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Author Topic:  The Art of Compression
Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post Posted 7 May 2016 1:35 am     Reply with quote

Rick Schacter wrote:


The purpose of this thread wasn't to agree or disagree with anyone.
I was pointing out a book that might clear up the confusion for people like me, who aren't exactly sure about when, where and how much compression to use for recording.



and thats a good thing...

The best thing anyone can do is to not talk about what it can do for you but rather plug one in and experiment. Start with very low settings, run them up to peak settings and listen to whats happening. Then go back to minimal settings and start the journey.Pay attention to what each control does, write it down if necessary.

Like any dynamic processing , it's a tool. I think many consider a compressor an "Effect". It's a processing tool first which can be used as an Effect.


Not all that long ago I went to a supposed Pro Tools seminar at GC, well the employee running it started the seminar by saying he knows nothing about Pro Tools and he was filling in for another guy who called in sick. A few of us hung out just for the heck of it but when the guy got to a discussion on compressors and said they are really just an effect to make your guitar sound better, everyone in the room left !

So perhaps a MYTH has been created ?
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 7 May 2016 6:17 am     Reply with quote

Rick Schacter wrote:
werner althaus wrote:

I hope it's okay to disagree here but to me the art of compression has been lost on most engineers working today. there are exceptions but those usually get their work destroyed by the Bob Ludwig's of the world.


The purpose of this thread wasn't to agree or disagree with anyone.
I was pointing out a book that might clear up the confusion for people like me, who aren't exactly sure about when, where and how much compression to use for recording.

Since the Distressor was mentioned, I pointed out a couple of successful engineers who just happen to use them.

I don't actually have an opinion one way or the other about compression.
Quite frankly, I'm still a bit confused about it.
My conclusion is that it's like salt.
Everyone seasons to their own taste.

Rick

PS- I enjoyed the song from the artist that you posted, Werner.


I'm not the type to indiscriminately "grace" tons of posts with my sometimes strong opinions on this forum, so apologies for doing it here but "the art of compression", as practiced almost universally these days is the reason I can't buy music anymore.
If I added to the discussion by pointing to compression's destructive properties (and the distressor, through no fault of it's own, is at the forefront of devices used to implement this "aesthetic") then I'm okay with that.
So which version of the song did you like better, Rick?
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Rick Schacter


From:
Portland, Or.
Post Posted 7 May 2016 9:05 am     Reply with quote

werner althaus wrote:


So which version of the song did you like better, Rick?


IMHO, the first recording sounded better to me.



Rick
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Rick Schacter


From:
Portland, Or.
Post Posted 7 May 2016 9:15 am     Reply with quote

Here's another recording from the same session that i really like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AetBG8e-ECs

...and I don't even care if I can hear the hail hitting his window towards the end of his song.

Maybe good recordings don't always have to be perfect.

Rick
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Rick Schacter


From:
Portland, Or.
Post Posted 7 May 2016 9:57 am     Reply with quote

Tony Prior wrote:


The best thing anyone can do is to not talk about what it can do for you but rather plug one in and experiment. Start with very low settings, run them up to peak settings and listen to whats happening. Then go back to minimal settings and start the journey.Pay attention to what each control does, write it down if necessary.

Like any dynamic processing , it's a tool. I think many consider a compressor an "Effect". It's a processing tool first which can be used as an Effect.




This sounds like good advice for getting to know a compressor.
Thanks, Tony.
As far as using a compressor as an effect...I can't imagine not having one if you're looking to create either a "chicken pickin'" type of effect or a funk guitar type of effect. A compressor is definitely needed to get those sounds.
But for everything else? That's where I get a bit confused.



Rick
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 7 May 2016 12:03 pm     Reply with quote

Tony Prior wrote:



and thats a good thing...

The best thing anyone can do is to not talk about what it can do for you but rather plug one in and experiment. Start with very low settings, run them up to peak settings and listen to whats happening. Then go back to minimal settings and start the journey.Pay attention to what each control does, write it down if necessary.

