17th January 2008
Tips & Techniques:Mix Buss Compression by Charles Dye
Compressing the Stereo Mix Buss
There are essentially 3 ways to use buss compression on your mix.
1. Put it on near the end of the mix.
2. Put it on from the beginning of the mix.
3. Don't put it on @ all.
Near the End of the Mix
The first is an approach I used for a number of years. When I insert a compressor near the end of a mix, I will first work to make my mix sound as big and powerful as possible without it, and then once I put it in, at about 4/5's of the way through, the mix will become even bigger. I usually use a softer less aggressive style of compression this way, because the individual tracks might have a bit more compression on them.
From the Beginning of the Mix
The second approach is to insert the compressor at the beginning and mix into it. It can have a number of advantages over placing the compressor on near the end. I tried mixing through a compressor when I was a younger engineer, but @ the time I wasn't very satisfied with the results. So, a few years ago I tried it again, + this time I decided to stick with it for awhile to really get a handle on it. And after a few mixes I really liked both the sound + the process of mixing thru a compressor.
If you're used to mixing without a compressor across the buss it takes some getting used to. The dynamics of the mix don't react the way you would normally expect them to, so you can't just try it once. You need to do a number of mixes, so you can familiarize yourself with this new limited dynamic response.
I've found it has a few advantages. One, it helps bring the mix together much quicker. Two, I find myself not needing as much compression on individual tracks to get the sound I want. Three, the mix requires less automation to bring out all the elements. Four, and most of all, mixing though a compressor changes the way I approach a mix. I'm able to get a very big + powerful sound very quickly with just the kick, snare, bass + hat. Then I just begin to fill the other instruments in around them.
To establish my starting levels for the mix, I first set my kick + snare level peaking around -10 dB on my DAW's stereo buss meters without the compressor, but from that point on the compressors goes in + never comes out. I generally use a Ratio = 2:1, Attack = 4-10 ms, Release = approx. 250-300 ms (set about to 8th note). I've used many different plugz for this, including RenComp, Impact, + Waves SSL, but I'm currently using URS Channel Strip Pro.
With most of the music I've been mixing lately (rock or other aggressive styles) 4 dB of compression has been sounding really good. It may sound like a lot, previously when placing the compressor over the buss towards the end I would hit it only 2 to 2.5 dB, but I also had more compression on the individual tracks. Since I now use less individual compression, it probably works out to about the same amount of compression overall, just a different way to apply it.
Mixing this way gives me a sound that's very different than the more controlled sound of individual compression, a lot of automation, and light compression on the bus. It really sounds much more exciting. Explosive. As if things are at the brink of popping through the speakers. I love it.
I should also add that this really isn't considered mastering compression. Compression across the stereo buss while mixing is done all the time on most of the records you own. Whether inserted at the beginning or towards the end it's been a pretty standard technique for decades done by engineers all over the globe. If you need anymore proof, I have three letters: S - S - L.
None @ All
Mixing with compression is not the only way to go, another way is to use no Mix Buss Compression @ all. This can be more work, but the results can be amazing, creating a very open + airy sound. I just recently mixed an entire album where I wanted a more dynamic sound than I usually go for, so I didn't use any Mix Buss Compression. It required more automation, but the end result had a lot of depth + subtlety that would have been lost if I compressed it more aggressively.
©2008 Charles Dye
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