Creating Space and Rhythm using Compression

Compressors are usually used to limit the dynamic range of an audio track – to make it fit more easily in a song. But there are two other cases where a compressor if useful for. I usually use compressors to either create more space or to improve the rhythm of my track. Let me explain how I do that…

Enhancing the rhythm

For this example, we will be using the freeware Molotok compressor from Tokyo Dawn Labs. This compressor sounds very clean, and is very easy to use. The main reason being: it shows you how much it is compressor, to where the threshold reaches and how much makeup-gain you could add to balance the compressed signal out again: ideal for enhancing the groove!

Let’s say, you have a pad sound on the background, and you want to make it vibe together with the kick:

  • Create the TDK Molotok compressor on the PAD bus
  • Feed the send of the low-end of the drum (or clicktrack) to the sidechain of the plugin
  • Set a fast attach speed
  • Lower the threshold until you get arround 4/5dB of reduction (you want to feel the drop)
  • Make-up the compressed signal until it matches the balance of the original sound (use bypass to verify)
  • Now adjust the release valve until it regains it’s original signal strength near the middle of two beats. Pumping!

Creating space

In our next trick, we are going to use a multiband compressor or dynamic equalizer. This type of plugin allows your to compress only part of the signal, while leaving the remainder intact. And usually, multiple bands can be used together to compress, expand or balance each frequency range individually. Usually, these effects are used to de-es a vocal sound, fix problems with bass guitars, enhance certain aspects during mastering… but we can also use it to create more space in our mix.

Suppose you created a nice lead sound. But as soon as you combine it with a vocal or pad, it suddenly starts to sound different compared to when you solo the instrument. In general, it means that a specific frequency range gets overloaded and you will need to clean it up. You could EQ your signal, use low and high-pass filters, but that may also thin-out the sound in the rest of the mix. This could become especially difficult to correct when you have conflicting frequencies between your vocals and guitars, your guitar and your snares,… sounds that are not constantly playing with the same dynamics but are overall present.

An easy approach to solve this problem, is to use a dynamic equalizer or multiband compressor, to dynamically duck out the colliding frequencies, only when these occur.

In the example above, we use Neutron from Izotope. It is not a free plugin, but you should be able to pick-up the basic version (which includes this EQ) at a very low price during sales.

  • Put the plugin on the track that you want to duck out (compress). For example: your lead guitars
  • Start creating EQ points that cut about 6dB, with a Q factor of around 1.1
  • You will need a lot of EQ points: the more you have, the better the accuracy of your multiband compression. If you can only set 4 bands or points in your plugin, it is best to narrow it down to a specific problem area and (if needed) use more than one instance of the plugin.
  • Make sure you keep the first and last point as a low or high shelf
  • The final EQ curve should be flat
  • Now, make each EQ point react to the external sideband
  • Feed the audio track that takes “priority” over this one into the external sidechain. For example: your vocal
  • You can use the “mix” slider to reduce the effect if the 6dB ducking is too much (or starts to sound weard).

It is best to apply this effect on your bus, and not on each individual instrument (it will become very difficult for your PC to calculate everything efficiently otherwise). Your vocal (or other focus instrument) will now sound just a bit more clear and present, even if you only apply -2dB compression, without loosing the original sound of the compressed track. Magic! 😉

Do you use compressors or EQs in yet another creative way? Post a comment and let us know 🙂

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