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How/why do compressors make things "gel"? Dynamics Plugins
Old 6th September 2011
  #1
Gear Maniac
 

How/why do compressors make things "gel"?

I think it is fairly easy to understand/comprehend how compressors can help tame peaks or shape individual instrument sounds, but in terms of adding color or making things "gel", I feel like that is where things get a bit more mysterious.

I know that compression is often used on the Mixbus and similar tracks i.e. drums are often bussed into a group and then a compressor is thrown on top.

When using compression in this way, is compression used mostly for color? Are relatively high threshold settings usually used?

How/why does compression make things gel in this context? People often talk about how "compression" is the 'sound' of modern music. What does that statement actually mean?

I've always wished there was a great tutorial that dealt exclusively with compression. I was hoping someone could shed some light on what technically is going on or why/how compression got to be what it has become today.

I was hoping this thread could lure some pros into shedding some light or getting a discussion going on this topic for those of us who don't have a tight enough grasp (or afraid to admit they don't) on how/when compression should be used.. It seems to me that compression is a weak spot for many. The concept is not nearly as simple to understand and grasp as EQ, reverb, etc., especially when talking in terms of compression being used as an "effect" or for color. Thanks to anyone willing to help.
Old 6th September 2011
  #2
distortion, modulation, phase
Old 6th September 2011
  #3
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by George Necola View Post
distortion, modulation, phase
Thanks. Could you elaborate on those three points?
Old 6th September 2011
  #4
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voidar's Avatar
 

You could think of it like the transients of different instruments being mushed together creating a whole "new" symbiotic transient.
Old 6th September 2011
  #5
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malaclypse's Avatar
One reason is because if you set the attack and release times correctly, the compressor will pump along with the music and smoothes the transitions between parts as they weave in and out of the arrangement.
Old 6th September 2011
  #6
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Ron Vogel's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by voidar View Post
You could think of it like the transients of different instruments being mushed together creating a whole "new" symbiotic transient.
What he said..

You can send 3 tracks to one compressor, or send 3 tracks to 3 compressors set up identically...theoretically will achieve the same result.
Old 6th September 2011
  #7
Registered User
 

Also when one instrument causes the compressor to strike it effects all the other instruments going to that bus so the volume of all the instruments drops together which the brain interprets as all the instruments being blended together. That is my understandign anyway, of course the colour of the sounds will be effected as well
Old 6th September 2011
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Vogel View Post
You can send 3 tracks to one compressor, or send 3 tracks to 3 compressors set up identically...theoretically will achieve the same result.
Say what?
Old 6th September 2011
  #9
Lives for gear
It's all that super glue they put in it.
Old 6th September 2011
  #10
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Vogel View Post
You can send 3 tracks to one compressor, or send 3 tracks to 3 compressors set up identically...theoretically will achieve the same result.
I may be crazy, but that doesn't make any sense to me. Can someone confirm that this statement is incorrect?

I would think that If you use 3 separate compressors, the instruments would not be "interacting" with one another in at all the same way as if they were all sent to the same compressor.
Old 6th September 2011
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Vogel View Post
What he said..

You can send 3 tracks to one compressor, or send 3 tracks to 3 compressors set up identically...theoretically will achieve the same result.
if each compressor was keyed from the sum total of all 3 tracks, then yes.

if each compressor is just acting on its own individual track, then no.

compressors on a mix bus can make things gel for several reasons-

certain ones will add some saturation/thickening/warmth/whatever.

certain ones do a very good job at grabbing things that are just too poke-y in the mix, providing a better balance (API 2500 with medium or loud thrust, for example).

they will all create some degree of interaction as whatever's loudest at a given point starts to duck everything else. (Andy Wallace mixes are a great example of this....if you actually focus on the bus compression...it's like "what the f--- is he doing?" if you step back and just enjoy the mix though, he makes it sing like nobody else).
Old 6th September 2011
  #12
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by hauntedclutter View Post
I may be crazy, but that doesn't make any sense to me. Can someone confirm that this statement is incorrect?

