Tag Archives: eq

Compression 101

Compression in my honest opinion is one of the more difficult features in mixing to completely understand and master.  But when it is mastered, it can be a secret weapon to achieving that professional recording studio sound.  Too many people now a days on forums and YouTube comments are asking “what are the settings that I must use on my compressor to make my voice sound good?”  So many things are wrong with that question. Lets Start off with the preparation.

First of all, be sure that before you even think about mixing anything or throwing any plugin on any audio track, make sure that the track is the best sounding take that you can possibly have.  Here are a few tips to assure that you have a track ready for a mix:

  1. The wave form is even.  Be sure that there are no major spikes or cut outs in the wave form and check to see if the dB level is even, and there is no clipping AT ALL.
  2. Was the vocalist/amp/guitar too close or too far from the mic? Proximity effect plays a big role here.  This is when a mic is placed too close to the sound source, resulting in overwhelming bass frequencies that you do not want unless that is the sound you are looking for.  On the other hand, being too far from the mic can give you a distant sound in the recording, which can be useful when creating space in the mix.  But if you are recording an IN YOUR FACE rap vocal then you want to be closer to the microphone.  Just be aware of the almighty proximity effect.
  3. Clean up the audio.  Once you have a nice looking, and nice sounding audio track, go in there and clean up and trim any quiet parts.  Nobody wants to hear a background cough, or your nasty mouth noises in the mic during the epic guitar solo or instrument break.

If you do not have a track that is 90% done without the mix, the go back and repeat steps one to three.  Experiment with different mic techniques, angles and distances.  You’ll get it!

Okay now that you have a nice sounding track ready for mixing, it is time to actually mix it! Finally! The time we have all been waiting for!  Just one more thing. ALWAYS remember the golden rule of mixing:


I can not stress that enough.  Listen to what the track needs and you will receive a better result than any settings your find on any forum.  For beginners, start off with a preset, and tweak it until it sounds perfect. EXPERIMENT EXPERIMENT and EXPERIMENT some more!

So what is compression anyway? Think of it like this:

You and your family are moving down south and you have a big rental truck.  You have to put all of your stuff in to that rental truck.  You can fill that baby all the way up, shoving things into the little crevices until there is no longer enough room for anything else.  But once that truck starts moving, all over your stuff is going to get scratched up, broken and ruined.  Think of your audio track (make sure it is clean and well recorded! You don’t put garbage in a moving truck? Do you?) as the things you are loading into the truck, and the truck as the compressor.  If you overdue the compressor (put too much into the truck), then you will crunch and ruin your audio (the things you are moving).  So this is key.  Unless you are going for a squashed, over compressed sound, do not over due the compressor.  Now time to go more in depth:

A compressor’s role is to reduce the dynamic (volume) range of the audio file or instrument onto which one is inserted, effectively lessening the volume gap between a part’s quietest and loudest moments. It’s easiest to think about this when a compressor is applied to a long, dynamic part such as a lead vocal, though of course an individual drum sound has a dynamic range too—these start with a loud initial hit and fade to silence, so drums have a wide dynamic range, it’s just that this range plays out over a short period of time.  Generally there are 5 basic parameters on every compressor:


Sets the decibel (dB) threshold to the level at which the compressor begins to work. If you set it to 10 dB for instance, any signal coming in above that will be have its ass shaped by the compressor according to the parameters below.


This sets the amount of compression, in dB, applied to a signal once it violates your pre-set threshold.  A ratio of 4:1 will output 1 dB for every 4 dB of input signal that exceeds your targeted threshold


The time, measured in milliseconds (ms), it takes for the compressor to reach its maximum level on the sound.  A fast attack can be useful for damping percussive peaks so the overall track level can be increased. Can also add punch to a track.


Controls how long (ms) it takes to release a signal from the compressor once it dips below your specified threshold.


Sets the overall output level of the effect (dB). This can be useful to whack up the output level again after its been reduced from applying compression to a signal – this is otherwise commonly known as make-up gain.

There is a basic outline for these settings that will help you begin to experiment with them.


