Here are a few tips for compressing audio in music mixing:
Use compression sparingly
While compression can be a useful tool, it's important not to overdo it. Too much compression can make the audio sound unnatural and lose its dynamic range.
Long and sustained sounds benefit from heavy compression
If you’re looking for a loud and consistent sound, consider squashing poorly dynamic sounds. Electric guitars, pads, sustained strings, Moog basses, and similar sounds are often employed to create a harmonic foundation that can be optimized by annihilating their dynamics.
Use a fast attack and release
A fast attack time will help to reduce transients in the audio, while a fast release time will help to prevent the compressor from pumping or breathing.
Use a slow attack
A slow attack is ideal for whenever you want to increase the punch of a percussive sound.
Use a moderate ratio
A ratio of around 2:1 or 3:1 is generally a good starting point for music mixing. This will provide some compression without squashing the audio too much.
Use a threshold that allows for some dynamic range
Set the threshold so that the compressor only kicks in when the audio exceeds a certain level. This will allow for some dynamic range in the audio and help to prevent the sound from becoming too flat.
Use makeup gain
After compressing the audio, you may need makeup gain to bring the volume back up to where it was before. This will help to maintain the overall level of the audio.
Use parallel compression
Parallel compression, also known as "New York compression," involves blending a heavily compressed version of the audio with the uncompressed original. This can help to add punch and clarity to the audio without squashing the dynamic range too much.
Experiment with different settings
Different settings will work better for different audio. Don't be afraid to experiment and try out different combinations to see what works best for your mix.
Use sidechain filter on bass-heavy sources
The sidechain filter is an often undervalued feature. Being able to tell the compressor to ignore the low end allows for engaging gain reduction in a more controlled and lighter way.
If you’ve found these tips helpful, then you’ll definitely appreciate all the knowledge we’ve packed into our Mixing Tips PDF with a section dedicated to drums among several chapters!