I would think that If you use 3 separate compressors, the instruments would not be "interacting" with one another in at all the same way as if they were all sent to the same compressor.
You might still be crazy, but you are correct.
Old 6th September 2011
  #13
Gear Maniac
 

i don't know if this is right, but from what i have seen (mostly live use) is that when the compressor is on a bus, it does two things, one good, one bad: it tends to level out the volumes when different things are playing, and it tends to make the loudest instrument/singer control the volumes of everything else.

think in terms of time instead of tone. you've got a bass and a guitar running together. maybe you want the guitar sitting on top of the bass most of the time, but when there are 'holes' where the guitarist isn't playing, the bass line pushes through. But turning up the bass in the mix, even when it's got some compression on it, will make it fight with the guitar. solution: put them on a bus, with the bass slightly lower than the guitar. When the guitar is playing, it will naturally (mostly) cover the bass and is a little compressed, but when the guitar doesn't play, the compressor releases, bringing the volume of the bass up, but not louder than the guitar was. done right, it seems that instruments seem to get pushed into their 'natural order' so to speak. kind of like automatic ducking with a 'pecking order' - a vocal can break in and automatically take over the 'lead spot' so to say, but when it's not there other instruments automatically get the limelight back without sounding weak.

this only works if the instruments are giving each other room to breathe though imho... if you've got two singers singing together that aren't very consistent for example, when one of them sings loud, the other one's volume at the same time drops in comparison. so it doesn't always work on busses, especially for live... someone had set up our live mixer at the church I mix at when i got there, and the backup singers would disappear sometimes; switching to just individual channel compressors helped a lot there (though we don't have many, so can't always put everyone on a compressor).

you can get some of the control back with separate compressors, but you won't get the kind of 'automatic ducking' that you would on a bus.

at least, i think this is how it works.
Old 6th September 2011
  #14
Gear Nut
 

Intermodulation distortion. Not only compressors does it, but equalizers and tape machines too...
Old 6th September 2011
  #15
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Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by George Necola View Post
distortion, modulation, phase
Quote:
Originally Posted by voidar View Post
a whole "new" symbiotic transient.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lukpio View Post
Intermodulation distortion.
...and......

Quote:
Originally Posted by Keith99 View Post
....of course the colour of the sounds will be effected as well
This could get really good.......
Old 6th September 2011
  #16
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decocco's Avatar
 

Same way hair gel works... but with audio instead of hair.
Old 6th September 2011
  #17
Quote:
Originally Posted by malaclypse View Post
One reason is because if you set the attack and release times correctly, the compressor will pump along with the music and smoothes the transitions between parts as they weave in and out of the arrangement.

Great post.

Yup, this is it. Instruments or signals that are not exactly in time, and have peaks that are slightly off from each other, are now forced to follow the peaks of the loudest instrument in the mix.

This is assuming it is used on a mix that is.

This makes everything sound together, not unlike quantizing, but rather with the wave form shape rather than where the peak falls on the timeline.

Getting this to follow or shape the timing and duration of notes, is the key to making a compressor sound "musical". IMHE that is.

Just my take on it, don't shoot me.

Also, when using make up gain, or agc etc., the low level stuff that sometimes gets lost down in the bottom of the dynamic range, is brought up, filling in the "valleys" and making the mix sound fuller, and if done right, glues everything together, as the gaps between transient peaks are not as obvious any more.

Distortion (thd) and all that, is another thing entirely, and I guess that helps some too.

Although technically, any time you do anything to the waveform, you are "distorting" it. Even with the cleanest comp in the world. It is no longer the original.

Peace,
john
Old 7th September 2011
  #18
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Ron Vogel's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by zoff View Post
You might still be crazy, but you are correct.
Ehh, maybe so. I don't use hardware comps...and never use plugs (comps) on the main bus (That's what mastering is for IMHO).

I am really getting into compression now...it only took several years to really understand where, what, and why things need compression...I'm really enjoying it. Definately an art, not a science.
Old 7th September 2011
  #19
GMK
Gear Nut
 
GMK's Avatar
 

maybe when hear the effect of the compression (be it distortion, dynamic range reduction etc...) you hear all those effects on everything so it turns the collection of tracks into one perceived track(more so than it would be without compression) I just like making those drums big dirty and roomy though! I'm a bit heavy handed with my compression
Old 7th September 2011
  #20
Gear Maniac
 

from the mixes I've had the luck of seeing more experienced engineers do, it seems that very little gain reduction is used on the mixbuss. Sometimes the difference seems inaudible (to me at least.)

