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A Lesson on Compression

Using a Compressor?

Hello all, Ken here. How many of you really know how to use a compressor? Let's see a show of hands.

If you are coming here from Recording Tips 7: show me the Magic Frequencies!

Using one is really easy; the trick to it is to "listen to your music" and feel the flow of the mix. Compressors are used to make the "sound punchy and in-your-face". The trick to getting the punch out of a compressor is to let the attacks through and setting the release to elongate the sound. Setting fast attack times are going to reduce the punchiness of the signal, and the slow release times are going to make the compressor pump out of time with the music, so timing of the Attack and the Release is important!

To set the compressor (assuming you have a constant meter in the song like the snare.):

You want the compressor to breath in time with the song. This will work on any instrument....... Cool right?

Look at a compressor as an instrument in your sound. But the key to any mix is to LISTEN to your music and make SMALL ADJUSTMENTS. And that's how you use a compressor.

I hope this helps all of you in your mixing and recording.

Here are some Magic Frequencies

  • Bass guitar:
  • Bottom at 50-80hz
  • Attack at 700hz
  • Snap at 2.5kHz
  • Kick drum:
  • Bottom at 80-100Hz
  • Hollowness at 400Hz
  • Point at 3 - 5kHz
  • Snare:
  • Fatness at 120 - 240Hz
  • Boing at 900Hz
  • Crispness at 5kHz
  • Snap at 10kHz
  • Toms:
  • Fullness at 240 - 500Hz
  • Attack at 5 - 7kHz
  • Floor toms:
  • Fullness at 80 - 120Hz
  • Attack at 5kHz
  • Hi hat and cymbals:
  • Clang at 200Hz
  • Sparkle at 8 to 10 kHz
  • Electric guitar:
  • Fullness at 240 - 500Hz
  • Presence at 1.5 to 2.5kHz
  • To get a 4x12 cabinet sound reduce it to 1kHz
  • Acoustic guitar:
  • Fullness at 80Hz
  • Body at 240Hz
  • Presence at 2 - 5kHz
  • Organ:
  • Fullness at 80Hz
  • Body at 240Hz
  • Presence at 2 - 5 kHz
  • Piano:
  • Fullness at 80Hz
  • Presence at 2.5 - 5kHz
  • Honky-tonk at 2.5kHz
  • Horns:
  • Fullness at 120 - 240Hz
  • Piercing at 5kHz
  • Vocals or voice:
  • Fullness at 120Hz
  • Boominess at 240Hz
  • Presence at 5kHz
  • Sibilance at 5kHz
  • Air at 10- 5kHz
  • Strings:
  • Fullness at 240Hz
  • Scratchiness at 7 - 10kHz
  • Congas:
  • Ring at 200Hz
  • Slap at 5kHz

Tip: Set your frequencies up as presets. When EQ'ing your track, sweep the frequencies to find the "sweet spot". Don't forget to use your gain in your EQ'ing.

Good Luck!
Ken Sutton


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