It’s so stinkin’ easy to overdo things.

When I first learned about compression, I was hooked. It was a magical tool that allowed you to tame the dynamics of any track in your session. You can adjust the ratio, threshold, attack, and release to a seemingly infinite number of variables.

They taught me what compression is and what it does. They taught me how to use it and what all the knobs do, but they didn’t teach me WHEN to use it. More importantly, they didn’t teach me when NOT to use it.

A while back I was working on a mix, and I had a compressor on the mix bus. I had it set just like you’re supposed to set mix bus compressors, and it sounded fine. On a whim, I decided to click the Bypass button and see what the mix sounded like without the compressor.

It sounded AMAZING.

That mix didn’t need a mix bus compressor. It sounded better without it.

What’s the lesson here? Don’t use compressors on your mix bus?

No, the lesson is much simpler: Don’t use ANYTHING on your mix that makes it sound worse.

That’s so simple it’s almost laughable, but we all do it. We slap a Neve EQ and an SSL compressor on, and we tweak knobs for hours. We never stop to ask if the track needed them in the first place.

It’s not about simplicity for simplicity’s sake. It’s about always, always, ALWAYS serving the song.

Sometimes the lead vocal needs three compressors. Sometimes it doesn’t need even one.If you listen closely enough, the track will tell you what it needs…but only if you’re willing to listen.

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

P.S. Have you checked out my Understanding Compression course yet? If not, you should. It’ll make you WAY more confident in how you wield compressors in your mixes.