compression.... killing your mixes?

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by planet red, Apr 6, 2002.

  1. planet red

    planet red Active Member

    Ok so im not a huge fan of crazy amounts of compression, but people want a lot of it, especially when you record mostly heavy rock like i do.

    My problem is I feel like compression and limiting dont seem to take well to my mixes. When i get stuff back from mastering its still not INCREDIBLY loud, but i can hear all the compression artifacts and feel like my mix fell apart.

    So lately ive been trying to add a lot of compression to all my individual tracks, thinking the final mix wont need as much, but still feel like everythings falling apart. Maybe its because I'm using plug in compression and dont have much for outboard (i do have a fatso coming wednesday!, and a pair of distressors and dbx 160 vu's sometime in the next couple weeks).

    I dont know if some of the problem is I never record good bands. Their dynamics vary a lot, not because its meant to, but they are inconsistant with how they hit their drums, and pick their guitars. Normally I dont like compressing OH's or guitars, but I feel like I have to, to make the bands sound better and more consistant.

    So how do the big guys do it? I listen to TLA mixes and he uses sooo much compression but it all still sounds aggressive, where as my stuff sounds like a mess when i compress a lot. Its one of those things where, i dont really like it all that much, but i have to do, so would like to do it fairly well.
  2. mwagener

    mwagener Active Member

    Try to put a compressor on the stereo bus at a fairly early stage. I get up a rough mix and put the compressor in before I fine tune the mix with automation. That way you will "fight" the compressor and can change stuff if it's making a mess out of your mix. Your fader moves will be different with the compressor in the chain and if, for instance, the compressor pushes back your guitars because it hears the vocal as the loudest signal, you can just bring those guitars up in the mix. If you compress after the mix is finished, you don't have any influence on what the compressor does. Then at mastering you can just send it through something like the L2 to take the peaks off and get a little more overall level.

    Great choice on the FATSO, Distressors and the 160 VU, they are all great compressors even though for stereo bus compression they would not be my first pick.
  3. I dont know if some of the problem is I never record good bands. Their dynamics vary a lot, not because its meant to, but they are inconsistant with how they hit their drums, and pick their guitars. Normally I dont like compressing OH's or guitars, but I feel like I have to, to make the bands sound better and more consistant.

    I feel for you! I do hope never is an exagerration. Damage control is hard work.
    Find a good band and track them for free!
    You deserve a holiday.
    And then you can show the "other" bands what you could do, if only they could play!
  4. wiggy

    wiggy Guest

    Compression is the one of the most most creative tools available to an engineer... yet is its also amongst the most misunderstood and abused of tools as well..

    Compression is a very tricky concept to grasp... The easiet part of compression is understanding the fact you you can never afford the one you REALLY THINK you need.

    Now is say REALY THINK.... because so many engineers are misunderstood about how and why compressors work and sound the way they do. The trick is not to 'believe the hype' and make the adverse reality of marketing an trusism... 'better compressors lead to better mixes, recordings etc', but rather understand how and why they do the things they do and why they do them and in what instances to uses them in a technical and or creative fashion. Remember compression is there to bring out the best in performances and songs.. not to make things as loud as possible. This is one subject that is open to a vast ocean of conjecture... loudness, and is a side bar to this issue in itself.

    I like most people did not 'fully' understand how and why compression worked and when you could acutally here it work ina positive and creative manner. I mean we call hear it go wrong...... but used right it should not be apparent to the brain when in the frame of listening to music for pleasure.... sure we audio crew sometimes have a hard time putting on our 'listening for pleasure' hats, becuase sometimes we like to deconstruct productions from a technical prespective and we can pick what sort of compressor they used here and why!. People can not be expeected to fully understand the virtues of compression over night. Remember it is based on the premise of making thing seem louder when they are not.

    People need to understand the core mechanics of compression and not keep lusting after a more expenisve version... i have been there myself and am proud that i can fess up and say that i am only now after 6 yrs able to instantly reach for a compressor and dial up a settting that is what i'm hearing in my mind..... good compression technique is akin to a tradeperson using the right tool to get the job done in the best and most creative fashion.

    Here in Australia there was an article written by a local engineer (Mike Stavrou...who deserves utmost credit for this) who could not have better paraphrased compression in more easier and logical terms. Just remember these things..

