Fab goes over the history of compression and plays examples of different instruments with and without compression, including laying some drums off to tape.
-Vocals thru UAD LA2
-Different snare compression sounds
-Bass drum compression
-Full drumset and bass to tape
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- 00:00 - Start
- 01:12 - Example 1 : Riding VS Compressor
- 06:00 - Example 2 : Softening the Peaks
- 06:51 - Example 3 : Bringing Up the Ghost Notes
- 07:46 - Example 4 : Changing the Tone
- 08:34 - Example 5 : Changing the Tone (again)
- 09:34 - The Sound of Older Recordings
- 10:06 - Example 6 : Tape Machine
Good morning children! Today, we're going to talk about compressors.
Mmm... Compressors... Who came up with that idea? Well.. originally, early 20th century-ish, compressors were invented as a way to prevent equipment from blowing up from too much level.
For example, you had a guy who knew how to read music...
who would follow the orchestra, reading the score...
while the orchestra was playing live.
His job was to anticipate just how loud the orchestra would get and compensate on the fader, bring it down...
when the orchestra would get too loud and overload the gear.
Simple! Somebody came down and said...
I bet you I can make a machine that does that automatically.
So they made a machine, they fired the guy.
And then, as time went by...
compressors got better, and cheaper some derivative uses were invented but, really, that's what it is: it's an automatic gain riding device.
Meaning, it's a machine that's designed to keep levels consistent. That's it! As an example of what I just said, I'm gonna play you a vocal track...
that has a lot of dynamic range... "level changes".
I'm gonna play it raw, then I'm gonna attempt to ride it by hand and then I'll let the compressor ride it for me.
So, first, flat.
It sounds like this.
Alright, nice! Simple.
Obviously, quite a bit louder. Maybe he leaned in the mike.
Wow! So, obiouvsly, the chorus gets much louder.
Maybe it's a punch-in, maybe it's assembled from a different take maybe he leaned into the microphone very much...
Anyway, I can't have that.
So I'm gonna try and ride it by hand.
Here it comes, with my finger, trying to ride these levels.
From the same spot.
Ok, that's my reference-ish, I'm gonna take it down 3dBs-ish.
And here comes the chorus.
Obviously here, I underestimated just how loud the chorus was gonna get and the word "Same" caught me by surprise.
So, say if I'm to do that part again, I'm gonna start from the pre-chorus here...
and I was about at -3 on the pre-chorus. Let's do that again.
And then... stay here, and then come down.
That's much better. I kinda missed on the "Let's get down"...
I think that kind of dynamic range would be ok with the full track.
Let's listen to the compressor doing the same thing...
without me doing anything. I'm gonna put the level back at 0 here...
and turn my compressor on, this is a UA emulation of an LA-2A...
which is often used to compress vocals. Here you go... Check it out! So here, it did very little, because that's our reference level. And then...
That's nice. It's still louder, but it's contained...
Obviously, the compressor did a better job than I did at catching the word "Same", and then the word "Let's".
But it changes the sound, check it out! Let's play this track flat...
no compression, at say -6db...
to compensate for the fact that it's louder...
manually... Here you go.
Nice. Now, I'm gonna put it back at 0db...
and let the compressor take the level down.
If you listened carefully...
you heard a difference between the manual gain riding and the automatic gain riding.
If you did not hear the difference, that's ok...
Press Rewind, play it again, and again, until you hear the difference.
You will! The key here is to form our taste...
on the benefits of compression versus the drawbacks of compression...
and use that taste to decide whether we need compression or not on a track per track basis.
Let's listen to a bunch of tracks with and without compression to learn what it does to music.
Here's a snare drum, just a 1 bar loop on a live snare drum from an actual drummer playing an actual drum set.
Pay attention to the transients, the ghost notes, the tone of the loud hits.
Just try and learn how the snare sounds by itself. Here it comes.
Ok. I'm gonna use a built-in Digirack compressor that comes with Pro Tools.
I'm gonna use presets, because the point here is not to learn how to get there...
but to hear different tones and imagine different tones...
without touching the compressor. So I made some presets.
On this snare drum...
the way it sounds right now, the peaks annoy me a little bit.
I don't like that "Poing!", I don't like that tone...
I think the microphone was a little too close to the snare and it does that sound I don't like. So I made a preset...
that attempts to tuck in just those peaks on 2 and 4.
I'll play the track 2 bars raw, 2 bars compressed.
Here we go! That's cool, that does what I wanted.
But that's a very utilitarian version of it.
What if I wanted to manipulate the sound a little bit? What if I wanted to raise those ghost notes...
because they're very interesting to me. I like all that little details he's playing.
