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I am noticing 2 schools of thought in compression usage in a mix (Each camp appears to think the other camp is completely incorrect.)....

  1. Compression is the final "glue" of the mix to be adding extremely lightly only to the bus channel at ratios no higher than 2:1 at a very quick attack. The fader should be the only general level setting device.
  2. Compression should be added to help the signal sustain a smooth regular level of signal and should be added in layers at the track, bus, and perhaps even master output stage in varying attacks and ratios as to avoid pumping and maximize audibility.

Which school of thought are you and why? Do you have a different approach all together?

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    My quick answer is flavor #1 across the FX?MX submasters (but sometimes at a harsher ratio), flavor #2 for Dialogue/ADR premixes and submaster (but even then, I prefer mixing into the compressor, rather than the compressor doing all the work). – Stavrosound Mar 2 '12 at 3:35
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Personally, I use compression all over the place...including on the Mater Bus. I think one of the mistaken notions that people harbor about compressors is that you only use them to make things louder. Obviously, it's not everyone, but I find myself constantly reminding people that they don't have to apply "make up gain." [I know you don't need to know this, but I figure someone reading this might not have thought of that yet.]

Here are some of the things I do:

  • Especially when working on telelvision programming, I pretty much always use compressors on any dialog or narration tracks...as you said, to keep things smooth and regular.
  • As I get past edit into the mix stage, I use compressors to help different elements sit properly in the soundfield. It's pretty typical for me to leave make up gain at nominal in this situation. I'm looking to control transient information, so that elements have an appropriate attack when compared to one another and for any specific space they're meant to occupy.
  • I'll also use a compressor on the music track (or submaster), keyed to the dialog and narration tracks with a fast-moderate attack (don't want it to hit too quickly), and a long release (up around 1 second). Ratio and threshold are dependent on the style of music. This automates the level for me against whatever gross adjustment I've already made. It usually only requires small tweaking here and there afterwards. I should note that I only do this for television and web programming, but it does significantly speed up my process when I do it.
  • As I mentioned, I do use compression on the Master Bus at times, typically with no make up gain and a gentle ratio. I use it as preliminary form of limiting...just to kind of reign things in a little bit before they hit whatever final limiting I'm using. It prevents the limiter from kicking in too hard, and I just think it sounds better than it would without.

Great question, and I'm looking forward to hearing how other people use compression in their mixes.

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Lots of good answers here, too:

Compression? When do you use it, if ever?

  • ha! i forgot about that thread. it's funny because i repeated some of the same information here, though there are some minor differences. at least i'm not completely stuck in my ways. ;) – Shaun Farley Mar 2 '12 at 21:46
  • @Shaun I have a memory like a giraffe....... – Utopia Mar 2 '12 at 22:50
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In video games I primarily use compression when creating individual assets, or mixing dialogue. So basically I use compression for two purposes, as an effect and to smooth out the signal.

When using it as an effect i'm usually trying to make something sound louder than it is. Exaggerating the dynamics even getting some pumping. An example that comes to mind is when designing creature vocals. You have 80 monsters in the game all have different sizes and personalities, how do you make Mr. 52 sound louder than 46. Level wise there's only so much you can push it and you want to stay within your specs (clipping isn't an option). So you need to cheat it :)

Actors are usually recorded one at a time from different studios around the world, different dates, engineers etc. That said when mixing dialogue you need to insure that all of the in game vocals sound like they're coming from the same place, as the game engine will process the 3d space and distance fall off. I use a ratio of about 3:1 quick attack with a bit of make up gain. I usually automate the hell out of my volume to make sure there's appropriate emotional dynamics.

I don't touch compression when I create ambiences and environments, all of the dynamics are created from 1 shot sounds.

Good question!

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