Slate Digital VMR compression modules
compression tutorial: beginner
hey, hey, hey, look who's back! so good to see ya.
Compression is arguably the most important tool in the mixing engineer’s kit.
It is THE go-to tool that engineers reach for when they want characteristics like “punchiness,” “up-front-ness,” “smoothness,” “evenness” and “loudness.” Unfortunately, slightly overdo compression and you start to traverse the land of “squashed,” “unpleasing,” “overbearing,” even downright unlistenable. Sounds like compression is worth a discussion, no?
To make matters worse, not only can you ruin a good production with too much compression, it is BY FAR the most difficult effect to hear when you aren't used to listening for it. I still have problems listening for it after almost eight years of mixing audio! The combination of "hard-to-hear" and "can-ruin-a-mix-easily" characteristics of compression can truly create a frustrating situation for mixing and producing newcomers.
Although it is a tricky tool, I don't want the difficulty to scare you. Compression can be really powerful even if you don't quite get it yet. After my explanation here, I will again share a video link, and we can work on compressing a track together. I will also give some very useful beginner's tips at the end of this blog.
So, what is compression? Well, I like to think of it as a volume fader.
I also said that equalization (EQ) was like a volume fader. What’s going on here? I can explain. While eq acts as a precise fader, compression (in its simplest form) simply functions as an automated fader. Instead of focusing on equalizing frequencies, a compressor, well.. “Compresses” the difference between the loud bits and the soft bits of your audio. I like to think of a friendly little robot turning the fader down when the volume jumps too loud.
Fig. 1: good volume, not enough volume, and clipping
fig. 2: transients and decays from a kick drum sample. Nathan can't spell "beginning."
Okay, house cleaning done.
Let’s go over the controls that a compressor may have. Some compressors have more controls, some have less. That does not make any compressor inferior to another. I'm going to cover the six most frequent controls your compressor may have.
My DAW of choice is Logic Pro X. I’m going to use the included compressor. If you own Logic, perfect. If you don't, I guarentee your compressor will function similarly. Compressors will fall under the “dynamics” page of your plugins picker.
I want to break compressor parameters down into three main groups:
**(As a Logic Pro user, you can change the type of compressor you’re using by clicking through the different buttons near the top of the interface. Notice the amount and type of controls change depending on the compressor that you select. We will stick with the Platinum Digital model for our discussion since it is the default compressor when you load the software, and because it contains all six parameters.)**
different compressors that you can use in Logic Pro X
parameter group 1: makes the compressor work
These controls work in tandem, and will ultimately get your compressor to start doing things. I suggest starting by playing around with these tools.
fig. 3: use for reference with each parameter group
fig. 4: the squiggly white line on the graph reprisents the amount that the compressor is turning the volume down (this is called "gain reduction")
parameter group 2: makes the compressor work faster and slower
These controls adjust the speed that the compressor reacts to volume over the threshold:
fig. 5: the squiggly white line on the graph reprisents the amount that the compressor is turning the volume down (this is called "gain reduction")
parameter group 3: miscellaneous controls
These tools don't really belong in the above groups in my opinion. But they are still important.
fig. 6: soft and hard knees