Like any dynamic processing , it's a tool. I think many consider a compressor an "Effect". It's a processing tool first which can be used as an Effect.




one thing to do when testing compressors or any other processor is to make sure you AB test at equivalent volume settings otherwise it's impossible to get valid data. Going to a plug in and selecting a preset will most likely make the volume jump up and we tend to prefer louder in most cases even if it sounds worse at equal volumes.
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 7 May 2016 12:10 pm     Reply with quote

Rick Schacter wrote:
Here's another recording from the same session that i really like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AetBG8e-ECs

...and I don't even care if I can hear the hail hitting his window towards the end of his song.

Maybe good recordings don't always have to be perfect.

Rick


I think the living room recordings sound 100 times better than the album versions of those songs so here's what baffles me: Blake Mills, undoubtedly one of the most talented guys to come along in a long time, is one of the go to session players in LA, he's been around studios for a long time, etc. How come he doesn't realize that a quick and dirty video recording done in a living room sounds better than his album tracked at Ocean way or who knows where? Or maybe the mastering engineer smashed it all into oblivion.

He even talks about it in this interview, I don't understand this at all:

Quote:
Q:I love the way you’ve stripped everything down to its essence.

BM:Popular music is becoming less and less dynamic, because people are compressing everything to make it sound louder than the next thing. That’s not a musical idea to me – it’s fast-food music; nature doesn’t work like that, and my favourite music doesn’t sound like that. So I tried to make
a record that sounds more like how these songs are supposed to be. It may be a quixotic effort, but I feel like it’s important to be on the side of history where you do something that feels honest and right because you believe in it – and whether or not it’s wildly inappropriate for the times doesn’t come into the equation.


Last edited by werner althaus on 7 May 2016 12:32 pm; edited 1 time in total
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 7 May 2016 12:25 pm     Reply with quote

Rick Schacter wrote:


This sounds like good advice for getting to know a compressor.
Thanks, Tony.
As far as using a compressor as an effect...I can't imagine not having one if you're looking to create either a "chicken pickin'" type of effect or a funk guitar type of effect. A compressor is definitely needed to get those sounds.
But for everything else? That's where I get a bit confused.



Rick


Compressors can alter the envelope of any instrument. You can emphasize the transient of something by using a medium attack or reduce transients by setting to a quick attack. You can match the compression to the length of the notes played or you can make the comp pump in rhythm to the track. You can remove sibilance from a vocal (de-esser) or reduce the quack of an acoustic guitar pickup by bandlimited compression. The list is endless and compression is definitely the sound of popular music. No way would the Kinks "you really got me" sound like it does without excessive use of parallel compression. Some tracks are so compressed yet powerfull that I honestly don't know how they do it (Foo Fighters "the pretender" comes to mind)
while other tracks with similar DR and loudness sound like garbage.
Where it becomes problematic is when it becomes so overused that it becomes the new normal. If you are used to the sound of too much compression then you won't be satisfied hearing clean natural dynamics. That's where we are today IMO.https://youtu.be/SBjQ9tuuTJQ
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Mark van Allen


From:
Watkinsville, Ga. USA
Post Posted 7 May 2016 6:51 pm     Reply with quote

Compressors can be used in so many ways, and their are such varieties of circuitry that it's one of the most ubiquitous, useful, and sometimes confusing tools in the recording bag. Some engineers routinely reach for compression instead of EQ…

Werner makes a great post about variations and possibilities. Some people set and forget, as with the skank guitar or country lead "pop" he mentions. The sustain envelope and "more girth" thing are iconic to some recorded sounds… think of Lowell George's creamy endless sustain on his slide solos, or the rhythm acoustics in "Suite Judy Blue Eyes", both of which would not be possible without two compressors in line. Great fun!
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Mark van Allen


From:
Watkinsville, Ga. USA
Post Posted 7 May 2016 6:55 pm     Reply with quote

Compressors can be used in so many ways, and their are such varieties of circuitry that it's one of the most ubiquitous, useful, and sometimes confusing tools in the recording bag. Some engineers routinely reach for compression instead of EQ…

Werner makes a great post about variations and possibilities. Some people set and forget, as with the skank guitar or country lead "pop" he mentions. The sustain envelope and "more girth" thing are iconic to some recorded sounds… think of Lowell George's creamy endless sustain on his slide solos, or the rhythm acoustics in "Suite Judy Blue Eyes", both of which would not be possible without two compressors in line. Great fun!
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Bob Hoffnar


From:
Austin, Tx
Post Posted 8 May 2016 5:51 am     Reply with quote

For an amazing use of compression check out ACDC's album Back in Black. No reverb at all, just massive amounts of compression. Every sound hits you in the face.