This is what led me to start this thread. I assumed that "color/vibe" are often a big part of why compressors on the 2bus are used.

Everyone has given a lot of great feedback throughout this thread, so thanks!
Old 7th September 2011
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hauntedclutter View Post
from the mixes I've had the luck of seeing more experienced engineers do, it seems that very little gain reduction is used on the mixbuss. Sometimes the difference seems inaudible (to me at least.)

This is what led me to start this thread. I assumed that "color/vibe" are often a big part of why compressors on the 2bus are used.
a lot of the guys using "vibe-y" pieces (various vari-mu comps, or an old 33609, or whatnot) will often have little gain reduction, yes.

a lot of the SSL dudes are taking off 5, 6, 8 decibels sometimes (not always). Andy Wallace is the king of this sort of thing.
Old 7th September 2011
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by decocco View Post
Same way hair gel works... but with audio instead of hair.
And if that makes your mix sound too dirty, you'll need to clean it up:

Google Images
Old 7th September 2011
  #23
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonathan jetter View Post
a lot of the SSL dudes are taking off 5, 6, 8 decibels sometimes (not always). Andy Wallace is the king of this sort of thing.
So, when you are taking off 8 decibels, andy wallace style...what is the point sonically of going so drastic?

Are you trying to give more headroom to make the track louder (which I thought was more of a mastering concept)

or is this something that is done for an artistic purpose? and if so, what is the purpose?
Old 7th September 2011
  #24
Quote:
Originally Posted by hauntedclutter View Post
So, when you are taking off 8 decibels, andy wallace style...what is the point sonically of going so drastic?

Are you trying to give more headroom to make the track louder (which I thought was more of a mastering concept)

or is this something that is done for an artistic purpose? and if so, what is the purpose?

Louder...maybe ...but moreso thicker I would guess..

Yes, artistic purposes.

You'd have to ask them though. Many people are trying to get many different things out of compression.

This compression stuff is not easy to get your head around, and takes time. You cannot learn this stuff by reading alone. Once you learn it, then you can come back and totally relate to most of it, but you must put hands on and hours in. Some people more than others.

I recieved a PM from a fellow GS and we were talking about this yesterday.

My take?

Doing ALL of this mixing stuff (any aspect), is akin to playing an instrument. You can give people an idea how it's done, but there is no substitue for putting the time in with the instrument. Working a compressor in a "musical" manner is the same damn thing.

If you are looking to just level peaks and turn your mix into a flattened mess that is pretty commonly heard on the internet. Then don't rehearse for the gig. Slap on an L2 on everything and go.

Further, there is also no substitute for "natural apptitude" either.

There are people who will never "get it"...just as there are many people that take violin lessons for an example, and can never "get" the subtle things, like intonation etc.

There are lots of gtr players that cannot even tune by ear, but I bet anything most of the greats could. The list goes on. Sometimes, people hear things and get a command of them immediately. Others, it takes a while. Some, just NEVER HEAR it.

I am NOT suggesting you are one of those people. I am hinting at the fact you are barking up the wrong tree.

I suggest you get on a real hardware compressor, even if it's cheap, and start running stuff through it. Record this, look at the waveform.

More importantly, identify the changes in sound that occur when you change different parameters. Only then, will you see if you are one of the guys that "gets it" or not.

This stuff is like anything else in life, but the instrument analogy I think works. Why? Because it's music we are working on.

There are virtuoso mixing guys, mediocre cats, total hacks, and those that are so tone deaf they should not be let near audio equipment.

The human ego makes it difficult for all of us to get a grasp on where we are in the spectrum, personally. Always thinking you have more to learn is a good thing. Asking questions on hear will let you learn FAR less than working the gear in a "trial by fire" environment.

Maybe get cracking...find out which type you are.

Sorry if that sounds cold hearted, I am truly trying to help you.

Peace,
john
Old 8th September 2011
  #25
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by NEWTON IN ORBIT View Post
Louder...maybe ...but moreso thicker I would guess..

Yes, artistic purposes.

