Electronic Music Production
Sonible Smart compressor 2 interface

Guide to use Compressor plugin in modern electronic music production.

Updated: 12. December 2023

Table Of Contents

Compressor is another of these essential plugins for modern music production. Again one of those plugins that can be very useful or the opposit and break a great track if overused and used wrongly.
And in this series I will try to help you understand and get the best out of your compressor plugins. In this first part we will look into basics of compression and in part two, we will dive into the more advanced use cases.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Compressor plugins play a crucial role in modern electronic music production by reducing the dynamic range and enhancing the overall sound of a mix.
  2. Understanding the different types of compressors available, such as VCA, FET, and optical compressors, allows you to choose the right tool for the job based on your desired sound.
  3. Setting up a compressor effectively involves adjusting the threshold, ratio, attack, release, and makeup gain settings to achieve the desired compression effect while maintaining balance and clarity in the mix.
  4. Advanced techniques like sidechain compression, parallel compression, and multiband compression offer creative possibilities for adding dynamics, impact, and control to your tracks.
  5. Gain staging and pre-processing are essential for optimizing the input signal before it reaches the compressor to avoid issues like clipping or weak signals.
  6. Subtle adjustments and experimentation are key to achieving transparent and musical compression that enhances the natural dynamics of your audio.
  7. Troubleshooting common compression issues like pumping artifacts or excessive compression can be addressed by adjusting attack and release times, utilizing parallel compression, or using sidechain EQ.
  8. Remember to trust your ears and listen critically to the changes introduced by the compressor, making fine-tune adjustments based on what sounds best for your specific mix.
  9. Regular practice, experimentation, and exploration of different compressor models will help you develop your own unique approach to using compressors in your productions.

Introduction

In the world of modern electronic music production, using a compressor plugin is an essential tool for achieving a polished and professional sound. Whether you’re working on EDM, techno, or any other electronic genre, understanding how to effectively use a compressor can greatly enhance your mixes.

A compressor serves the purpose of reducing the dynamic range of an audio signal by attenuating the louder parts of the signal. This helps to even out the levels and bring out details that might otherwise get lost in the mix. Compressors are used not only during the mixing stage but also in various creative ways during production.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into every aspect of using a compressor plugin in modern electronic music production. From understanding the basics of compression to exploring advanced techniques and troubleshooting common issues, this guide aims to equip you with all the knowledge you need to make the most out of compressors in your productions.

So let’s dive in and explore the incredible world of compressors!

Understanding the Basics of Compressors

To effectively use a compressor plugin, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of how compressors work and why they are vital in electronic music production.

At its core, a compressor reduces the dynamic range of an audio signal by automatically attenuating its volume when it exceeds a certain threshold level. This means that softer parts of a track are left relatively untouched while louder parts are brought down in volume, resulting in a more balanced and controlled sound.

The benefits of using a compressor in electronic music production are numerous. Firstly, compression helps to achieve a more consistent and even mix by reducing the difference between the loudest and softest parts of a track. This can be particularly useful when dealing with dynamic and complex electronic sounds.

Additionally, compressors help to bring out subtle details and nuances in a mix, making individual elements more articulate and present. By controlling the dynamics of different elements, you can ensure that each element sits well in the overall mix, contributing to a cohesive sonic experience.

Understanding these basics will serve as a strong foundation for using compressors effectively in your productions.

Tube-Tech by Softube compresser guide 24bit

Types of Compressors

When it comes to compressors, there is a wide range of options available, each with its own sonic characteristics and best use cases. Let’s explore some of the most common types of compressors found in modern electronic music production.

VCA Compressors

VCA (Voltage-Controlled Amplifier) compressors are known for their transparent and precise sound. They are often used in scenarios where a clean and uncolored compression is desired. VCA compressors offer fast response times, making them ideal for controlling transients and shaping the overall dynamics of a mix. They are commonly used on individual tracks such as drums, vocals, and synths. Waves API 2500, Native Instruments VC 160 or Softube VCA Compressor

FET Compressors

FET (Field-Effect Transistor) compressors are renowned for their aggressive and colorful sound. Inspired by vintage hardware, FET compressors introduce harmonic distortion and saturation to the audio signal, adding warmth and character to the mix. They excel at bringing energy and vibe to drums, basslines, and guitars, imparting a sense of “glue” to the overall mix. Arturia Comp FET-76, Waves CLA-76 or Pulsar Audio Smasher.

Optical Compressors

Optical compressors offer a smooth and musical compression style, often associated with vintage analog gear. They utilize an optical circuitry that reacts naturally to the audio signal, providing a gentle and transparent compression effect. Optical compressors are commonly used on vocals, acoustic instruments, and any source that requires a more natural-sounding dynamic control. Brainworx bx_Opto, Softube Tube-Tech.

