AUDIO COMPRESSION 201: What Should I Use Compression On?
Asking what you should use compression on is sort of like asking “what can I build with a saw?” If you’re unfamiliar with what compression is, check out the last post (link) where we took a brief overview.
Compression is simply a tool.
And like any tool, different people use different tools to produce equally effective results when used appropriately. You first need to decide what you want to build before determining what tools would best do the job.
For live sound I prefer to compress individual channels rather than groups, DCAs, sub-mixes, or mains. I like to use it to help prevent me from having to “ride the fader” on each individual channel, and free up my hands to mix my groups as the song goes; shaping the orchestration from there.
I usually use a light, 2:1 compression on each backup vocalist, and a mid 3:1 on the lead to help keep them consistently present in the mix.
3:1 compression with soft-knee, fast attack and slow decay. The slow decay reduces the “pumping” effect between strums.
I don’t typically compress bass unless the bassist likes to pop their strings. In that case I’ll use an aggressive ratio with fast attack and decay.
Pretty heavy 4:1 with hard-knee, fast attack and decay. This helps “fatten up” the low end after the punch.
I use a mid, 3:1 ratio on snare with a pretty slow decay to keep snare hits more consistent one to the next.
Many people like to heavily compress toms. I prefer a light, 2:1 with a fast decay to help hear the low end after the pop.
With other instruments (and even these) I would recommend listening to each channel at your sound check without any compression at all. These may be my personal “go to” settings, but they’re not always necessary. Even when they are they are simply a starting point – your thresholds will always have to be adjusted at sound check anyway. Digital mixers have made it all too tempting to use compressors on every channel which can do just as much harm as good. Always tailor your settings to the band and your personal mixing style. You probably couldn’t build much of anything if your goal was simply to use a saw – but if you need to cut something in half I don’t recommend the screwdriver.
Read more about Audio Compression in Rob’s post – AUDIO COMPRESSION 101: What is Compression?
Rob discovered his love of theater and passion for creating dynamic environments early on as a volunteer at his home church in Pennsylvania. His degree in architecture and years of experience as a volunteer prepared him for his calling to full time ministry where he led teams in the areas of lighting & scenic design, audio production, graphic design, branding, and interior design. He and his wife Emily have recently moved to New York City, where he has come full circle into architectural lighting. Rob enjoys blurring the line between theatrical, experiential, and architectural design; keeping one foot in ministry as often as possible.