Nothing can kill your mix faster than a compressor that isn’t being used strategically.

Take it from someone who has jacked up his fair share of tracks with sloppy compression moves – you want to have a plan when you insert a compressor.

These days I use compression on every mix, but for three distinct reasons and strategies. Let me share them with you now.


Compress To Control Volume

One of the most useful things you can do with a compressor is to simply contain and control the volume of a track by reducing it’s dynamic range.

In reality all a compressor is an automated volume fader.

Got a bass guitar that has some super loud notes, but then some super quiet ones as well? Grab a compressor to quickly and easily even out those peaks and get a more consistent volume from start to finish.

Have vocals on your track? Then without question you have inconsistent volume as the simple switch from a consonant to a vowel (remember elementary school anyone?!) will give you widely different volumes.

A compressor (or two) is a simple and powerful way to give the listener a vocal performance that sits on top of the mix and stays up front and easily understood.

Basically anytime I hear a track that is either too quiet or too loud at spots, I reach for a compressor to get some contained gain.

Compress To Fatten Up

A second reason I reach for compression in every mix is to fatten something up. Just like my grandma tries to do when she cooks me a nice meal.

You see by going for a faster attack setting on your compressor you can clamp down on the transients a bit more, thereby letting you bring up the gain of the tail or sustain of the track.

The result? A fatter sounding track.

This works great on things like snare drum or bass guitar. You get to bring out the tone of the snare tail making it sound fatter, and the the bass guitar gets to sound like it has way more sustain and bottom end.

Just remember this with compression and attack times: faster is fatter.

Compress To Create Energy

The final thing I use compression for in my mixes is a way to create instant energy and excitement.

Whereas to fatten things up we chose a fast attack time, I like to go for a slower attack time to let more transients come through so I can bring out those peaks a bit more.

Think acoustic guitar or other percussive elements.

Because of something called the “attack principle” our ears pick up on these tracks a bit more and we perceive them as more present. It’s a super simple way to give your mix a lift and bring your tracks more “forward” to the listener.

If You’re Going To Compress – Have A Plan

If you want to see and hear all three of these things in action, watch the One Hour Mix compression video. It’s a normal part of my workflow.

But like I said before, compression used improperly can kill your mix.

So if you’re going to throw a compressor on a track, only do so because you have a plan for it. It may not work the way you hoped and that’s OK. You can always remove the compressor.

But only try and compress if you have a plan for that compressor.

I have two questions for you:

  1. Have you ever destroyed a mix with compression? (I sure have)
  2. What is the most confusing and frustrating thing about compression to you?