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Getting Your Mixes LOUDER!
March 2, 2016
Best Ways to Tune Kick Drums (Part 1)
July 27, 2016

The Wonderful World of Dynamics Processing

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.

The WHY:

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!

DMG CompressionIf 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:

What you are learning online is SUBJECTIVE. To get the most out of what you learn (on our site or others), you need to understand the “theory of why” more than anything else!

Ableton COmpresson

Some great examples of WHY:

1. More snap out of a kick drum
2. A tighter attack out of a snare drum
3. Removal of noise after the decay on a tom drum or percussion layer
4. To push a VST synth back in the mix
5. To give a lead line or vocal some more excitement

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!

As they say in the spiritual and personal growth realms: Good questions are more important than the answers!

The HOW:

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.

Compression:

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.

“Compressors reduce the output level of the signal when the detector signal goes over the threshold. The knee setting gives some flex in this a bit. The compressor releases when this reduction (increases signal level) when the signal falls below the threshold.” – Ryan O John

Here are a few short lists of some of our favorite compressors to use by various plugin-manufacturing companies:

 

Logic Compression 2Mixing Plugin Compressors for Drums:

Plugin Mixing Compressors for Drums: Logic X stock red compressor, Cytomic “The Glue”, Waves API 2500, PSP Vintage Warmer 2, and Kush Audio UBK-1.

Drums Hardware: DBX 160, API 2500, Empirical Labs Fatso EL7x, and UBK Fatso.

 

Mixing Plugin Compressors for Bass:

Plugin Mixing Compressors for Bass: Softube FET Compressor, UA 1176, Fab Filter Pro C2, and Softube Tube-Tech CL1B.

Bass Hardware: UREI 1176, Empirical Labs Distressor, and UA 6176 (with the preamp running into the 1176 compressor).

 

Mixing Plugin Compressors for Synths:

Plugin Mixing Compressors for Synths: Softube Drawmer Multiband, UA LA2A, Melda Production (several of their compressors are stellar).

Synth Hardware: Empirical Labs Fatso EL7x, Empirical Labs Distressor, UREI LA3A, and Crane Song Trakker.

 

Compresson 1Mixing Plugin Compressors for ITB Mastering and Analog Hardware for OTB Mastering:

ITB Mastering Plugins: Sonoris Mastering Compressor, SSL Duende Bus Compressor, and Waves SSL Bus Compressor.

Mastering Hardware: Neve 33609, Manley Vari-Mu, Rupert Neve MBP, and Alan Smart C2.

 

Noise Gates:

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.

“A noise gate is essentially just an expander with an infinite ratio.” – Dominic Tassinari

 

Mixing Plugin Noise Gates:

Plugin Mixing Noise Gates for Vocals: Pro Tools stock noise gate, Fab Filter Pro G, Plugin Alliance Unfiltered Audio.

Hardware Noise Gate: Anything made by Drawmer.

 

Expanders:

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.

Quiz time: Is a noise gate type of expander?

Answer: Yes

iZotope CompressionMixing Plugin Expanders:

Plugin Mixing Expanders for Guitars: Softube Valley People (for some serious tone and smack), Fab Filter Pro G, and iZotope Alloy 2.

Hardware Expander: Anything made by DBX (low end), Drawmer (mid range), or Masalec (high end).

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.

Continuum Tip: Expanders change the way sounds decay and can end up silencing quieter parts of your audio that you want to keep. Use judiciously and pay close attention in solo to hear what is happening if you are new to expanders.

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!

As Always,

Stay Passionate Music Producers and Never Stop Making Art!

Written by: Kriss Walas

A Licensed Continuum Music Studio Blog Creative Work

© Copyright 2016 Kriss Walas and Continuum Music Studio.

All Rights Reserved

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Kriss Walas
Kriss Walas
Kriss Walas is a constantly expanding musician, composer, music producer, mixing engineer, mastering engineer, writer, DJ, artist manager, CEO, record label owner, Reiki practitioner, meditation enthusiast, avid learner, and spiritual activist. Now, at age 31 Kriss has committed himself to living through heart and only spending his time on endeavors he is passionate about. It is for this reason he is proud to be working with the amazingly passionate and talented artists, partners, and educators who are affiliated with The Continuum Music Studio and The Music and Recording Arts Academy.
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