Here’s a quick tip on setting a compressor properly so you’re not overcompressing the signal. I got it from reading through the excellent posts like this one on Production Advice (mentioned in an earlier post). I’ve been using compressors for years and I can’t believe I never knew this bit of wisdom! Here it is:
In normal use (i.e. not for a special effect), set your compressor’s threshold so the gain reduction goes back to zero a few times each measure.
That’s it! That way you know you’re only compressing the loudest parts of the signal and not crushing the whole thing. It also ensures that the release time isn’t too long and the compressor has a chance to “let go” of the signal before the next loud bit.
As far as the rest of the settings, here are a few guidelines:
- Start with a low ratio. 2:1 is a good jumping-off point, and if you want a harder-hitting sound try around 4:1.
- Avoid overly fast attack times. Anything less than 20ms will crush the transients and may make the sound “pillowy.” The point of compression is to make the quiet parts louder. Except for special effects, it’s usually a good idea to let the transients through.
- Listen. Set the makeup gain so the compressed sound matches the original uncompressed signal, then flip the bypass off and on to make sure you like what the compressor is doing. Often, compressors make a sound louder, which our ears think means better. Balance the levels so you can really hear what the compressor is adding, if anything. If it’s not doing anything noticeable, turn it off! There’s no need to compress every track, and I often avoid it unless it’s really adding something useful—evening out a bass part, intensifying a drum track, or gluing the mix together, for example.