You'd have to ask them though. Many people are trying to get many different things out of compression.

This compression stuff is not easy to get your head around, and takes time. You cannot learn this stuff by reading alone. Once you learn it, then you can come back and totally relate to most of it, but you must put hands on and hours in. Some people more than others.

I recieved a PM from a fellow GS and we were talking about this yesterday.

My take?

Doing ALL of this mixing stuff (any aspect), is akin to playing an instrument. You can give people an idea how it's done, but there is no substitue for putting the time in with the instrument. Working a compressor in a "musical" manner is the same damn thing.

If you are looking to just level peaks and turn your mix into a flattened mess that is pretty commonly heard on the internet. Then don't rehearse for the gig. Slap on an L2 on everything and go.

Further, there is also no substitute for "natural apptitude" either.

There are people who will never "get it"...just as there are many people that take violin lessons for an example, and can never "get" the subtle things, like intonation etc.

There are lots of gtr players that cannot even tune by ear, but I bet anything most of the greats could. The list goes on. Sometimes, people hear things and get a command of them immediately. Others, it takes a while. Some, just NEVER HEAR it.

I am NOT suggesting you are one of those people. I am hinting at the fact you are barking up the wrong tree.

I suggest you get on a real hardware compressor, even if it's cheap, and start running stuff through it. Record this, look at the waveform.

More importantly, identify the changes in sound that occur when you change different parameters. Only then, will you see if you are one of the guys that "gets it" or not.

This stuff is like anything else in life, but the instrument analogy I think works. Why? Because it's music we are working on.

There are virtuoso mixing guys, mediocre cats, total hacks, and those that are so tone deaf they should not be let near audio equipment.

The human ego makes it difficult for all of us to get a grasp on where we are in the spectrum, personally. Always thinking you have more to learn is a good thing. Asking questions on hear will let you learn FAR less than working the gear in a "trial by fire" environment.

Maybe get cracking...find out which type you are.

Sorry if that sounds cold hearted, I am truly trying to help you.

Peace,
john
Why would my asking a question make you think that I am not putting in the hours and getting my own hands on gear?
Old 8th September 2011
  #26
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Old Goat's Avatar
 

Good point. I pretty much know what it does, but it's very nice to know why it does.
Old 8th September 2011
  #27
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ddageek's Avatar
 

It's all about control, the comp makes it gel by giving you control of an instruments dynamics, control of the transients.
It Gels because nothing is poking out, everybody is under control.
Old 8th September 2011
  #28
Quote:
Originally Posted by hauntedclutter View Post
Why would my asking a question make you think that I am not putting in the hours and getting my own hands on gear?
Ok sorry.

Maybe because if you were putting in the hours, you would already know what it all does, and where and when to use it, right? Or at least as much to not be asking the type of questions that you presented to everybody. Nothing wrong with asking questions.

Maybe you are putting in the time. If so, sorry.

A lot of people on here seem to think they can get a "blueprint" to making a hit record on the internet. Buy some gear, stay at the GS Holiday Inn, and they are good to go. All in place of doing the grind for real.

Good ol' internet.

Just like people diagnose their own medical issues via the web...yada, yada. Easier than getting up and going to pay a Dr.

Until they are freaking dying.

Not saying you are one of these people, but your questions seem to point to not having the experience. No?

Forgive me and please dismiss all this BS if you do.

No harm in asking questions.

I meant no disrespect, all I was really trying to do, was to get you fired up about getting into your studio, and making some music with your new found advice with regards to compression. The stuff that all the kind people gave you in this thread.

Which, BTW, I need to remind myself from time to time. I should get off of here, and get my own ass in gear. The old life clock's ticking, and there is too much to be done.

The internet is worse than TV used to be for eating up time.

No hard feelings. My apologies.

