Music production and audio engineering are all about emotion, depth, and dynamics. Understanding compression and other dynamics processing is one thing, but knowing “what dynamics are” regarding music production, is not the same as knowing the “why” the “how” behind the “what.”
Compression and other forms are dynamics processing are the aspects we are going to cover in this article. The more you know about EQ, compression, noise gates, expanders, and other mixing plugins the more professional your music will sound.
Dynamics are a must in music productions because they create excitement, movement, and help the listener stay engaged in the song as it is progressing. To use dynamics advantageously, one must understand the “whys” before applying something like a compressor in an ITB mixing session.
Remember that compression and all other mixing plugins are always used subjectively based on each track (channel strip with fader). The good news is all DAWs like Logic X, Pro Tools 12, Ableton 9 and more all come with amazing stock dynamics plugins. So, if the plugins in your library are not that deep, it does not matter. In fact, when learning about “why” to use dynamics processing less, in fact, is more!
If you are one of the lucky ones (and in some ways one of the unlucky ones – as having too many compressors can often be a curse and blessing simultaneously) to have 27 compressors to choose from try sticking with just one while applying the themes of this article to future mixing sessions. Using just one compressor vs. several will offer consistency, and a deeper understand the “why” when using a compressor. Working with one compressor (or any mixing plugin) at a time is a valuable learning practice to employ with all mixing plugins.
By taking time o get to know each of your mixing plugins thoroughly vs. trying to differentiate the variances between a range of ITB mixing plugins you will learn the strengths and weakness of your tools faster. Hense, giving you more accurate answers to the “what, when, and why” before instantiating a compressor in the mix!
When you reach for a compressor, or expander, or gate they first thing you should be asking yourself is, “Why am I throwing this mixing plugin on my track.” You should have a clear and definite answer for this, and it should never be “because I watched a video yesterday and the guy used a noise gate on his snare.” His snare is not your snare. His song is not your song. His tempo is not your tempo. His key is not your key. Do you see where I am going with this? Maybe you both are working on EDM, and your bpm might be the same, but little else most likely overlaps. The point is, you need to understand:
These are just some great “general” examples of WHYs you should ask before you process anything with dynamics. Music production is an art and skill. Yes, we can and will all get better at it, but we first have to take the time, like anything in life, to ask the right questions!
Dynamics processors are meant to do something to the sound sources, which is intended to be “exciting” or “suppressing.” Yes, this is a large generalization, we know, but it is rather accurate if you break the tools functions down in simple terms. Here is a quick guide for what each processing tool can do.
Tucks things or brings things more forward in the mix depending on how you use. Compressors can either tame dynamic content (most common use) which will render a less “peaky” and smoother, more consistent dynamic sound.
Compressors work when a sound is above a threshold.
Here are a few short lists of some of our favorite compressors to use by various plugin-manufacturing companies:
Noise gates perform by “looking” at the input signal. If a high enough signal is not coming through the gate, it will turn off the audio (closed). If enough signal is coming into the gate, then it will let the audio pass (open). Noise gates are ideal for making sounds tighter or for cutting out undesirable parts of audio such as bleed or noise.
Expanders increase the variances in “loudness” between quiet and loud sections of audio. Thus, rendering quiet audio “quieter” and loud audio “louder.”
Many audio engineers think of expanders as “the opposite of compressors.” To paraphrase Wikipedia: An expander performs the inverse function, increasing the dynamic range of the audio signal. Expanders are used to make quiet sounds even quieter by reducing the level of an audio signal that falls below a set threshold level.
Expanding is useful when you want to increase the dynamic range of the audio. For example, when you have a noisy recording and want to reduce the volume of the quieter parts, so you don’t notice the noise as much.
There you have it! Hopefully, this article offers you some clarity and a more defined understanding of dynamics processors. Now… go and crush some sounds and hear what’s “actually” happening with these tools!
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Written by: Kriss Walas
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