Welcome to Day 26 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Alright, so you’re neck deep into mixing a song. You’ve carved out space in the mix for each instrument by adjusting EQ, panning, and levels.

At this point, though, you may have certain tracks that are too loud in sections and too quiet in others. The lead vocal, for example, might be at the perfect volume during the verses, but it stands out too much at the chorus. You try bringing the volume down, but it loses its presence and…for lack of a better word…oomph.

At this point it makes sense to reach for the compressor.

2 Types of Compression Users

If you’re new to recording and mixing, you fall into one of two categories. You are either too scared of or confused by compression that you don’t bother using it. Or you’re really excited about compression, and you use it by default on every track in your session.

If you are in the first group, you have a lot to gain by learning how to use compression. It could very well be the missing piece to your mixes. It can help glue things together, tame peaks, even out the volume of your tracks, etc. It’s an extremely useful tool, especially when mixing more modern, pop music.

If you fall into the second category, and you compress everything in site. You, unfortunately, need an intervention. Compression is kinda like alcohol. When used in moderation it can be a very pleasant, healthy thing. But if you overdo it, you’ll end up with a mess and ruin things for everybody. 🙂

If you find yourself using compression by default, take a second to think about why you put compression on every channel. Is it because someone told you to? Is it because you think you need it?

Or do you know exactly why you’re using compression?

That’s the point I want to make. Compress on purpose. Before you open up a compressor on a track, know why you’re adding compression. If you can’t think of a good reason, you need to either a. learn more about compression or b. NOT use a compressor on that track.

Common Uses for Compression

Here are some common uses for compression. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but this will give you an idea of when it’s appropriate to use compression.

  • Make loud parts quieter. If certain sections of the lead vocal or bass guitar are jumping out and too loud in sections, compression can help tame those peaks.
  • Make quiet parts louder. If the lead vocal is getting lost in the mix, or you can’t make out exactly what the singer is singing, compression can bring out the consonant sounds in the vocal, making it more understandable.
  • “Tighten” up the sound. Compression can oftentimes be helpful to make a performance more consistent, and give it a “tighter” feel.

There are plenty of additional uses for compression, but this should get you started.

Day 26 Challenge

Your challenge today is to identify which category you fall into.

Do you avoid compression? If so, take the plunge and start learning how to use it.

Do you use compression too much? Start compressing on purpose rather than by default.