Use Your Compressor Musically

In this video we’ll describe how to set release times for compressors in a way that makes more sense musically

Now by musically I mean that the release time corresponds to the bpm, or the beats per minute of the song with which your working, and in turn contributes to the overall musicality of your mix.

This technique will also help to clean up your mixes, by allocating specific times that a signal’s amplitude will increase.  In other words you can determine, to the measure of a whole note, half note, quarter note, when you want an attenuated signal to reach its original amplitude.

So let’s get started, but before we do if this video or any of the other Sage Audio videos have been helpful for you feel free to subscribe or click the link for notifications.  Furthermore if you have a mix that’s already completed, or one that you’re just currently working on, and you’d like to hear what it would sound like mastered, please send it to us at SageAudio.com where you can get a free mastering sample of your work.

– in addition to opening your session, your going to need a calculator, unless you’re just really good at math, and can do this in your head.  For me not so much, so I have to have mine open here.

Now, When calculating the release time of your compressor, there is one number that always stays the same, and that number is 60,000.

The reason this number is always used, is because there are 60,000 ms, in one minute.  What we’re going to do, is take the bpm of the song, and divide 60,000 by that bpm. Now this result is always going to end up being a quarter note in ms relative to the tempo of your song. The song I have open here has a bpm of 108, so let’s see if we take 60000 and divide it by 108, what we should get is about 555ms – and that’s going to be equal to one quarter note in this song. Now since the majority of compressors measure release time in ms, you can use this number and type it in directly into the release time of your compressor.  

So let’s do that and take a quick listen.  Notice how the gain reduction meter corresponds to the tempo.  You can also see it return to its original amplitude, and if you listen to the click that I’m going to have in there as well, you can kind of hear how those match too.  

[song plays]

Now the compression may continue to hold on to a small amount of the signal if it is above the threshold, but even if it’s not going all the way back to the original amplitude, the signal is still being released in time with the tempo of the song.

You may not notice the difference right away when you’re doing this, but when you start adding multiple layers of  instrumentation, your definitely going to notice that setting release times based on the song’s bpm, really is going to help your mix out.  This is also going to give you a great foundation for where to start when it comes to release times, instead of trying to guess what a good release time for the instrument your working with is.

Furthermore if you’d like something other than a quarter note, you can simply divide your original number, by two, four and so on.  So if you wanted an eighth note release time, you could divide your quarter note in half. Say you wanted a long release time, something really smooth like an optical compressor, or an LA-2A or something like that, you can multiple the original calculation by two, and now you have a half note.  

You can also calculate dotted eighth notes, triplets, things like that but for our purposes that doesn’t apply too terribly much.

One more thing, these calculations work for more than just compressor release times – you can use them when setting delay times, reverb times anything like that. Keep in mind that when you set delay times using these calculations, it’s also going to clean up your mixes a good amount, in the same way that it’s worked here.  

So I hope this has been helpful – start trying these techniques on your mixes today, also, again if you want to check out more videos you can either subscribe or click the link for notifications, and if you have a mix that’s just about ready to be done or one that you’ve completed, you can send it to us at SageAudio.com, where you can get a free mastering sample.