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Continuing on with our FL Studio Beginner’s Series, this time we’re discussing compression.

In my opinion, compression is by far the trickest tool we as producers have to fully grasp and understand.

It takes years to understand the concepts and train our ears to hear the positives and negatives compression can give us.

When starting, I always thought compression was simply just used for volume consistency – when you have a vocal recording and some words are too loud, you can put a compressor on them to make the recording more even in volume, helping it stand out in the mix.

And yes, a compressor is a great tool for this job, however, it has many other uses which may be an eye-opening experience for you.

What We Coverered in the Video:

  • How a Compressor Works with Numbers
  • Different forms of Compression
  • Other Uses of Compression
  • Some General Unwritten Rules of Compression
  • Some Fun Facts about Compressors

In addition to the video, I have a few additional points which I’d like to further discuss and cover!:

Additional Points

  • Audio Compression vs. File Compression
  • Using a Compressor with a Filter + How a Single-Band Compressor Works
  • Molding your Sound with a Compressor

Audio Compression vs. File Compression

As a music producer, you can encounter two different types of compression.

One is in regards to your actual music and the dynamics within it, and the other is in regards to when you export your song and its file size!

Even though they have the same name, they are different.

An example of the file size compression is an .MP3. It takes your original audio file and actually removes parts of your song which aren’t as audible to our ears.

This makes its file size much smaller and making it faster to transfer over email or store more songs on your mobile device!

When talking about audio compression, we’re talking about loading up a compressor VST and affecting the dynamic range/tonality of the sound by using the threshold, ratio, attack, and release settings!

Using a Compressor with a Filter + How a Single-Band Compressor Works

Now not all compressors have this filter option.

That’s why I like FabFilter’s Pro-C so much.

As I mentioned quite a few times in the video when using a single-band compressor, our loudest sounds are typically drums and snares. These will trigger our compressor more often than we sometimes want!

pro-c settings mastering

In this animated image above of FabFilter’s Pro-C, in the bottom-right section where it says ‘Sidechain’ is the option to remove low or high frequencies from triggering the compressor.

Now, this is an important thing to understand.

Just because you’re filtering the input into the compressor – in the case of this animated image at 205Hz – that doesn’t mean the low-end doesn’t get compressed!

So here’s an example:

You put a single-band compressor on your master channel – this means you’re affecting the volume (dynamics) of your whole song.

If you don’t have this filter activated, the drum would be triggering this compressor whenever it hits and lowers the volume of your whole song. If we had a vocal in this track, this could cause that unwanted pumping sound from the vocal because the volume is coming in and out because of the drum hit!

Now since this single-band compressor is on the master channel, this means that any part of the frequency spectrum goes over that threshold will reduce the volume on that insert where the compressor is applied.

That’s just how a single-band compressor works!

So if your drum goes over the threshold, it lowers the volume of the whole song. If your snare goes over, the same thing. And yes, the same thing if a high frequency goes over the threshold, it will lower the volume of the whole song, which includes lowering the volume of the drum!

Now if we activate this high pass filter at 205Hz like in the image, the drum is no longer triggering the compressor. The compressor only sees audio from 205Hz and up.

This doesn’t mean the compressor won’t compress the drum, it just means it won’t use the drum to trigger the compressor.

With our filtered signal going into the compressor, we now have a generally more balanced signal and you won’t have extreme amounts of compression at random times.

You can be more aggressive on your compressor settings while keeping a transparent sound, yet increasing energy and balance to your overall master.

This is why using a Multi-Band compressor can be a useful tool!

If the drum hits, it won’t lower the volume of the other bands.

So, if you create four bands, you essentially have four compressors each focusing on different frequency areas in your song. If one frequency is pushing hard into a band, it will not affect the other bands, reducing unwanting pumping artifacts, which are very noticeable when listening to vocals!

Molding your Sound with a Compressor

Understanding the knobs on a compressor will take some time – and that’s okay!

Like I said, a compressor is probably your most powerful tool yet takes the longest to master because you don’t know what to listen to or what you’re trying to achieve out of it!

With that said, your four main knobs on a compressor are:

  • Threshold – This determines when your compressor will actually start working! A low threshold would be around -30dB for example. And to throw a curveball at you, depending on your compressor’s knee setting, the compressor can actually start compressing even before hitting your threshold, however, at a more gentle ratio building-up to your desired set amount.
  • Ratio – You can kind of think of ratio as a mix knob. It determines how much of the compression effect you want. 4:1 is starting to get more aggressive, 8:1 is really aggressive, and limiting is supposedly 10:1 or greater. On the other side of things in terms of mastering, sometimes Mastering Engineers use very low numbers for balance. I’m talking a low threshold of -30dB, but a very low ratio of let’s say 1:1.15 !
  • Attack – Attack is how long it takes to reach your desired compression amount. This is a powerful knob for controlling/molding a sound’s shape and tonal characteristics! From my understanding, a compressor will always start compressing once it passes its threshold, but attack controls how aggressive it starts compressing when the audio first goes over the threshold. (There’s also an interesting article from Attack Magazine about reaching 2/3 of your compressors targeted gain reduction. Search ‘thirds’ on the page.)
  • Release – If your audio signal goes under the threshold, it actually continues to compress! Depending on how fast or long you’ve set your release knob, this determines when your compressor will actually stop compressing!

With that said, you can be using your attack and release settings to mold a sound.

I’ve done this in a track off one of my beat tapes where I created a tutorial for.

Conclusion

Compression is probably your trickiest topic!

From here on out, at least now you’re exposed to popular uses of it and why you’d want to use compression!

If anything is confusing, just leave a comment. I’ll get back to you or maybe create another video/write-up in regards to your question 🙂

For the whole series, you can join:
FL Studio Beginner’s Series.