I want to explain in this serie of blog posts how a compressor works. This is a post for the absolute beginner. There are many posts and youtube videos on compression techniques, but they throw around terms like threshold, attack, release, gain,… like they are common terms everybody already knows. For a beginning hip hop beats producer of for a rapper that wants to edit his own vocal this may be a bit intimidating. So I decided to show you in detail all aspects from the compressor but really starting from scratch.
We talk here about hip hop beats and vocals, but this tutorial goes for all kinds of music. Replace the rap vocals by an electric guitar lick, RnB backing vocals, an acoustic guitar, a saxophone solo. No matter what sound source you use, the same principles apply.
- Compression is one of the most important elements of a good mix.
- The volume of a voice, hip hop beat or instrument is not always consistent in volume.
- A whisper or a shout have a completely different volume and we want both to fit in the mix.
- How will we do that? By changing the volume of both: we will make the whisper louder by augmenting it’s volume, and make the shout quiter by reducing it’s volume until they both are in the same volume range.
- This means the volume between the two does not have to be exactly the same, but the difference may not be too big either.
How can we achieve this? Well, we could do this manual: if you only have a few notes, it would be perfectly possible to change the volume of the whisper and the shout so they have a comparable volume. You could do this in a digital audio workstation (= DAW) like Cubase, Ableton, Logic, FL Studio.., whatever you prefer.
But what if you have a lot of notes to edit? It would be a huge task to manually edit the volumes of all the individual notes of the vocals on a four minute hip hop beat. It would be much better if we had a tool that does this in an automated way. And hey, this tool exists. It is called a compressor !
In fact, in it’s most simple form a compressor is a automated volume knob, that reacts to the incoming volume.
Compression is extemely important in any kind of music. The last years compression has a negative connotation to it due to overcompression and the loudness war. Record labels want the music as loud as it digitally possible. So a lot of music, be it pop or rock music, hip hop beats or even acoustic music, gets overcompressed at the mastering stage. I explain to you what this exactly means later.
Using compression is like adding salt and pepper to your soup. If done with moderation it will hugely improve the end result. I’l explain the details in future posts.