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Context: I recently (~2 months ago) got a gig mixing live sound for a church. I've had years of audio education, but none of the courses offered included extensive applications in FOH mixing (very odd, I know), so I'm very new to the application of audio techniques in a live environment.

The church I'm mixing at is all pastored by guys who have done mixing for far longer than I have, and have contacts who have been mixing for 30+ years. At least two of them have mentioned that they never use compressors in live sound. ever. It's possible they were speaking specifically about Vocal channels, but I don't think it was limited to that.

They also have a very specific kind of sound they are trying to craft, and my understanding of this is lots of BGVs, Bass Guitar, Kick/snare, and Keys.. in roughly that order of importance. Often times we have 5 BGVs, sometimes two keys, horns, bass, drums, aux percussion, etc.

Question:

How often do you apply compression to a channel when mixing? Obviously "If it needs it" is a good starting point, but how often would you say a channel "needs it? I'm trying to make sense of the comment from my boss "I used to mix for 18 years and I NEVER used compressors. Ever." If "Live sound guys never use compressors," then why would the board have them?

OR is there an environment where you would truly never use compressors?

I'm trying to understand this, so I appreciate any feedback!

  • Well, as two answers already mentioned it, 'never used a compressor in in FOH' context seems a weird assessment. – audionuma Apr 8 '16 at 21:06
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Sure, in my opinion compressors are an extremely useful tool and not using them at all as a rule is missing out on a lot.

When I'm mixing, one of my goals is to make a cohesive, balanced sound that reflects what the band is playing. However, a microphone or instrument is an open conduit to potentially change that balance. So if a background singer for example is singing louder in some parts of a song than others at random points then that can potentially overpower the lead.

Also, a lead vocal or instrument should be in the foreground of the mix definitely but if your singer starts shouting to interact with the audience without a compressor then it can quite possibly cause discomfort since that will have significant more input than singing, just as much as if you were having a conversation and your friend pulls out his megaphone.

And what about dynamics? Well I adjust during a piece to provide that dynamic and pay attention to what parts the band wants to be significantly softer or louder or heavier emphasis on a vocal/instrument.

So to answer your question, I use compressors fairly often. It's a useful tool in our arsenal, especially with the advent of digital mixers.

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I use them all the time in the worship context.

I won't usually compress the hell out of something though, I usually just use the compressor to take out the peaks in vocals, bass, acoustic guitars.

I'll use them on kick and snare too, usually with a slow attack and fast release, this lets the initial transients through but then compresses them. Makes them sound tighter basically.

So yeah, you can definitely use them.

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