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 the aforementioned effect for granted since it’s a complex tool that requires dedication, many hours or work and experimenting in order to master it. In today’s market, there are countless compressor units which have seemingly same control parameters. Do not be fooled by that, as each compressor (both hardware or software version) unit processes sound in its own unique way. Depending on the algorithm, circuit, dynamic range or a number of other aspects, each compressor unit possesses its own character.
The following 7 tips will be of great help in dealing with the compressor.
1. Limit yourself to just one compressor at first
There are countless compressors units available, but instead of using 10 different ones and come to a point of just confusing yourself, try picking just one. Take as much time as you need to fully understand it. 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 the vocal recording for instance.
2. 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 in order 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.
3. 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.
4. Try to apply compression gradually
In order to achieve loudness in the overall track try to apply the compression in a number of 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.
5. 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 “make up gain” parameter that can be found in most of the compressor units. This will compensate the decreased volume effect when you crank that threshold parameter. Then, with the use of the bypass button, you can listen what sounds better.
6. Transient enhancers
One of the dynamic effects that are closely related to the compressors is transient enhancer. If you decided to really 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 compressor in the effect chain of your DAW.
7. Less is more
In case you feel indecisive about the use of compression, try to remember that less is usually more.