In my introductionary post on this subject I explained how you should look at a music compressor and what compression actually is. Basicly, it is nothing more that an automated volume knob that lowers the volume of a sound ( voice or rap, single instrument, hip hop beats,..) under certain conditions. In case you did not read that you can find it here : compression basics for hip hop beats. In this post I explain with a simple graphical representation how a compressor works.
Imagine we have a three word rapline that says ‘Hip Hop Beats’. The volume of the three words is quite different. The hip hop artist did this line as follows:
- He shouted the word “Hip”
- He whispered word “Hop”
- He rapped the “Beats” at an average volume, that would be fine.
So the recorded track looks something like this.
Phrase HIP HOP BEATS as recorded (no compression):
Imagine we would not apply compression to that track, the ‘Hip’ would be much too loud like someone is just shouting in the studio over the track, while the ‘Hop’ would get lost in the music. Not a good thing, so we trow in our compression.
- First step: bring down the volume peaks.
- The main problem for this track is that we can not set it high in the mix because the loud word ‘hip‘ would distort in the mix or in the worst case blow up our speakers.
- First of all, we need to lower the highest volume levels. We will tell the compressor that everytime the volume exceeds a certain level, the automatic volume knob of the compressor must bring it down.
- This is the blue line on the graphic. Everytime the volume of the track goes above the blue line, the compression wil bring the volume down with a certain percentage.
- All volume levels that are under the blue line are unaffected.
Phrase HIP HOP BEATS as recorded (with level setting):
- When we activate our compression the volume distribution of t
- he track is as follows: The word ‘Hip‘ will not sound that loud anymore, which is a good thing.
- But the word ‘Hop‘ that was whispered is still not loud enough. We have to take the blue line a little bit further down so that it does not only brings down the volume of the word ‘Hip‘ but also the word ‘Beat‘.
Phrase HIP HOP BEATS with compression:
Second step: raise the overall volume.
Because both the words ‘Hip‘ and ‘Beat‘ are lowered, it is perfectly possible to raise the overall volume of the track. We can do this with the ‘gain’ button on the compressor or by simply putting up the mixer fader of that track in your DAW.
Phrase HIP HOP BEATS with compression and gain:
- Try this in your DAW anc you’ll experience the following possitive effects:
- The volume between the different words is much more consistent, which makes it for the ears smoother and nicer to follow.
- The overal volume of the track can be turned up louder so it is more prominent in the mix.
I’ve avoided to get into technical terms in this post to make it as clear as possible. In this post we have already learned one very important term: ‘treshold’. In fact, the blue line I was talking about in this post is the treshold. If the volume of a track goes above the treshold, the compressor will become active and will lower down the volume by a certain percentage. This percentage is knows as the ‘Ratio’. So you know already to important parameters of a compressor: the ‘Treshold’ and the ‘Ratio’
In further posts I will get more in detail and explain to you terms like ‘attack’ and ‘release’.