Other Types of Compressors

In addition to VCA, FET, and optical compressors, there are several other types worth exploring. Digital compressors offer precise control and flexibility, while tube compressors provide a warm and vintage-inspired sound. Some compressors even combine different technologies for unique sonic characteristics.

Choosing the right compressor for your specific needs depends on the sound you’re aiming to achieve. Experimenting with different compressor types and understanding their sonic characteristics will help you make informed decisions during the mixing process.

Setting Up a Compressor Plugin

Now that you have a good understanding of the different types of compressors available, it’s time to learn how to set up a compressor plugin effectively in your electronic music productions. Let’s dive into the step-by-step process:

Overview of Compressor Controls and Parameters

Before diving into the specific settings, let’s familiarize ourselves with the common controls and parameters found in compressor plugins:

  1. Threshold: This determines the level at which the compressor starts to reduce the volume of the signal. Set the threshold so that the compressor only kicks in when the signal exceeds a certain level.
  2. Ratio: The ratio determines how much the compressor reduces the volume of the signal once it exceeds the threshold. For example, a ratio of 2:1 means that for every 2dB above the threshold, the output will only increase by 1dB.
  3. Attack: The attack time determines how quickly the compressor starts to reduce the volume of the signal once it exceeds the threshold. A faster attack time can help control transients, while a slower attack can allow more transient energy through.
  4. Release: The release time determines how quickly the compressor stops reducing the volume once the signal falls below the threshold. A shorter release time can result in a more transparent sound, while a longer release can provide a smoother and more sustained sound.
  5. Makeup Gain: After compression, the overall level of the signal may be attenuated. Makeup gain allows you to boost the compressed signal to match the original level.

Step-by-Step Guide for Setting Up a Compressor

  1. Start by setting an appropriate threshold. Listen to your audio track and find a level where compression is needed, usually during louder parts or transients.
  2. Set an appropriate ratio based on how much compression you desire. A higher ratio (e.g., 4:1 or higher) will result in more noticeable compression, while a lower ratio (e.g., 2:1) will provide a more subtle effect.
  3. Adjust the attack time. If you want to control transients, choose a faster attack time. If you want to retain more transient energy, go for a slower attack time.
  4. Adjust the release time. A shorter release time can provide a tighter and more transparent sound, while a longer release time can create a smoother and more sustained sound.
  5. Balance the compressed signal by adjusting the makeup gain. Match the overall level of the compressed signal to the original level before compression.

Remember, these settings are not set in stone and should be adjusted according to the specific needs of your track. Trust your ears and make fine-tune adjustments as necessary.

In the next part, we will explore some advanced techniques using compressor plugins in electronic music production.

Issues and artifacts that can occur using compression

Pumping or breathing artifacts occur when the compressor’s attack and release settings are not appropriately adjusted, resulting in an unnatural and exaggerated pumping effect. To address this issue:

Adjust Attack Time: Increase the attack time to allow the transient energy to pass through before compression kicks in. This helps to preserve the natural dynamics of the sound.

Fine-Tune Release Time: Experiment with different release times to find the sweet spot that minimizes pumping artifacts while still maintaining control over the dynamics.

Use Sidechain EQ: Employ sidechain EQ to shape the triggering signal and focus the compression on specific frequency ranges. This can help reduce pumping artifacts without sacrificing the desired effect.

Over-compression can result in a dull and lifeless mix, causing a loss of transients and dynamic excitement. To combat this issue:

Reduce Compression Ratio: Decrease the compression ratio to allow more dynamics to come through. A gentler touch can retain the natural transients while still providing control.

Adjust Attack and Release Times: Fine-tune the attack and release settings to find a balance between controlling excessive peaks and preserving the transients that give life to the sound.

Utilize Parallel Compression: Apply parallel compression to retain the uncompressed dynamics while adding weight and sustain with a compressed layer blended in.

When pushed too hard, compressors can introduce distortion and clipping artifacts, negatively impacting the audio quality. To mitigate distortion issues:

Lower Input Levels: Ensure that the input signal hitting the compressor is not excessively hot. Adjust the input gain to avoid clipping and distortion.

Use a Limiter: Place a limiter after the compressor in the signal chain to prevent any peaks from exceeding the desired level. This can help maintain control and avoid unwanted distortion.

Consider Saturation: Instead of pushing the compressor to extreme settings, try incorporating subtle saturation plugins to add warmth and harmonic content without introducing distortion.

Other useful articles about music production

Exploring the Depths of Sound: Cloudseed Reverb v2.0

The Cloudseed Reverb v2.0 by Ghost Note Audio stands out in the reverb plugin market for its ability to create vast, ethereal soundscapes. Unlike traditional reverb units, Cloud seed Reverb is designed not for general-purpose use but to deliver special…...