    Attack= how thin or fat you want the signal to sound.

    Release= How fast the signal glides back at the listener

    Ratio: How big or small the signal is going to sound, and how controlled it will sound. Low ratios = Large image and less controlled, Big ratios is more controlled and smaller sounding image. The trick here is to balance the two to get the most out of the source signal.

    Threshold= level at which the comression will be triggered by the detector circuit.

    So if you are unsure of compression forget software compressors....until you really know how and what you want to acheive from compression... beside it better to fiddle with knobs rathe than mouses isnt it? . SO go and buy yourself a RNC.... YES they really are the best thing around for next to nothing. Experiment and try thing u really would never really would be game to do. Try to understand how and why things happen. Try different settings and on different sources. Test youself.. like say i want to make the pick noise on the bass track go away.... see if you can accomplish simple tasks like that, or if you can add more body or thinkness to the snare hit.

    Once you know how to use and apply compression it will reside in the front and creative part of your mind instead of worrying about it all day long...

    Hope it Helps


    BTW..... whilst i am an abject neve freak, i am also a complete compressor slut. I (now i know how to use them) have a total addiction for these machines. It's like having a new colour on your paint pallete. So when your wife/ girlfriend/partner frowns or scours at your becuase you really believe you need that compressor.. do as the neve freak does.... try and justify it it female terms '....... but honey you all ready have 34 pair of you really need more?.. i mean babe they all do the same thing dont they?'... and of course they will say no!!!!!! So use this course of action to justfy spending more $$$$ on gear it works EVERY TIME.. so long as the ladies can see a fair justification they cave in!!!!!

    BTW... i luve my 1176, distressors, Manley Variable MU, Neve 2264/e, dbx 160 vu/x and so on.
    Al smart C2 with CRUSH!!!!!! :D :p
  5. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    Hi Michael!

    What compressor are you running on your 2-bus ('mix bus' for the rest of us!) lately?

    BTW check your mail, I sent you another band / production to hear..

  6. mwagener

    mwagener Active Member

  7. planet red

    planet red Active Member

    Woah i've never double posted before!
  8. planet red

    planet red Active Member

    Its not that I dont know what compression does and how to use it, its that after my stuff goes to mastering, i feel like my mixes fall apart.

    Maybe its that the cheap mastering places bands are taking their stuff to arent good, even though I'd like to think they know more then me. Its normally always in the high end... like cymbals, they come back sounding broken up and a little "pumped" sounding.

    Since the stuff I do needs to be 'loud' (not my choice but everyone wants it that way), should I mix with a compressor on the 2-bus and then take it away before doing the final mix? I basically want a compression proof mix for mastering.

    I did do one record about 6 months ago, where I soundreplaced the kick and snare with the dynamics turned off (once again I like dynamics, but it doesnt work for what I do, and noone wants it)and it was a really simple mix with just 2 guitar tracks, panned L&R and a bass and vocals up the middle, and the final mastered mix sounded awesome. This was mastered at west westside music and i've never heard that guy do bad work, so maybe it was just him, but the record was loud and didnt have that pumped cymbal sound.

    Either way I'm sick of hearing.... "i remember everything sounding better before we finished". AHHHH! I was thinking about getting a couple rnc's and trying to use them at high ratios and high thresholds to limit some of the peaks. I've never actually heard an RNC but they're fairly transparent right? Do they do a good job at evening out performances without really being heard?

    The other day a band brought in a hoobastank (sp?)cd and it sounded just like my stuff... ie pumped and broken up sounding, but somehow their mix hadnt completely fallen apart. I guess I'll just keep working.

    About the taking a vacation and working with a band for free... do it all the time, and love it. But normally its not for a record to sell, so it doesnt need to be 'loud'.
  9. Glad to hear it! Good luck!
  10. Sir Bob

    Sir Bob Member

    Dear Red,

    Yes. The RNC was the best $200 I ever spend. Besides being a great value in a TRANSPARENT compressor, I found it to be a tool in learning about compression. The settings are very accurate and the dB lights show you exactly what is going on in terms of dB being compressed.

    I don't know if heavy metal recording is any different than today's pop music (also seems to be heavily compressed to give the appearance of volume and excitement), but a good technigue is to track using a small amount of compression and then do some more on the mix. Then you aren't noticing it.

