The use of a compressor as an audio effect and dynamic effect, in general, is one of the toughest and most comprehensive tasks in music production. It is important not to take effect mentioned above for granted since it’s a sophisticated tool that requires dedication, many hours of work, and experimenting to master it. In today’s market, many compressor units have seemingly the same control parameters. Do not be fooled by that, as each compressor unit (both hardware or software version) processes sound in its unique way. Depending on the algorithm, circuit, dynamic range, or some other aspects, each compressor unit possesses its own character.
The following seven tips will be of great help in dealing with the compressor.
Limit yourself to just one compressor at first
There are many compressors units available, but instead of using ten different ones and come to the point of just confusing yourself, try picking only one. Take as much time as you need to understand it fully. After you are comfortable with this compressor, you can move to another, then start to compare those two and see what’s the difference. Furthermore, you can combine it and check how they work together on a vocal recording, for instance.
The extreme threshold trick
One trick that has proven to be particularly useful is the use of the extreme threshold. You can crank that threshold parameter to precisely set up the attack and release times. A small change to those two parameters will be then more noticeable and, therefore, easier to set to your liking.
Save the transients
Extremely short attack times will kill the transients. That is clearly undesirable, especially when processing the sounds of the rhythm section. Try to leave some punch and impact, since, without it, your track will lose its dynamics.
Try to apply compression gradually
In order to achieve loudness in the overall track, try to apply the compression in several stages. A bit here and a bit there, instead of using a lot at once. Two or more compressor units, with different settings, at once on the drum group, for example, can prove to be of great help.
Volume is the trickster
The human ear mainly perceives the volume by “louder is better” principle. By that, you can easily be fooled by the volume differences. To avoid this, you should pay attention to the “makeup gain” parameter that can be found in most of the compressor units. This will compensate for the decreased volume effect when you crank that threshold parameter. Then, with the use of the bypass button, you can listen to what sounds better.
One of the dynamic effects that are closely related to the compressors is a transient enhancer. If you decided to squash something out and you feel like you need to bring back some punch or to shorten the tail of something, this is the effect that you could apply right after the compressor in the effect chain of your DAW.
Less is more
In case you feel indecisive about the use of compression, try to remember that less is usually more.