I'm learning tons by recording two tracks at at time. One where I experiment with compression on the way in and one without.
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post Posted 8 May 2016 7:57 am     Reply with quote

Rick Schacter wrote:

As far as using a compressor as an effect...I can't imagine not having one if you're looking to create either a "chicken pickin'" type of effect or a funk guitar type of effect. A compressor is definitely needed to get those sounds.
But for everything else? That's where I get a bit confused.



Rick


Rick, now thats interesting, I'm just the opposite, I never use a compressor LIVE , all my pickin ( chicken or not) comes from my right hand , thumb and two fingers with no picks ! Oh and a hot Telecaster with fresh strings, can't forget that . Smile

there are no rules..we do what we do... Exclamation
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Rick Schacter


From:
Portland, Or.
Post Posted 8 May 2016 8:07 am     Reply with quote

Tony Prior wrote:
Rick Schacter wrote:

As far as using a compressor as an effect...I can't imagine not having one if you're looking to create either a "chicken pickin'" type of effect or a funk guitar type of effect. A compressor is definitely needed to get those sounds.
But for everything else? That's where I get a bit confused.



Rick


Rick, now thats interesting, I'm just the opposite, I never use a compressor LIVE , all my pickin ( chicken or not) comes from my right hand , thumb and two fingers with no picks ! Oh and a hot Telecaster with fresh strings, can't forget that . Smile

there are no rules..we do what we do... Exclamation


My go to compressors for guitar have been either an MXR Dynacomp, or lately I've been using a Jangle Box (works great for my Ric 360/12).

Rick
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 8 May 2016 9:17 am     Reply with quote

Bob Hoffnar wrote:
For an amazing use of compression check out ACDC's album Back in Black. No reverb at all, just massive amounts of compression. Every sound hits you in the face.

I'm learning tons by recording two tracks at at time. One where I experiment with compression on the way in and one without.


No such thing AFAIK, there's very little compression on that recording. Tony Platt has discussed the making of B&B on many occasions, google is your friend. In a nutshell that record sounds the way it sounds
A: because of AC/DC

and B:
becauseTony Platt got the sounds from working with the room, finding the sweet spot for drums (no compression on drums or guitars) , how he placed the band members and gear properly for them to play in the same room live, using leakage between instrument mics, in other words, by doing real engineering work instead of reaching for processors. It's a very clean album, very little distortion introduced by compressors, just a great center and total control of phase and leakage as it pertains to mic placement. That's why it sounds HUGE, not because of some magic box (although they did use an Eventide Harmonizer detuned on the snare for heft) Mastering done by Bob Ludwig, supervised by Mutt Lange and Tony Platt, resulting in a good DR of 12.
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 8 May 2016 10:43 am     One more thing about AC-DC BinB Reply with quote

Obviously there has to be some dynamic range control in the process of making that record, both in the tracking and mixing stages. This was done mainly on vocals but Mr Platt doesn't even remember which comp he used for the vocals, that's how irrelevant it was, he does recall every detail about the important stuff, go figure. Then there's mastering to Vinyl but it's all done so tastefully with a very light touch. Now if you listen to some crappy reissue of that record you won't be able to enjoy that sound since Mr Platt is on record stating that many reissues don't come anywhere close to the original releases.
But the main point remains that compression was not a part of the equation in achieving THAT sound at all. BTW, one of the key ingredients of getting the kick and snare to sound like that appears to be the engineers ability to not subject the leakage between the mics to excessive EQ, another "go-to-before-you-think-it-through" processor. Instead he position the mics so that the instruments don't need EQ at all, same for overheads, no HPFs at all, just proper phase. Did I mention phase? Nothing weakens recorde sound as much as excessive EQ except...you guessed it, excessive compression.
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Bob Hoffnar


From:
Austin, Tx
Post Posted 8 May 2016 2:05 pm     Reply with quote

Werner,
Wow and thanks ! I did not know that. Totally cool. I'm going back to that recording and listen with new ears.
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 8 May 2016 3:31 pm     Reply with quote

Bob Hoffnar wrote:
Werner,
Wow and thanks ! I did not know that. Totally cool. I'm going back to that recording and listen with new ears.


