Dynamics Basics


Mixing Master Class


Lesson Info

Dynamics Basics

So the next thing is Dynamics. When I say Dynamics, I'm talking about volume, I'm talking about compression, expansion, limiters, and I kind of wanna, I want to try to dispel the myth of compressors, 'cause I think there's a lot of people out there that don't really understand compressors. Let me see if I can find a good example here. I think on this guitar part. (guitar) No, not that guitar part. Actually I wanna use this drum part right here. (drums) Alright, so looking at these wave forms, we can see sort of the different hits of the drum. I can see the kick and the rim tick there. (drums) So here's your kick (drums) and then here's your (rimshot) rim. Now, what compression does is it's actually just an automatic volume knob, and I want to try and demonstrate how you can actually use volume automation to create compression. So, if I wanted to create a fast attack compressor with a quick release, I'll show you what that would actually look like with automation. So it would be, a fast...

attack would mean that the volume would almost immediately get turned down really quickly. So when the attack is fast, it means it's short. It happens quickly. If the attack was slow, it would be like turning the volume down like this. And then of course, with the compressor it has to return back to zero at some point so it would be like (drums with slow attack) Right? (drums) But if we had a fast attack it would sound like this (drums with fast attack) Fast attack quick release would sound like this. (drums with fast attack) So it's reacting to the signal really fast, and then also returning really fast. Maybe even this fast. (drums with fast attack) Sounds interestingly like it's not doing anything. (drums with fast attack) But it makes the kick softer, and the reason why is that transient that comes out of the kick. That gets turned down, and then the sustain or the body of the kick is being turned up as it goes through, so it's like (drums) So it makes it softer. If I remove this you can hear the original. (drums) That transient is really powerful, packs a punch, but if you were to put a compressor on there with a fast attack, you would basically be turning that punch off, (drums) like that. Now, the thing that's cool about compressors is that they're robots, so they can do this over and over all day long, without you having to go in and draw each one. (drums) And of course, it sounds really unnatural because the other thing about a compressor is that it's very consistent. Once you set the rules, that's how it reacts to the audio. But it's not linear, it's still nonlinear to the point where, if you change the input of the volume of the signal going into the compressor, it is gonna change how it sounds and how it reacts. Now let me put an actual compressor on here first. So let's do fast attack and I'm gonna keep the release the same. Now the threshold is when it starts to react to the audio, so I'm gonna put the threshold at zero, and just show you that it doesn't do anything. (drums) Now as I bring the threshold down it starts to compress it. (drums) Let me turn my ratio up first. (drums) Now the ratio is how many dB over the threshold it starts to interact with the signal. So if your ratio is set to five, then it's five dB over. (drums) So, with a fast attack and a fast release, it pretty much, kind of acts like a limiter. And what a limiter really does, is it just kind of limits the dynamic range. Whereas the compressor tends to decrease the dynamic range. So if I was to take my attack back up. Let's say we put it on 30. What does that mean? 30 milliseconds. So 30 milliseconds would be, like this much time. So the attack of the compressor doesn't start to turn down the signal until after like this much time. So what happens is that allows this portion of the sound to (drum taps) it allows that part of the sound to come through. And then it'll start to turn the volume down on this portion of the sound, and then as the sound fades out, the release will come back in. So, if I set it that way, it sounds like this (drums) So you notice how the kick and the rim shot actually pop through? (drums) And then everything else is turned down. So it's constantly pushing the volume down, and then every time the sound goes over the threshold it starts over with that attack signal. So if I was to, let's say, open the attack up a little more (drums) it stops doing a whole lot, it's not interacting with the sound as much. (drums) And then, you notice how that first hit is really loud and then the rest of the signal kind of starts to stay more of the same? That's because our threshold is so low that we're pretty much reacting to the sound the entire time. So if I was to raise my threshold up (drums) You can see how it's reacting less or more depending on how much threshold there is. So your threshold is kind of how often,o or how much you're interacting with the signal. And then the ratio is the amount that you're interacting with as a signal. Do you want your affect to be more or less? So if I was to have a ratio like 1.1, you probably wouldn't even hear. You could even see that the shape of the curve barely even changes, and then as you increase that ratio, it starts to get more and more drastic of a correction or a change. (drums) Right? And then, your attack, going back to the attack, it's just changing how quickly it reacts to the signal. So if we had it on like a thousand, which would be one second, that allows an entire second of audio to pass through before it does anything. (drums) See? (drums) But if you put it on like, one millisecond, then it's gonna react really rapidly. (drums) To the point where it actually starts to distort. (drums) Right? So, with a compressor, you're controlling the intricacies of the volume automatically, basically with a computer. Now the thing that's really cool is that you could use a compressor to do different things. You could use it to correct performances. So you could have a guitar performance where you have like 20 different guitar notes that are being played by the guitar player, and