So now it is important to experiment with all of these.  Remember, nobody can become a professional mixer or engineer in one night by using presets or settings from a forum.  It all depends on what sound you want to achieve and what your track is calling for.  My next article will go more in depth on creating space in a mix so your instruments do not sound cluttered.  Be sure yo read my article on Understanding EQ and I will see you soon! Keep making music!

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Truly Understanding EQ

I assume that we all know that the range of what most humans can hear runs from 20 hz to 20khz, so from 20 to 20,000 frequencies per second is all the human ear can deal with.

Those lower frequencies around 20 to hmmm about 100 maybe 200 are felt, just as much as they are heard. Ever wonder why that is so? Why does your shirt and chest rattle in the night club when the bass and kick are pounding away? Those low frequecies are full of energy, and that energy can actually attempt to move what it is trying to go through.

Sound is energy, plain and simple, just like a vehicle driving down the road at 60 mph, put an object in front of it, and both sound and the vehicle are going to attempt to plow through it. The lighter the vehicle and the higher the frequency, the less energy either have when impacting the wall, therefore the less ability they will have to move what they are hitting. Some are so lightweight they just bounce right back the other direction until they hit something the in the other direction.

So, this means the low frequencies are full of energy and the higher ones are just a bunch of lightwieghts bouncing all over the place. Now take this one step further. 

Let’s say you made a track with a thunderous bass, man it just vibrates the crap out of your shirt and is cool as hell, but then you have the amp from hell to drive that track. Next thing you do is burn the CD and run out to your car, but it sounds like crap. My god how can this be? You just created the next million seller and your car stereo is ruining it.

Well in your studio at 100 watts there is plenty of energy for all of your little freq buddies to play and be happy, but pop it into the car stereo with maybe 20 watts and there just isnt enough juice to go around. Somebody is not going to be heard. So the big energy robbing heavy hitters get their way and the little bounce off the wall wimps get left in the dust. It is only going to sound like one big bass/mudd line.

Ok so now we know that the lower freq’s need to be restrained just a little, so we put some roll off below 50. (Side note, personal choice on where to roll it off) Now that lets the weaklings play along side the heavy hitters down at the bottom, but wait, it still sounds like mud. Damn it, what is going wrong here.

Now we have to think about other things and this is where it can get even more complicated. Let’s say for arguments sake that you have 10 instruments playing in your track. Every instrument is going to have, what I like to think of as, its dominant frequecncy range. And some of this I am going “off the cuff” because I can never remember the ranges of all of these instruments, so I always go back and check my notes.


Bass and kick are going to be in that low high energy group from 20 to about 200, but then they are going to have harmonics that reach out beyond that, maybe even up into the 4000 freqs or more.

Keyboards are going to be in that 400 up to 3000 with harmonics beyond that.

Snares ride in the 400-1000 depending on tuning with harmonics

Vocals same thing and on and on.

Now you can see that things start to build up in the middle, somewhere between 400 to 8000 and all the stuff beyond are generally the harmonics all of these intruments produce.

It is in that 400 to 8000 range that you have to carve out little nitches for all of those instruments that sit there. If they all try to occupy the same place at the same time, then someone is going to lose and it all sounds like a muddy mess. 

If you didn’t capture the perfect sound that sits just right, EQ becomes your trusty fix. This is your swiss knife to carve up that precious little space of frequency spectrum and hand it out to each instrument. With EQ you are giving each instrument, the boundaries where it is allowed to play and be heard. No more, no less.

So exlcuding the kick and bass which you held back at below 50 hz you have, not including the snare, toms and cymbals, about 5 instruments that you really need to deal with. Those 5 have to be carved up into frequency nitches to allow them to be heard.

This doesnt mean that you take instrument 1 and roll it off at 300 and 600 and instrument 2 at 600 and 1000 etc. If you did that it would sound like a bad AM radio. It means you use cuts and boosts to give each one its prominent space. What one gets the other doesn’t and vice versa and in the end you have 10 instruments all happily being heard.

I hope others jump in and offer some opinions. And I hope the newcomers understand that using EQ is not something you use, “just because”, but a tool to carve out niches for all of your instruments to sit inside the limited frequency spectrum of 20 hz to 20 khz. Of course panning, volume and reverb can even play into this, but for now we are only thinking about frequencies.

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