I refer back to Ian Shepherd’s article How to Avoid Over-compressing Your Mix quite often. Just in the last week I think I’ve emailed that link to people at least 5 times.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about compression…and about a rule of thumb Ian alludes to.

It goes like this: If the gain reduction doesn’t return to zero several times per bar, you’re compressing too much.

Now, you know how I don’t like “rules” in recording. And every rule can be (and should be) broken, if it’s right for the song.

However, in a world filled with rampant over-compression, this is a great rule to at least TRY to adhere to.

When you compress a track, is the compressor ALWAYS on? On my SSL Bus compressor from Waves, the meter shows up to 20 dB of gain reduction. It’s very tempting to always have that meter flying towards the -10 mark.

The problem? If gain reduction is constantly happening, then you’re not really altering the signal. It’s as if you simply turned the signal down. Compression should be constantly changing. It should be turning down the loud parts and turning up the quiet parts.

If it’s CONSTANTLY turning everything down, you’re probably making a minimal change in dynamics…and it probably has a very unnatural, “squashed” sound.

Do you get what I’m saying?

Let’s say I’m compressing a bass guitar track. If that compressor is constantly knocking off 10 dB (whenever the bass player is playing anything), I’m probably compressing too much. However, if the gain reduction meter hits -10 dB a couple times per bar, but ALSO drops back to zero several times per bar, THEN I’m actually using compression the way it was intended to be used. I’m compressing the LOUD parts, not ALL the parts.

What do YOU think?

There are a million ways to use compression, do you over-do it sometimes? Leave a comment below.

By the way, if you want some more training on compression, check out my Understanding Compression videos.

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