How to mix and master a demo recording pt.2: Compression
Welcome back to our four part lesson series on mixing and mastering for the bedroom guitarist.
In part one we went over the basic principles of mixing and how to use EQ like an artist would his paintbrush to shape the different sounds and make them blend together beautifully.
In part two we will be covering the basics of compression.
Compression can be an advanced in-depth subject that I may tackle in another blog post, but for now we are just going to cover the basic fact that a compressor does two fundamental things.
It raises the level of the quieter sounds in a track and lowers the level of the louder sounds in a track. This enables you to boost the overall volume of the track without any clipping occurring.
There are many settings on a compressor that you can adjust but all of them have something to do with this basic principle.
For example. Here is a very simple compressor called Rough Rider by Audio Damage.
It is an intense compressor intended for compressing drums and other one shots into infinity with the super high ratio. It can also be used as a standard compressor if you go easy on the settings. Download it for free here.
It only has five parameters that you can adjust and it just so happens that these parameters are the most important when it comes to compression.
- Sensitivity (Sometimes called threshold) is the db level where the compressor kicks in. Any sounds louder then this point will be compressed.
- Makeup (Sometimes called gain) is the amount of volume boost in db that the track will receive after compression has occurred; essentially this is boosting your track up to the desired volume.
- Ratio is the amount of compression applied to sounds above the sensitivity threshold.
- Attack is how quickly the compressor starts compressing sound that hits the sensitivity threshold.
- Release is how long the compressor continues compressing after no more sound is crossing the sensitivity threshold.
How to compress something for a perfect balance of volume and definition.
This Vocal track is peaking at about -9db but sometimes is going as low as -18 db. Maybe we moved away from the mic slightly while recording. No matter, we can sort this out with compression.
We want to get the whole vocal track to be at about the same volume without squashing it to much. We also want the vocals to be quite loud in the mix.
Since I have no other music in this project to go by, I am just going to try to get this vocal track to be as loud as possible without peaking.
Starting with the sensitivity threshold, I know it will need to be more than -9db for the compression to have any effect at all.
Lets set it to -14db so we are compressing most of the track. We will also set the ratio to 10:1 and leave the attack and release on 0ms for now.
Edit* I selected the master channel by mistake for this screenshot, Ignore that, we are working on the vocal channel.
Notice how now the track is peaking at -14db and the dial on the compressor indicates that it is compressing the track. Now we need to boost the track to the volume we want. I want it to be at -2db so I will need to boost by 12db.
We should also adjust the attack and release times to shape the sound and intensity of the compressor.
And now you have a nicely compressed track. Be careful not to overdo the compression. Our ears tend to tell us that louder sounds better but you really need to listen closely because that is not the case and over-compression can really ruin a track if you are not careful.
The sensitivity/threshold dial is the most important dial on the compressor so be sure to listen closely to your track and place it at exactly the right level.
Once you are used to this type of single-band compressor, you can also try your hand at a multi-band compressor like this one.
It is essentially the same as the Rough Rider compressor except that you can compress different frequencies within a track, allowing for more artistic freedom in your mix.
Try single band compressors on some of your tracks and multi-band compressors on others.
Use the multi-band compressors to complement the decisions you made with your EQ using the principles of frequencies that we learnt in part 1.
Remember that each compressor has a different sound characteristic that shapes the sound. Be sure to experiment with the different compressors that you have available to you.
Still mixing to the kick drum. Try and get everything to be as loud as possible in the mix without peaking or anything overpowering anything else.
Listen closely to each instrument and think about them in terms of frequencies. Think about where any of them have too much or too little frequencies in certain areas. Go back and adjust your mix. Try and get everything to sound as natural as possible.
If all goes smoothly you should have a frequency balanced track that already sounds quite listenable. Now your are ready to start adding the sauce and spice of a mix – effects!
Join us tomorrow for How to mix and master a demo recording pt.3: Effects
Peace! – Guitar Graph
Photo: Screenshot of FL Studio