6 Step Guide to Mix Compression

Published by Joel Proulx on 11/13/19

6 Step Guide to Mix Compression

When I first began to mix music, I heard the word compression thrown around a lot. I had compressor plugins but had no idea how to properly apply them to my tracks. I decided to make it easy for beginners by making a 6 Step Guide to Mix Compression so that I could save people from the headaches I went through. If you follow this easy 6 step guide, you will be on your way to better sounding mixes.

If you still don’t understand the basics of compression check out this article I wrote that explains compression.

Step 1 - Set Your Ratio

Setting your ratio determines how much compression will be applied once the audio signal goes over your threshold. With most tracks such as drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, I like to start at 4 to 1.

If the track is already compressed or if you feel like it will not need much compression you might want to start around 2 to 1.

For tracks such as room microphones where we want a lot of compression, you may want to start around 6 to 1.

Step 2 - Set Your Attack

One of the most important parts to this 6 step compression guide is setting your attack.

This tells the compressor how quickly the compressor will lower the volume of notes that exceed the threshold.

For some instruments we want to lower the volume peaks and for others we want to let the peaks through.

For instruments such as kick drum or snare drum, we want a slow attack so we can maintain the punch of the drum

Instruments such as guitar, bass and vocals, usually get a medium attack so we are lowing the volume of the peaks of those instruments.

Tracks that we want to push back in the mix, such as background vocals, usually get a faster attack time.

Step 3 - Set Your Release

The release of a compressor tells us how fast or slow the compressor lets go of the signal after it drops below the threshold.

We typically do not want to compressor hanging on very long.

I usually start at the compressors fastest setting and then dial it back if the compression feels unnatural. Almost all my tracks have a fast release.

Step 4 - Dial Back Your Threshold

Dialing back your threshold is what makes your compressor start to reduce the volume of your track. Once you do this you should start to see your Gain Reduction Meter start moving.

The Gain Reduction Meter tells you how much volume your track is being lowered by.

Now I cannot tell you what your meters should be at when your compressing. This is something that cannot be taught. You must listen to what sounds right to you! This takes practice.

On some tracks I compress HARD and get over 10 db of gain reduction. One others I only reduce the volume by a db or two. It just depends on how much compression you want on your track.

Step 5 - Add Make Up Gain

After adding compression to our track we will definitely notice a decrease in volume. So if we need to add some volume back to our track we can add some Make Up Gain.

Step 6 - Adjust Accordingly

This last step is when we can take a step back and decide if any of our settings can be adjusted.

If our track is being compressed too much we can raise our threshold or lower our ratio.

If we are loosing the attack of the instrument too much we can slow down the attack time.

If we want to push our track to the back of the mix further we can achieve this by slowing down our release time.

Why Use Compression?

Compression can actually make a track more powerful! It can bring a track to the forefront.

Compression lowers the volume of the loudest notes played while raising the volume of the quieter notes making the instrument sound full.

But most importantly it makes the volumes of our tracks more consistent which makes for a great sounding mix!

6 Step Guide to Mix Compression - Video

If you are still having a hard time understanding compression don’t worry! Check out this video I made where I show you exactly what compression is doing to your tracks.

Hey guys, If your wondering what your go-to compression settings should be for all your tracks make sure and download this free guide that I made for you. If I had this when I first started it would have saved me a lot of trouble.

Be sure to reach out if you have any questions or need any help!

Joel Proulx

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