Taming Your Levels: Compression Basics
People can understand the idea of what it's doing, but they can't necessarily understand how it's working. So your goal is nice, even levels that nobody ever has to adjust, sounds nice and robust. And, it's pretty seamless. One way to do that, and I used to do this a whole lot more like a numb skull maniac, is like ride the levels up and down every time. Do just a ton of riding the levels using something like this fader part tool to write some automation and pro tools. It can be invigorating but it's just so time consuming too. So compression kind of does this for you, or allows me to make more fine tune adjustments with volume automation, which is really where I want to be. So it's like having someone there to turn it down or up every time it gets too loud or too quiet. You've got these key concepts that we're gonna look at through a few different animations that I've got that are really nice and illustrative. But the key thing I think to understand here is these different categories ...
or concepts are all working together within a compressor. If you've got a threshold, but if not adjusted the ratio you are not doing a thing to this audio. So, we'll kind of show that in a little finer detail in a minute. But compression what it does is and I'm not sure, will this animation just play back if I hit play. Yeah. All right. Magic. Okay. So compression is working on the signal that is below or this is a typo, excuse me. The compression is working on the signal. That's above this line. Okay? It is reducing the level. And I'm sorry for that. We'll fix it for the people on the web. But, so every time the signal gets above this certain level, you know wherever we set the threshold, it's being turned down. Okay? You think, oh, compression is supposed to make it all louder and more present. It will, but you gotta advance another step. These are from patches.zone. Graciously gave us permission to use these, this animated compression guide that you can find at the URL here. I wholly encourage you to look at it more in depth. So threshold, when is it getting too loud? I want to turn it down. Okay? Threshold is, is only part of it. Here's the threshold. Here's the ratio. How much am I turning it down for every decibel above? Am I not turning it down at all? That's one to one ratio. That's not compression at all. Two to one ratio for every two decibels above the threshold and only get one out. All right? So I've bought myself what's a little bit of headroom here. We'll talk about how important that is. Four to one higher ratio. You start to feel like, okay, this is impactful on the signal, it kind of starts to make it a little pushy even. And then infinity to one, it's called a limiter. The signal doesn't go above this level, with some exceptions. So once the dynamic range decreases, once we've kind of lopped off the top levels, or the loudest levels, what we have is another stage that's called makeup gain. This allows us to make the overall whole thing louder to use that headroom that we bought to make this overall piece more present. Less chance someone needs to turn it up or down and just gives us a better chance to it hitting our target levels. Cause if you don't do this, you're all over the place or you're riding the levels constantly in an effort to try to get it to live at, you know, minus 24 for me. And then attack time, before we get a chance to listen to this and the effect of it, tells you when the level reduction will kick in. Okay? So this thing is not like an automatic, you know, especially when you're talking about the hardware that it derives from. It's a choice that you have to make. So you might think like someone's really peaky, they're hitting, you know kind of harsh, fast, transient sounds with regularity. You need a pretty fast attack to be able to catch those and turn it down. A peak limiter will usually help us with that. So that's like what you're seeing here. In this case, you know that little peak is allowed to kind of sneak through. We get, if you're working on music, for example, you can kind of get that snare drum crack before, the other stuff, or kind of the ring kicks in. So you can turn it down a little bit. And then release time is just kind of the other side of that. How long is it compressing for. And if you have it extremely la, an extremely long release time, what it's going to do is sound like whooooooosh. Call it pumping and breathing. It's bringing the level back up after having extremely suppressed it for a long time. All right. So let's do a quick little demo on some compression. Okay. We will skip the demos of compression. Ha ha ha! But I'm actually gonna uh. We've got a demo here. So I will do kind of a little bit of a combo of some automation and some compression just quickly here. So if we...
The high ground.
Don't skip this demo, it's the one at the end.
Oh, okay. Got it. Thanks. Okay, so we see with this compressor threshold, ratio, gain, this one's nice, it gives you a lot of visual feedback, which I like. So let's look at Al's voice.
Has the high ground in this levy war,
Lets take the,
should they build,
Phone sound off of them?
Has the high ground in this levy war? Should they build higher levies on Nancy side of the river? Or are the levies on Dan's side of the river causing
This is my gain induction.
Causing problems because they're too high already.
You're gonna see a lot of it, if I up the attack to be almost instantaneous.
Has the high ground in this levy war? Should they build higher levy.
And then if I bring the ratio up very high.
Has the high ground in this levy war? Should they build higher levies on Nancy side of the river,
Brought the threshold down too. So.
Has the high ground in this.
Okay, I've got a lot of headroom that I can boost this for, but now.
Has the high ground in this levy war? Should they build higher levies on Nancy side of the river? Or are the levies on Dan's side-
What you're hearing is something that's overly compressed. I mean, it sounds, least for my medium. Like commercial radio, you're kind of used to hearing this like really intense, like there's almost no range at all. Everything is kind stuck in the loudness war, for example. So, compression is, kind of plays a heavy role in that. But what I tend to do in kind of the way that you saw it at first was I do a pretty gentle low ratio. This is under two to one, so it's not doing a ton of work. I do another later stage at, with a higher threshold, and also a higher ratio on my voiceover bus.
Has the high ground in this levy war. Should they build higher levies on Na-
So you could see that there's, there's like actually quite a lot of compression going on at that stage too. And what I like is just like, it's on a kissing this threshold being reduced maybe by three to three to four DB at this point. And you know, that that's enough of it for it to like have a real discernible effect without really getting in the way, or kind of sounding too pushy.
Has the high ground in this levy war. Should they build higher levies on Nancy side of the river?
So if you use the template that I've provided there's a free template with stock versions of these plugins. It has the same kind of path, right? So it's got that, that insert on your host or on your voiceover. And then it's also going to. Let me pull these up simultaneously.
Has the high ground in this levy war. Should they build higher levies on Nancy side of the river? Or
So neither one of these compressors is doing too much work.
Okay. I'm distributing the work.
Too high already.
Through the template. And then any other voice that is in the same kind of category as Al's is gonna end up in there.