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5 Things You Can Do With A Compressor

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

As part of my online session drum work I use these a lot in my recordings. Alongwith EQ the humble compressor, be it the real thing or a plugin in your DAW can be used to achieve a whole host of end results here are a few ways I use themes

Add punch

A compressor set to about 4:1 compression ratio and with a high threshold giving 3-6db of gain reduction will give more punch to a sound. Be mindful of attack and release times, set too quickly on bass or instruments with low frequency content can cause audible distortion.

Thicken up

By setting a low ratio (1.2:1 to 2:1) and a lower threshold the compressor is essentially always on but doing very much less compression. Rather than controlling transients it’s main job here is to smooth and ‘thicken’ the tone. There’s less gain reduction going on here so the make-up volume will also be much lower.

Push sound sources further back in the mix

If you’ve got elements in the mix which aren’t associated with the groove of the track then shorten the attack time on the compressor. This will soften the transients which will in turn make it less present and will push it back in the mix. Obviously too much will cut all the transient and may well make it sound too squashed – use your ears.

Add grit

You’ve heard of the ‘all buttons’ mode on an 1176 where all the compressor ratio buttons are pressed in together? In this mode the compressor essentially adds distortion due to a lag time on the attack of initial transients. There are many software emulations of the 1176 with the ‘all-button’ mode as part of the plugin -here’s the Universal Audio’s plugin with all the buttons pressed in to give that same simulation (it’s not overly clear but they’re pressed!).Used on drum or vocals this can add a bit more ‘in your face’ to a track.

Use two in series

Rather than using one compressor – use two compressors in series. Generally you want the ratio of the first compressor to be set pretty high and only set to reduce the signal by 3db at most when the signal peaks so this compressor is just knocking the peaks down – set the threshold fairly high. Since the first compressor has taken off most of the peaks of the signal, the second compressor can be used to smooth the signal more – set this one to a lower ratio. By working two in series they’re both respectively doing different jobs rather than trying to use one to do everything it will sound a bit more transparent and not so processed – try it out!

We didn’t delve into the types of compressors here and obviously using a different type of compressors will give a different results on different sound sources – will leave that for another post.


Mark Midwinter online session drummer

Mark is an online session drummer based in Reading UK providing remotely recorded drums to clients all over the world.

His main focus on the drums is to always serve the song and listen to what is being played by the other instruments in the band. Be aware of the song and how it develops.

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