You know, I’ve created a decent amount of educational material in the last couple years. And I have to say, I think my crowning achievement will forever be my analogy when it comes to Compressors.
Compressors are tough. It can be hard to understand – let alone hear – what all the different knobs on a Compressor actually do.
A smart person once said “writing about audio is like tap-dancing about architecture.”
Words aren’t the best way to explain concepts in audio. But words are what we have. So we do the best we can.
So every week I think long and hard about the best way to share all this information with you. I try my best to avoid complicated words or abstract ideas. And try to communicate in a way that’s (hopefully) relatable.
That’s how I came up with my Compressor analogy.
Just think about what a Compressor is for a second. Everyone says it’s a thing that compresses audio. But what does that mean?
Well, I could say:
- A compressor is a processor that reduces the level of loud transients.
- The attack and release knobs adjust how fast or slow the compressor responds.
- And the ratio dictates how hard the compressor works.
Or – you could just imagine someone sitting on a couch:
- When someone sits on a couch, the cushion under them inevitably gets squashed (compression).
- The level of squash depends on how heavy the person is (ratio).
- If the person sits close to the front edge of the couch, the cushion is squashed sooner and released sooner (fast attack and release)
- If the person sits all the way back into the couch, the cushion will be squashed later and released later (slow attack and release)
It’s not perfect, but not bad, right? 😛
At this point you’re probably asking: “Chris, where the hell are you going with all this?”
The point is Compressors are one of the most misused and misunderstood processors around. And if I were to guess, I’d say it’s because:
- It’s hard to hear the nuances of a Compressor,
- Words don’t help much when it comes to explaining compression,
- There’s just too many damn knobs.
Even if you’ve been using the Logic Compressor for years, it can still be hard to hear the impact it has on your tracks.
It turns out there’s a MUCH easier way to dial in Compression. So much easier in fact, that it’s astounding more people don’t share this idea.
I can’t take the credit for this one though. As there are much smarter people than I who have been doing this for a long time. And John Paul Stavrou’s amazing book Mixing With Your Mind has the answer.
In a nutshell: it’s hard to hear big differences when you’re using subtle amounts of Compression.
The solution? Set your Compressor to full blast. Then when you adjust the Attack and Release the differences are loud and clear.
Once you’ve got the Compressor pumping exactly how you want it, dial the ratio and threshold back to a more tasteful level.
Once again, my words might not be very helpful. So instead, watch this week’s video above.
Honestly, I’m still a newbie when it comes to Compression…so its still scary. But this video makes me want to try it a bit more.
Are you using a Compressor on the entire kit in this one? Or if the “Drum Shuffle Track” some subset, like only kick + snare + hat ?
Also, should there be some objective goal that I reach with compression on different tracks, or is it like a spice? I’d bet there are best practice guidelines that start to make more sense as I begin trying to use compression.
Hey Corey! In this particular case, I’m using the Compressor on a drum loop which is made up of only kick, snare and cymbals.
The objective when it comes to Compression really depends on the track you’re working on. I know that’s not a tidy or satisfying answer, but it’s, unfortunately, the truth.
I will say most often vocals and live drum tracks will need some degree of Compression. They often have a wide range of dynamics from hit to hit, or syllable to syllable. And you want those bits loud and clear!
Same with acoustic guitars. They tend to get bunchy in the low mids.
I’ll try to get some more posts going about Compression!
Good video, its always helpful to revisit some basics. Maybe on the next compressor video you could go over the differences between the different compressors in LPX, and which analog compressors theyre emulating.
Maybe address the Auto Gain, Distortion and Limiter controls.
Chris had another suggestion I like to use when using a compressor, and that is to insert a compressor on a track, and set the Threshold to 0 and listen to how the compressor is affecting the track, if its coloring the sound in a way thats pleasing, and then audition each of the stock compressors like this before selecting the one you like the sound of best and then dial in your settings.
Id also like to see a video on side chaining, like with a kick and bass track in EDM.
Charles Moore says
I’m sure Chris has valuable insights, but FYI I’ve found many online posts/videos that characterize and compare the various LPX compressors. Cheers
My favorite is the PDF developed by mastering engineer Holger Lagerfeldt: https://www.pro-tools-expert.com/logic-pro-expert/2018/9/18/ever-wanted-to-really-know-all-about-the-logic-compressor-well-now-you-can-expert-download
Thanks for sharing this!
Charles Moore says
Excellent info as always, thank you Chris. I had tried maxing out compressor settings, but didn’t think to max everything except Attack and Release, then adjust those two. Nice.
Also didn’t know about Stavrou’s Mixing With Your Mind. Will def. be checking that one out. Domo arigato!
Thanks for the comment Charles! That compression technique from “Mixing With Your Mind” is invaluable. A book definitely worth checking out.
Why do you have the distortion on? I think much of the difference when you turn the compressor on is actually the distortion.