What I would do is attempt to take those peaks down so that they're quiet enough, that I can raise the whole track up and I can hear more ghost notes. If the peaks are softer...
then the ghost notes are gonna be able to go louder.
So I made a little preset for that, called Raise Ghost Notes.
Fancy that. 2 bars without, 2 bars with.
Obviously there, there's a compromise, because the peaks get squashed.
Maybe it's a good idea, maybe it's not...
maybe the overheads are gonna compensate for that, I don't know.
But it gives me an idea of what if I wanted to really change the tone of the snare, and go crazy on it, and completely crush it.
So here's 2 bars without, and two bars with a crush.
Obviously a completely different sound. Now we have the same compressor...
3 different settings, 3 different approaches...
and so to the question: how do you compress a snare? the answer is: I don't know! What do you want it to sound like? And that's the key.
Let's listen to a bass drum.
I'm using an Oxford Compressor, right now it's bypassed.
I'll play 2 bars flat, and 2 bars with the setting I made when I mixed this record. Check it out.
In this case, I used the compressor to give the bass drum more attack and a weird kind of sustain thing.
Probably because at the time, I was more in a fiction mode than a documentary mode.
I think it is very important to have a vision...
of what the sound should be like, before we start fiddling with the equipment...
and let that vision dictate the settings, not the other way around.
Ultimately, it's all about taste, and that's the beauty of the whole thing.
Everybody raves about the sound of older recordings...
or what they remember they sound like, sometimes.
Take a second to listen to an old Beatles recording for example...
like "Love me do", on your studio monitors.
Ask yourself: Does it sound the way I remember? Go ahead, listen, I'll wait.
Interesting, isn't it? At the time, they didn't use compression much, if at all.
They did have tape.
Now tape does something that's sort of kinda...
like compression, but not really.
Probably it would be a good idea to listen to what tape does.
Let's print that drum track to tape and compare.
That's me setting up tape the best I can, it's a skill...
I have a Studer B67 1/4", 1/4" sounds great.
We'll be using 30ips, inch per second...
and an old piece of Studio Master 900 tape, which sounds great.
Every piece of tape sounds different, every tape machine sounds different...
every speed sounds different, but we're not gonna worry about that we're just gonna try and focus on what tape in general can do to music...
and then we can discuss the rest another day.
So... here's how it's gonna work: 2 positions...
when the switch is up, and this light is lit...
you're in input, no tape sound.
When the switch is down, and this light is lit...
you're in repro, you're hearing tape.
We'll start without. I'll play 2 bars with, and 2 bars without.
Here we go.
Cool! If you haven't heard it, I'll play it again.
Pay attention to the bass. Is it the same? Is it fatter? More forward, or backward? And also the snare...
especially the attack of the snare.
Is it peaky? Is it like aggressive, angular? Or is it different, a little softer? Is the tone a little darker? Ask yourself those questions, ok? Here we go! First without, and then with.
Cool! That's a good sound. I personally like that sound.
I made many records before I even had a chance to listen or use tape.
And I remember spending a lot of time trying to imitate this feel and this tone...
usually, using compressors.
Sometimes it works...
and sometimes it doesn't, we can discuss that...
but until then, I thought it would be worth a thought.
That was interesting too! Ultimately tape went away.
System, we got digital, big consoles, insane track counts.
We also got the fact that people no longer...
play in the room together to cut the song...
which means that dynamics are no longer molded together.
They kinda sound unnatural, unless you do something about it.
And then, modern music sounds more in more in your face.
People swallow the microphone...
and if you've ever seen a bass drum swallow a microphone...
it's an ugly, ugly sight! All this to say that compessors have become over time more and more needed and useful.
Fortunately, every DAW comes with 1, 2, 3, 4 free compressors...
you can even buy more.
And then, hardware units are more and more affordable and available.
it's not because I got them that I know how to use them.
So I propose we spend the next few videos exploring compressor controls one by one to learn to make the settings we'll need to achieve the sounds we're looking for.
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Fab Dupont is a Grammy winning NYC based record producer, mixing/mastering engineer and co-founder of pureMix.net.
Fab has been playing, writing, producing and mixing music both live and in studios all over the world. He's worked in cities like Paris, Boston, Brussels, Stockholm, London and New York just to name a few.
He has his own studio called FLUX Studios in the East Village of New York City.
Fab has been nominated for Grammys 6 times, including two Latin Grammys and has received many other accolades around the world, including Victoires de la Musique, South African Music awards, Pan African Music Awards and US independent music awards.
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