    And I still believe that the best compression to compensate for poor musical performance is to MOVE THOSE FADERS!!!!!!!!!!!
  11. Hardnox

    Hardnox Guest

    I don't even do rock music at this time, so you guys will have better ears to tell me whether or not my observation is correct:

    One of the perks of being a DJ on the weekends is that the record labels send me free CD's and Vinyl. One of the latest CD's I got was the new album from Unwritten Law. They're latest single "Seeing Red" is doing very well on the MTV2 Rock Coundown, as well as other places. I read the liner notes and saw that they had some pretty good people engineering the record namely, Brian "Big Bass" Gardner on the mastering end. I popped in the record and to me it didn't sound right. It felt completely crushed, uneven as far as songs sounding at differnet levels. It's hard to describe. I don't think this is a "sound" they were aiming for if the band even cares...their fans don't seem to based on their airplay. Especially when I play the amazing sounding System Of A Down record right before this one I pop in this Uwritten Law CD and I'm like what the hell did they do?
  12. planet red

    planet red Active Member

    Yeah that weird feeling the unwritten law cd is the same feeling I get when I listen to some of my stuff. The individual tracks sound good, but theres just something not right, and I know it comes from compression.
  13. MadMoose

    MadMoose Active Member

    It probably is the mastering places the bands are taking the stuff to. The only thing I can say is that you should find a few mastering engineers that you like and set up deals with them. Then send the bands to them. I have a guy I send all my stuff to when I'm doing an album.

    What compressor are you using on the 2-bus? I don't pull mine off and I actually start mixing with the compressor in place. I'd leave dealing with peaks to the mastering engineer, trying to knock them down with an RNC probably won't work too well. When I'm mastering things I prefer to get a mix without limiting in place.

    If you wanted to send out a mix for people to listen to and critique I'm sure there would be some volunteers. I'd do it, if you want drop me a line.
  14. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    I am dying to chime in here.. just pushed for time.. I will be back! I use a lot of compression & get 'into trouble with it' on a regular basis!

  15. "And I still believe that the best compression to compensate for poor musical performance is to MOVE THOSE FADERS!!!!!!!!!!! "

    The advantage here is, you just get the problem spots, and the rest of the performance has it's whole dynamic range (when they're not abusing it!)
    This approach can be quite transparent...
  16. planet red

    planet red Active Member

    Yeah I try to automate gain changes for the worst parts. Definetly the most effective way to control dynamics. As for a song... heres a link to stuff a band i recorded put on This isnt one of the really bad examples i was talking about but it still bothers me... of course mp3's have their own compression. /190/light_the_fuse_and_run.html

    as a sidenote the drummer pissed me off on this session... i got the toms sounding really nice, and he went and took off the muffling (the heads were shot so i muffled them down) and messed up the mic placement, so that wasnt me. But yeah any suggestions you guys have, id love to hear them, but as you can tell I dont get to choose the bands. I did this on a mackie 1202 and a digi001, so the equipment leaved me much to be desired.
  17. MadMoose

    MadMoose Active Member

    If you want to send me a disc I'll take a listen in the studio. The only speakers I can play MP3's on are cheap little computer speakers which actually sit on the floor. I wouldn't want to judge the quality of your work over those and an MP3.
  18. teddancin

    teddancin Member

    Planet red, where's the kick drum in the mix? It just seems really low to me. I mean, kick drums usually seem low to me, but this seems very very low.
  19. planet red

    planet red Active Member

    Hidden purposely because the drummer ahem.... wasnt very good. Seriously he couldnt hit his kick drum on time with the music, so i didnt try to base the mix off it like a lot of records are. Normally I love a really loud kick, but for the good of the band i turned it down.

    Looking back i did add a 60hz sine wave keyed off the kick to fill in a little low end. I ended up using more of it then the kick since i wanted it to be 'felt' not heard. I should have used something a little higher that would translate well on a lot systems, and since this came out on vinyl i think a lot of the low end was rolled off, taking away from the low end kick. I guess you learn from everything, but I'm getting a dbx 120 so i wont have to mess with keying gates to sine waves anymore.
  20. ironsheik

    ironsheik Guest

    Ooooo yeah planet. I had a hard time listening to the thing because of the musicianship. I can kind of hear what you mean just listening on my Sony 7506 headphones but I think we would need to hear the original mix to compare the two.

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