2 Things You Need To Do Before Compressing

Hey friend, welcome to another Sage Audio video.  In this video I’ll be telling you two things you need to do, before you use compression. These are two things you should do to almost every instrument and vocal track, and is something that will definitely contribute to the overall quality of your mix.  In addition to these 2 things, I’ll show you one mistake a lot of people make, right before using compression, so let’s get started.

But before we do, if this video, or perhaps another Sage Audio video has been helpful, please make sure to subscribe to the channel.  And if you’re an engineer or an artist and you have a song you need mastered, send it to us at SageAudio.com and we’ll send you a free mastered sample of that mix.

So what I have here is a vocal track – Now I chose a vocal track since they tend to be more dynamic, and often need compression.  That being said, a lot of engineers would approach this type of situation by using a compressor first. The logic is, it’s dynamic, I should compress the signal, this makes sense; however, if you start with compression, odds are you’re going to have to compress way more than you’d like, just to get a dynamically balanced performance.  What you’ll end up with is an over compressed, noise and breath heavy signal. By noise and breath heavy, I mean your signal will be so compressed, that quieter aspects of the recording such as the noise floor, and breathing will become just as audible as the actual performance. This occasionally can be a cool effect if used in the right context, but for most purposes, it’ll sound aggressive and unpleasant.  

With this in mind, it’s clear something needs to be done before compression, and the first thing you need to do before compressing your track is – use clip gain.  Clip gain is typically thought of as a part of editing, and therefore not part of mixing, but considering most of us are editing and mixing tracks, or working with smaller budget clients, a lot of the editing with fall onto the shoulders of the mixing engineer.  If you just ignore this and go straight to mixing, you’re going to have some problems later on.

Now if you’re unfamiliar with clip gain, go ahead and watch our video titled “Clip Gain and Automation: 3 Differences You Need to Know.” It goes over the purpose of clip gain in detail, but real quick I’ll show you here.  Essentially with clip gain you can highlight certain sections of a performance, and then increase or decrease the gain before the track is processed by effects or sends. This will allow you to balance the tracks performance, before going to your compressor.  As you can imagine, if the track is balanced before being compressed, you can definitely eliminate the need for heavy compression and get rid of its subsequent negative effects.

So thats the first thing you need to do before compression: Again, Use clip gain to achieve dynamic balance.

Next is something most of you are probably familiar with, and that is equalization.  One thing that perhaps you aren’t so familiar with is that all equalization before compression should be subtractive.  In other words you should only cut out frequencies before you compress, not add them.

So a high pass filter is great, maybe a bell filter to cut out a little at 200hz and some at 300hz.  Just know that cutting these frequencies not only cleans up the track, but also turns down frequencies that would otherwise have to be compressed.

With that in mind, one thing you should never do, and this is the one mistake I mentioned earlier on, is increase a frequency’s amplitude before compression.  If you do, you’re essentially adding amplitude to that frequency, and therefore causing your compressor to work that much harder. Like with most things, this can be done on occasion for a cool effect, but if your goal is to have a balanced performance that doesn’t overwork your compressor, then only using subtractive equalization is a vital step to use before compression.

So, Is there something you do before compressing? If so leave it in the comment section below.  And as always I hope this video has been helpful for you. If it has subscribe and click the link for notifications.  And if you’re an artist or engineer and need a mix mastered, just send it to us at SageAudio.com, and we’ll send you a free mastered sample.

Sage Audio Mastering

Nashville, TN

www.SageAudio.com