Compression 101

Compression being a well-known technique in music production, I have three out-of-the box strategies to help improve your tracks that are beyond the traditional understanding of the compressor.

I’m going to be utilizing FL Studio’s Fruity Limiter for these examples; however, these strategies can be used on any platform with any compressor.

To start off, I’ll give the reason as to why this is my preferred choice, then cover the strategies and reasons for them.

I prefer to use Fruity Limiter for the simple reason of the visual aspect. With options to see how much of the actual waveform is being compressed (in combination with my keen listening), helps determine how much of the sound needs to be reduced. My purpose of the compressor is to create room for vocals and other instruments when a samples frequency range is all over the place.

Now, for the first strategy, I start with a max compression at -14.5db, knee at 100%, and a ratio of 20:1. This generally distorts and mashes the sound together. From here, if this is the effect you are looking for, your work is done. This “flattened” effect helps create room for the vocals to sit on top of it without clashing the frequencies. This strategy is commonly used for pianos of varying velocities to create a grimy effect.

The second strategy builds from strategy, which starts with the compressor near max. The strategy is for compressing an individual instrument to fill empty space on a track. From here, the threshold range can range, but I usually find around -7db to be a good spot (leaving the ratio and knee the same). The key is to listen for the sweet spot, which is no distortion, but a compressed sound. From here you can add your effects, such as reverb or delay to fill the space.

The final strategy is for vocals and vocal samples. At time I will have a vocal sample in a section of a track, usually the hook for building energy. Vocals tend to clash with other vocals as the frequencies occupy the same range (e.g. High-mid). This is what I will use a compressor for. Starting with the compressor at max, slowly bringing the threshold up to approximately -6db. If the sound does distort, this is where listening for the sweet spot comes into play.

As with most strategies for mixing and mastering there is not a standardized formula for a good sound, it is all based off of the sound you are looking for. Play with settings and listen closely to what the compressor can do for you tracks.

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