two or three of them are too loud. Maybe two or three of those notes are way louder than the other ones. You could use a compressor to turn just those two or three notes down and bring those to the same level of the rest of the performance. So that would be a corrective use of using a dynamic controller to fix performance parts. Then you also have your creative way of using a compressor which is to create almost like a sound or like a character or a tone, by adjusting the dynamics. And what's interesting is that some of the compressors seem to have almost like a magical, you know, like the 1176 seems to have like this magical tone to it, like it's adding EQ or something, but really it's just the way that it moves the volume around, that it allows you to hear sort of this different side of the sound, but also, some of those compressors do have a little bit of harmonic saturation going on underneath the hood, there's some analog magic going on in there. So, I like to use dynamics in both ways. They really are a tool. It's really just a tool to get a certain job done. So if you're trying to get your kick and your snare to be more blended together, then maybe you need to use a compressor that pushes those kick hits and snare hits up and down in different ways to make them more even. Now, the thing with this drum mix, I'm limited in what I can show you because it's premixed, so this whole drum sound has already been through a compression. (drums) And the way that I had my compressor set for this drum sound was to allow the sustain in the room and the noise floor to be a little bit louder than it was recorded. And of course there's some samples and everything, it's all blended in there, but the compressor is set so that that sustain is loud and hot, and it makes the drums have more weight. So, if your drums sound really spiky and stuff, it could be the fact that your attack is too slow, and your release is not quick enough. It could also be that you don't have your sustain. You need to raise your sustain. You can do that with different types of processors, but I think a compressor is a good classic way of getting your drums to sound like what the expectation is of drums. People kind of expect drums to have compression on them, but it also depends on the source. I think if you're miking up a normal drum set, like a kick mic and typical SM57 on the snare, the sound of that versus what you hear on records is two different things, and I think that new sound that everyone is accustomed to, is made with compression. Now, let's talk a little bit about expanders because I think there's a lot of people that don't really understand what expanders do. Expanders are the exact opposite of a compressor. It increases the dynamic range. Let me use a different expander. Okay, if I put this plugin in expander mode. (drums) So with the expander, what you're doing is you're making it possible to have quieter sounds, and also louder sounds. You're widening the dynamic range. And you might think, "Well, what is a good use for that?" And I can show you. One typical use of an expander would be to do, almost like a gate. But the thing about a gate is that it's either on or off. Gates are almost like a mute switch, whereas an expander can be more. It can be like a gate, but it can move and it can have a stopping point where it never goes quieter than this. Whereas a gate just goes all the way quiet. So I'll show you. Actually my favorite expander is the SSL Channel, cause it has this expansion section here. (drums) Go to the quiet section. (drums) So, you see these green things, the green lights, as the green lights light up, that's a volume knob turning down, as the lights go up, right? So if I was to put it on Gate (drums) everything in between the signals, the triggers, everything in between the triggers is completely silent. If I turn the gate off, I'm in expansion mode, you can hear it actually just move more like a volume knob. (drums) So you could still hear the sounds in between, it's not completely removing them, and then your threshold kind of controls, or sorry, your range controls how much. So if you had like your zero range, it basically wouldn't do anything. (drums) So expansion can be a way of kind of cutting out bleed like in a tom track. Or let's say you have a guitar part and all of the notes are, you know, all of the notes have tiny attacks but loud sustain, you could use an expander to make the attacks stick out more and basically it would start to turn down the sustain of every single note. You could make the guitar part have more attack by using an expander to make the dynamic range greater. You see what I'm saying? So, all of your bodies get turned down, but then your attacks stay where they were. So it's like a way of controlling those two. The attack versus the sustain. Or, let's say you have a guitar part where it's very, very attack, it has too much attack, and not enough body, you could use a compressor with a faster attack and it would decrease all of the pick notes but then bring out the body. It's the same thing with drums as well, you can, you know, if your drums are too pointy, they have too much attack, use a compressor, if they sound too soft, use an expander. Just two different ways of using those tools.

Class Description

Joey Sturgis is the producer behind some of the biggest names in metalcore, including Asking Alexandria, Of Mice & Men, and I See Stars. His sound is one of the most sought after sounds of the last decade and in this class he’ll show you the unique mixing techniques that are key to getting it.

This class picks up where Joey’s Studio Pass class left off: you’ve got your session tracked and edited, now how do you turn it into a polished, world-class mix? 

He’ll show you how to get his signature sound, including: 
  • EQ and compression strategies for drums, guitar, bass, vocals, and synths/effects 
  • How to use automation to fix problem areas and bring out the song’s dynamics 
  • Tons of little tips and tricks to take your mix from good to great 
If you want to elevate the quality of your mix, don’t miss Mixing Master Class with Joey Sturgis.