I hope you have a good sounding version of that album, preferably a CD from the 80s or vinyl , check this link:



http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list?album=back+in+black

When you posted about BiB using "massive " compression I was confused because I didn't remember it that way at all, quite the contrary. So I did some reading and one thing I didn't know that I found very surprising was the fact that they did use delay to spread the 2 guitars wider than just panning hard right and left. I wonder how they got away with that knowing how AC DC felt about using any effects.Turns out the guitars aren't hard panned, there are 2 mics on each amp cab, one is hard panned, the other one is slightly off center to the other side respectively. And I didn't know about the Eventide on the snare, I'll listen for that next time I get a chance. BiB is undoubtedly one of the best sounding Rock records of all time but in this day and age people have forgotten how to record and mix like that, instead everybody now is trying to be the next Chris Lord Alge, Lord help us. Cool
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John Macy


From:
Denver, CO/Rockport, TX
Post Posted 10 May 2016 7:03 am     Reply with quote

A compressor is just a tool...give one man a nail gun and he will build a fine piece of furniture and another man will nail his foot to the floor with it--it's how you use it. I own compressors that cost thousands of dollars and ones I paid fifty bucks for, and they all have their time and place in my sessions...

Don't forget in BIB those guitars are achieving some pretty massive tube compression in the way they are driven, not to mention the tape compression from the multi tracks. I think a lot of the sound of that record is that balance of the smashed guitars and the dynamic drums...killer record!

Part of the beauty of hardware compressors is the sound they impart due to the electronics they were built with--something that plugins will never achieve. Tubes, transformers and the like all can have a great effect on the sound, while barely touching the compression aspect. The UREI 1176 has a option to turn off the compression completely, but still capture the sound of the unit.

I would say 75% of what I track has some sort of compression on it, always slight unless I am looking for something in particular, and mostly to impart the sound of the unit. During mixing I have a compressor on just about every channel on the console, and I can still have a dynamic, breathing mix with proper usage. I print my mixes through a buss compressor and eq, used as tastefully (or as untastefully) as the track calls for. I know what a mastering engineer is looking for and never overdo it so he has room to control dynamics to what competitive levels need to be achieved.

That said, there is a lot of fun to be had getting crazy with them, too. There are all kinds of effects achieved by abusing them--anyone who has spanked a room mic with a SpectraSonics 610 will know what I mean!

All in all, one of the most important tools in my toolbox, but like all tools, learn how to use them first!
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 10 May 2016 8:12 am     Reply with quote

^^^^^^^^^^^^

While I agree with many points made in this great post I'd like to point to the following:.
John Macy wrote:

Don't forget in BIB those guitars are achieving some pretty massive tube compression in the way they are driven, not to mention the tape compression from the multi tracks. I think a lot of the sound of that record is that balance of the smashed guitars and the dynamic drums...killer record!
!


Not trying to be argumentative but I disagree. AC-DCs guitar tones are NOT smashed, neither at the amps nor on tape. Yes, they are distorted and compressed BUT actually to a much lesser degree than most folks assume. They use NMV Marshalls and the tone is dirty and raw but the amount of overdrive and saturation is relatively small, most of their playing dynamics is retained even though the wireless unit that Angus used in the studio (an old Vega) added some unique crunch, but only ever so slightly. Tony Platt also said repeatedly that they always tried to keep tape saturation to a minimum. They used the MCI MTR to record and a Studer for playback during mixing because it gave them the cleanest signal. I take that as meaning that they strived for the recorder to impart as little influence on the signals transient and frequency response as possible when compared to the sounds being fed into it. that was the goal for many engineers back in the day although lots of studios and engineers also had tricks up their sleeve to line up their MTRs for a signature sound. I just don't believe it was done here. I know I'm going out on a limb here but IMO guys like Tony were keenly aware of tape's "pitfalls" and had a lot of experience in mitigating them in order to get a transparent recording. No wonder that many of the old time engineers were delighted when digital came along because it did away with those tape artifacts.
I'm even willing to speculate that if BIB were recorded today Tony Platt wouldn't use tape at all and get the same or better results. When I hear AC-DC's guitars I hear a lot of natural transient response , captured by a reasonably fast large diaphragm condenser , which is why they have the best guitar sound in Rock and Roll.

