Welcome to Day 28 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

When I’m working on a mix, once I have the basic sounds and levels I want, I reach for a compressor on my master fader.

I’ve talked about this before on HSC (see Using Compression on Your Master Fader), but it deserves to be repeated here on 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Do you compress your entire mix? Have you ever thought about it? Do you compress by default? Or do you shy away from compressing the master bus?

I’m not here to convince you to start compressing your master bus, but I do think there are some benefits. Read over these and decide for yourself.

It’s Like “Pre-Mastering”

In a couple of days (Day 31) we’re going to take a look at mastering. Several years ago, when I first started mixing, I was under the impression that it was wrong to compress the mix. Compressing the mix was the mastering engineer’s job. Period.

Well, as with most things, there really are no rules when it comes to audio. In fact, I’ve read interviews with mastering engineers who say they actually prefer it if the mix comes to them with a little bit of compression on it.

If a mix has 30 dB of dynamic range, that means the mastering engineer (depending on the style of music) probably needs to knock 20-22 dB off of that mix to make it loud enough for general listening. If the mix engineer had applied some compression to his mix before sending it to the mastering engineer, there wouldn’t be quite as much dynamic range to mess with.

See, the problem with compressing in one fatal swoop is that it can harm the sound. Using a little bit of compression along the way, in stages, can sound much more natural.

The Glue that Holds Your Mix Together

I’ve said this before. Compression can sometimes be the glue that holds your mix together. There’s something about light compression on an entire mix that makes everything play a little more nicely together.

It makes the bass tighter, the mid-range more present, and the highs sparkle.

A Few Tips/Warnings

While compressing the master fader can yield some great results, DON’T OVERDO IT. A little bit of compression can go a long way. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Don’t compress by more than 2-4 dB.
  • Use a slow attack. Let all the peaks come through, leave them for your mastering engineer to deal with.
  • Use a fairly low ratio. I rarely use more than 2:1 on the master.
  • Mix everything through the compressor. Don’t just slap a compressor on the master at the end of the session. It will completely change the sound of the mix. Make sure you’re mixing and making all of your decisions while listening through the compressor. Trust me.

Day 28 Challenge

Your challenge today is to spend some time adding compression to the master fader on a few of your mixes. Notice how it changes the sound…and report back here.