When you first started using a compressor, you were happy to just have a basic understanding of what the threshold and ratio do, right?

At some point, though, you need to learn how to deal with the attack setting. I’ll give you a starting point today.

The attack setting simply tells the compressor how quickly it should compress the signal once it crosses the threshold. (Don’t confuse attack with ratio. Ratio tells the compressor how much to compress once it crosses the threshold.)

Start Slow

When you’re dating a compressor, it’s important to take things slow. 🙂

My buddy Ian has been known to say that fast attack times kill music. For the most part, he’s right. Music is all about rhythm and emotion. If your attack times are too short, you’re chopping off the transients on your tracks…losing that punch you’re trying to get.

While I’ll admit…it’s fun to use a fast attack and watch the gain reduction meter bounce all over the place, but try to get into the habit of using slow attack times. The compression will be more subtle, and you’ll be less likely to over-compress the track.

Rather than starting at 5 or 10ms…dial that puppy back to something like 50-75ms perhaps. Let those transients through! Then let the compression shape the tone of the instrument AFTER the transient.

Missing the “Punch”

People talk all the time about wanting their mixes to “punch.” So they talk about using analog summing, or buying fancy plug-ins. I’m not against either of those, but before you go there, try increasing your attack times on your compressors.

You may just re-discover that punch you were looking for.

How do you set YOUR attack times? Leave a comment below. (And if you want more training on compression, check this out.)

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