· By Jan Branicki

What is Audio Compression? A Comprehensive Introduction for Beginners

If you want to tame and shape the track without distorting the sound, you must precisely maintain your audio mix's dynamic range. Although it is a common technique among podcasters, audio engineers, and music producers, you must be cautious while compressing; otherwise, you may end up over-compressing your tracks.

Music composition is a complex art that is incomplete without the physics of audio compression. The compression in music helps maintain the consistency of sound level by taming and shaping the highs and lows throughout the soundtrack. Consequently, the compression makes the tracks more balanced and harmonious.

Moreover, it would be helpful if you were clear about why we use compression in music. Do you want to increase the perceived loudness? Are you willing to add punch and presence? Or do you wish to achieve consistent volume levels? Once your goal is clear, you can compress it accurately and precisely.

What is Audio Compression?

Audio compression is an impactful tool used by sound production professionals to smooth out the sound of vocals or instruments. In other words, audio compression attenuates loud sounds and boosts quiet sounds louder by modifying the range of the audio signal.

Consequently, louder and softer sounds get closer, and everything sounds balanced and clear. Moreover, it can also enhance the intelligibility of typical speech signals played on an audio device in an environment with acoustic noises.

Why Do We Use Audio Compression in Music?

Ever wondered what does compression do in music? Audio compression is an indispensable part of music production and composition. From sound design and mixing to enhancements and repairs, audio compressions play a vital role in balancing and improving sound.

Audio Compression

All in all, it’s a fundamental skill for music producers which helps them achieve polished and pro-quality soundtracks.

Applications of Compression in Music Production

Audio compression is utilized for a wide range of applications. Below mentioned are some prominent applications of compression in music production.

Performance Enhancement: Audio compression is used to polish a vocalist's performance by making their sound smooth, pleasant, and consistent.

Glue Compression: This technique blends and glues multiple tracks together by passing them through one compressor. This method makes the track more cohesive and highly desirable.

Taming Wild Peaks: Original audio differs greatly between loud and soft sound signals. Compression reduces the peaks to a level that maintains a balance between loud and quiet noises.

Creating Sustain of Musical Notes: By compressing a signal with a slower release time, you can increase the sustain of the musical notes. This practice enhances the sustain of instruments such as piano and guitar by reducing the attack and bringing the tail of the sound closer.

Adding Warmth to Vocals: You can level out the inconsistent and contrasting volume of your soundtracks by using audio compression. It helps you incorporate warmth and texture into the vocals, thus helping in adding more character.

How Does Compression Work in Music?

To understand how audio compression works in music, you must first comprehend the technical aspect and key terms of compression in audio. Although it may vary from device to device, compressors typically have a few vital parameters. By understanding the adjustment and control of a compressor, you can master the art of maintaining the balance between the dynamic range of sound recordings.

Key Components of a Compressor

You will ace the compression technique if you get command over the following parameters.

1. Threshold

The threshold is the signal level (in Decibel) which you can set strategically before beginning the compression. The audio below the threshold will remain untouched, while the audio above the threshold will be compressed.

2. Ratio

The ratio determines the amount of compression needed once the audio rises above the set threshold. For instance, if the ratio is 6:1, the signal will hike above the threshold every 6 dB, and the output will be increased by 1 dB.

What is Audio Compression

3. Attack

The attack control (in milliseconds) is the time set for the compression once the signal is passed through the threshold. Slower attacks are set to create some punch from instruments that produce soft sounds, whereas faster attacks are for quick compression of louder sounds.

4. Release

Like attack, release control also determines how long the compression takes to stop once, the signal drops below the threshold. If you set the release time fast with extreme compression, it can cause the compressor to pump.

5. Make-Up Gain

It is often needed after compression to boost the volume of a compressed signal. It raises the signal level and restores the loudness lost during compression, resulting in a more balanced and consistent audio signal.

How to Use Compression in Music Correctly - Tips & Tricks

The tips and tricks below will help you perform audio compression more effectively.

Set the Time Wisely

Set the attack of 6 ms for vocals, as it is considered most suitable to work with music tracks. At the same time, use a release time of 60 ms to start with vocals.

Utilize Multiple Compressors

Use more than one compressor when needed, especially when working with vocals, to achieve the desired outcome. It gives you more control than forcing a single device to do all the work.

Parallel Compression Technique

Use “new york style compression” or parallel compression technique to maintain the natural dynamics of the drum sound. The technique helps you blend compressed signals with uncompressed signals. It’s an optimal tactic to add more punch to the mix.

Don’t Go Overboard with Bass

Bass frequencies can be tricky to work with. Over-compression may make the bass sound muddy and unfocused. It is recommended to use a light touch while compressing the low end.

Why Do We Use Compression in Music

Importance of Compression in Modern Music Production

Despite being unaware of the technical aspects of compression, people tend to prefer compressed music. Their ears can detect when music has loud or quiet passages that sound off. Raw and uncompressed music may sound flat and uninteresting. Therefore, it is crucial to use compression in music production to achieve polished and enhanced mixes.

Final Thoughts

Audio compression, when done precisely, brings life to dull music. From obtaining consistent volumes to incorporating sonic characters, compression allows us to improve the audio signal, helping us render a musical masterpiece.

This all-inclusive guide gives the know-how of all the fundamentals. However, make sure you practice using this guide so that you get a strong grasp of the process.