John Macy wrote:


Part of the beauty of hardware compressors is the sound they impart due to the electronics they were built with--something that plugins will never achieve. Tubes, transformers and the like all can have a great effect on the sound, while barely touching the compression aspect. The UREI 1176 has a option to turn off the compression completely, but still capture the sound of the unit.


Again I disagree, a good plug in emulation of a hardware comp theoretically would take all those factors into account and include them in the emulation. How close to the real thing is it? Really depends on who you talk to but to say it'll NEVER achieve it is going too far IMHO. FWIW, by far my favorite comp is integrated in a digital console(Euphonix System 5, really puts everything I've ever used to shame) and the plug in emulation sucks (Avid channel strip) so that tells me that it's not the analog hardware vs plug-in difference but the quality of the emulation itself that matters. YMMV of course and I do agree that in many cases the plug ins don't get anywhere close to the hardware box. I've never heard an 1176 plug in that sounds remotely like the real deal.
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Bill D. Terry


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 10 May 2016 11:05 am     Reply with quote

After reading thru this thread, I decided to really analyze my Distressor (serial number 1024) to see if it should be a tool in my arsenal. Absoulutely, and to celebrate, I today added serial number 28,462 to the tool box...I didn't know how lonely the first one was!

To John Macy: John, letting everyone on here know that you usually end up with a comp of some sort of every track might get you strung up lol! And yes, the best compressor known to mankind is probably tape saturation.
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Rick Schacter


From:
Portland, Or.
Post Posted 10 May 2016 4:30 pm     Reply with quote

werner althaus wrote:


they have the best guitar sound in Rock and Roll.

.


Are you not counting Brian May? Devil Very Happy

(I'm also an AC/DC fan)
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 10 May 2016 7:23 pm     Reply with quote

Rick Schacter wrote:
werner althaus wrote:


they have the best guitar sound in Rock and Roll.

.


Are you not counting Brian May? Devil Very Happy

(I'm also an AC/DC fan)


No, I was.
(I'm also a Queen fan) Devil Very Happy

BTW, I'm with you on the compressor for funk rhythm ala Nile Rodgers but to my ears chicken picking sounds best without compressors and with old strings ala Danny Gatton (he supposedly made new strings sound old by smearing a cigarette ash/ water mixture over them) Alien Very Happy
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Rick Schacter


From:
Portland, Or.
Post Posted 10 May 2016 9:54 pm     Reply with quote

werner althaus wrote:


Danny Gatton (he supposedly made new strings sound old by smearing a cigarette ash/ water mixture over them) Alien Very Happy


So that was his secret!
Never mind hours of practice time, just mix up a cigarette ash/water mixture. Ha! Winking
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 11 May 2016 7:41 am     Reply with quote

Rick Schacter wrote:
werner althaus wrote:


Danny Gatton (he supposedly made new strings sound old by smearing a cigarette ash/ water mixture over them) Alien Very Happy


So that was his secret!
Never mind hours of practice time, just mix up a cigarette ash/water mixture. Ha! Winking


There may have been some practicing involved but yes, apparently the man didn't like new strings. Cool

In the end cigarette ash putty is just another tool...... Laughing
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Daryl Thisdelle


From:
New Brunswick, Canada
Post Posted 11 Sep 2016 4:34 pm     Compression Reply with quote

I have 3 compressors I like to use. The DW Fern VT-7 API 2500 and the Shadow Hills Master Compressor. Each has a place for it in a song. I try to use my ears as much as possible to get the sound I am after.. One may do it better than the other. Last but not least I use the meters. We all have different ears and hearing abilities. So use what gets you the sound you are after..
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