Good luck on your quest for compression.
john
Old 8th September 2011
  #29
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Funny Cat's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by chroma View Post
i don't know if this is right, but from what i have seen (mostly live use) is that when the compressor is on a bus, it does two things, one good, one bad: it tends to level out the volumes when different things are playing, and it tends to make the loudest instrument/singer control the volumes of everything else.

think in terms of time instead of tone. you've got a bass and a guitar running together. maybe you want the guitar sitting on top of the bass most of the time, but when there are 'holes' where the guitarist isn't playing, the bass line pushes through. But turning up the bass in the mix, even when it's got some compression on it, will make it fight with the guitar. solution: put them on a bus, with the bass slightly lower than the guitar. When the guitar is playing, it will naturally (mostly) cover the bass and is a little compressed, but when the guitar doesn't play, the compressor releases, bringing the volume of the bass up, but not louder than the guitar was. done right, it seems that instruments seem to get pushed into their 'natural order' so to speak. kind of like automatic ducking with a 'pecking order' - a vocal can break in and automatically take over the 'lead spot' so to say, but when it's not there other instruments automatically get the limelight back without sounding weak.

this only works if the instruments are giving each other room to breathe though imho... if you've got two singers singing together that aren't very consistent for example, when one of them sings loud, the other one's volume at the same time drops in comparison. so it doesn't always work on busses, especially for live... someone had set up our live mixer at the church I mix at when i got there, and the backup singers would disappear sometimes; switching to just individual channel compressors helped a lot there (though we don't have many, so can't always put everyone on a compressor).

you can get some of the control back with separate compressors, but you won't get the kind of 'automatic ducking' that you would on a bus.

at least, i think this is how it works.

Excellent post and explaination of one of the primary ways compression on the mixbuss can "glue" sounds together. Well said. They should put this in a textbook somewhere...
Old 8th September 2011
  #30
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by NEWTON IN ORBIT View Post
Ok sorry.

Maybe because if you were putting in the hours, you would already know what it all does, and where and when to use it, right? Or at least as much to not be asking the type of questions that you presented to everybody. Nothing wrong with asking questions.

Maybe you are putting in the time. If so, sorry.

A lot of people on here seem to think they can get a "blueprint" to making a hit record on the internet. Buy some gear, stay at the GS Holiday Inn, and they are good to go. All in place of doing the grind for real.

Good ol' internet.

Just like people diagnose their own medical issues via the web...yada, yada. Easier than getting up and going to pay a Dr.

Until they are freaking dying.

Not saying you are one of these people, but your questions seem to point to not having the experience. No?

Forgive me and please dismiss all this BS if you do.

No harm in asking questions.

I meant no disrespect, all I was really trying to do, was to get you fired up about getting into your studio, and making some music with your new found advice with regards to compression. The stuff that all the kind people gave you in this thread.

Which, BTW, I need to remind myself from time to time. I should get off of here, and get my own ass in gear. The old life clock's ticking, and there is too much to be done.

The internet is worse than TV used to be for eating up time.

No hard feelings. My apologies.

Good luck on your quest for compression.
john
No need to apologize. I "get" what you were trying to say and that you were trying to help. I considered not responding to you at all, but the only reason I did was because I don't want people who are new to recording or feel weak in a certain area to be afraid to ask questions...and I think a post like yours can intimidate those who are sincerely looking for advice and want very badly to learn. A lot of recording isn't something you can learn in a textbook...and I think the topic of this thread is a very subjective one, not the same as asking what threshold and ratio do.

I often ask questions on here, looking for someone to "confirm" what I already know, or to set me straight if what I think I know turns out to be completely wrong. I find being right and wrong equally liberating. If you think a question is "below" you, then you can ignore it...and your point that "listening" and "doing' is way way more important than reading is 100% true. But, there is an encouraging way to say it and a way that I think comes off as bullying. You have the right to do it if you want to for whatever reason, but I'm just explaining the way I see it.

Sometimes the advice/opinions on here can reinforce your knowledge and build your confidence. When you have a great thread with many opinions, the sum of the opinions can really solidify the answer you're looking for and open your eyes. 9 out of 10 people I've interacted with on GS are amazing and the idea of making great recordings excites them and they are excited to impart their knowledge to others.

Anyway, I'm not saying that you were necessarily bullying, I just want you to understand my side of it. I'm far more afraid of the person who doesn't ask a question and pretends to know, than the person who asks a question because they love to learn and want to hear how others think about a subject. And you seem very knowledgeable, so it's a shame. I would have really loved to have heard more in-depth your take on this topic. I suppose it is not too late.

I'll stop now. We are both probably being a bit oversensitive. How about a truce?
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