the drum bus for that matter, it is important to try to time the release to the song’s tempo. Sometimes, unfortunately, this can be easier said than heard. Then try to raise the threshold really, adjust the release until you pump “in time” with the music, to finally back up the threshold again to a reasonable level. Personally, I usually never compress more than -2 dB in the song’s stronger part, preferably smaller, just to give a slightly more cohesive sound image. Keep in mind that treadmill plugs and other analog audio beautifiers on the mix bus compress naturally. An ordinary compressor can then easily become redundant!

BONUS TIPS: A classic trick in singing is to use two compressors in a row: A transparent with fast attack to catch the peaks, followed by a slower (10-15 ms attack) with a vintage character. Mums!

Feel free to ask questions or comment on the article in the comment field below, and we will spin the topic together. Or if you prefer to discuss mixing in the “Mixing and mastering” section of the Studios forum here!

Fredagstipset is a recurring series where Studio writer Jon Rinneby shares tips every Friday in, among other things, recording and mixing. Here you will find all Friday tips.