by Paola Messina
What is compression and why is it important in music production?
Compression is used to even out the dynamic range of an audio signal.
Our voices have dynamic range and thankfully so! It’s only natural for the volume of the speaking and singing voice to fluctuate. In fact, it’s a powerful source of expression. The same can be said about instruments and variations in how loudly/quietly we play them.
When it comes to recordings, however, listeners shouldn’t be reaching for the volume knob constantly to make adjustments. This is where the compressor does its magic, insuring that both the quietest and loudest parts of your mix aren’t too low or too high to hear properly. Lower audio signals are boosted and louder ones are attenuated, creating balance between the two extremities.
Compressors can be applied to individual tracks, but are also a common addition to the final mix, shaping the dynamics of the track as a whole for extra power, punch and energy!
Before you compress:
- Record a clean take! Wait until you’re editing and mixing to add compression.
- Experiment with different settings and make sure you’re familiar with the meaning behind each of the parameters (Attack, Release, Ratio, Threshold) as you make your adjustments
- Less is more – over-compressing may bring noise and unwanted sounds to the forefront!
- A/B’ing: Listen to the track with the compressor engaged and with it bypassed so you can compare and contrast as you go.
To sum up this first edition of Sound Advice… Listen closely to compress, no stress!
For more on compression and techniques, check out these resources:
A Beginner’s Guide to Compression – Sweetwater
A Guide to Compression with Examples– Tutsplus
How Does Dynamic Range Compression Change Audio? – How-To Geek
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