Common compression mistakes | Production Tips

Compression is a crucial tool in the audio producer’s arsenal, helping to even out levels and create a more cohesive, polished sound.

But while it’s an essential part of the mixing process, it’s also incredibly easy to make mistakes that can ruin your mix.

In this post, we’ll explore the most common compression errors that can occur, covering the potential negative impacts of each mistake, and of course explain how to avoid them.

Compressing 'just because'

We all want to use our new and freshly paid compressor plugins. But first, do we ACTUALLY need compression ? What if we could just get away with just some volume riding or automation ?

This is really the most important question, and to sum things up here are the 3 main reasons why you should use compression:
• Reinforce the transients
• Support the sustain
• Raise the average level

Of course, we can list a few more, like adding color or character but then there are more options to consider than just compression.

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Too much compression

Do we need 2 dBs of gain reduction ? 5 ? 10 ?

The point is, it heavily depends on the nature of the signal, and of the context.

Compressing guitars can make sense, but each case is different: A funk guitar may need quite a lot of compression, while heavily saturated guitars usually don’t.

A synth patch may also need compression, but we should also consider getting back to tweaking its enveloppes settings for a cleaner result.

Compression out of context

Soloing a track to fine tune compressors settings makes changes easier to hear: But by doing so, we’re guided towards choices that make tracks sound better on their own.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter how a track sounds in solo: What really matters is how it fits within the context of your mix.

Avoid soloing too much while setting up compression, and force yourself to make decisions in context, with the rest of the tracks playing: It will likely lead to better compression decisions.

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Too fast attack times

Fast attack time can be seductive, as it can make tracks sit evenly in a dense mix with minimal fuss. But it also destroys transients !

Transients add energy and contrast to music: Removing them too much will lmost likely make your mix sound flat and lifeless.

By slowing the attack time down, you’ll get all the benefits of compression, while retaining the punch and impact that makes music compelling.


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Not matching level after compression

Most compressors have a ‘makeup gain’ knob, which allows you to turn the track up after it’s been compressed. But when misused this control can be dangerous or lead to bad decisions.

With too much makeup gain, a track will end up louder than it was originally, making it difficult to determine whether the compressor is actually making the track sound better: Is it really better, or just louder ?

The only fair way to evaluate decisions is to always adjust the makeup gain until there is no change in level when we hit the bypass button.

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Apply compression all at once

For best results, try applying compression in stages:

– Shave a few dB off tracks. Eventually use compressors in serie if you need a lot of compression.
-Then take a few more dBs off your group busses.
-And finish it off with some gentle mix bus compression.

This approach will yield more musical results, more transparent compression and louder levels without distortion.

Relying too much on presets

Compression plugins often come packed with tons of presets: As always, presets can be a good starting point but you will most likely have to adjust them to your needs.

The track tempo, the signal dynamic range or the overall mix are only a few of the elements you need to consider to set up your compressor.

And chances are these fancy presets aren’t the best settings you can try to get the most out of your compressor.

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