Compressors can be confusing little buggers. When I was a recording novice, I was often baffled by them and was never really sure if they were doing anything. Even now, with more experienced ears, it’s still sometimes hard to tell exactly whether a compressor is adding anything useful to a track.
A compressor’s effect on a track can be subtle—and that Makeup Gain knob doesn’t help, since we usually perceive “louder” as “better.” I’ve often discovered, after thinking I’d improved my audio by adding a compressor, that all I’d done was make it louder. A few years ago I learned this handy trick for setting compressors: go way too far with the compressor’s settings so you can really tell what you’re doing, and then back them off:
Here’s a quick tip that will help you clean up your mixes and make them less muddy. Add a high-pass filter to every track. Yes, even bass and kick drum tracks.
The reason for this is that unwanted low-frequency information will quickly muddy up your mix. Even tracks like triangle and glockenspiel will likely have low-frequency noise that may be inaudible to you. If you’ve got 20 or 30 tracks in your mix, all this mud will build up and overwhelm your low end.
Because of the way our ears work, the low end data in your mixes has to be significantly louder that the highs and mids to remain balanced. Thus, most of the energy in a track will be concentrated in the low end. This means that compressors and limiters will react to this low-end data first, and if a large part of it is non-musical rumble and mud, this will adversely affect the way the compressor works. Cleaning up the low end will mean your compression will be more musical and thus will sound better.