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.