Note: If you don’t use a mix bus compressor then good stick to that, but if you want to learn how to use it then this tutorial will help you.
Today’s tutorial will be about mix bus compression, which is a very controversial and debatable subject in the audio engineering world. Some may recommend you to use it while others will tell you to leave the bus compressor to the mastering engineer.
Not all mastering engineers have a problem with a bus compressor, they will only have a big problem if you’ve used the compressor more aggressively and made it too obvious. I’ve tested mastering engineers by sending them other projects with a compressor while others didn’t have a compressor and they didn’t complain.
So I guess the problem here is whether you can get the right settings for it to work well or not. And all the mixes that had compression sounded really good when played on radio as compared to the ones that didn’t have compression on the stereo bus.
If your settings are working well with the song then the mastering engineer will not have a problem with it. BUT, only use the stereo bus compressor if you know what you’re doing, which I’m going to teach you in this tutorial.
So Why Use Mix Bus Compression?
In modern music, especially electronic music, the stereo bus compressor is used to add more punch and make the sound hit in your face. But it is mostly used to glue a mix and make the low-end to sound thick (especially drums & bass).
In other cases it is used if you are working on a client’s mix and you want them to get a feel of how the final master will sound like. Some clients may complain that their mix is not sounding as loud as other commercial tracks. So simply send them 2 versions, one loud one and the other one with dynamics.
You can also use it to carve a mix while you’re in the mixing stage to get a good balance of the overall mix then remove it later. Having a compressor in the mix bus during mixing is a good way to spot anything that is loud then bring it down to work well with the rest of the sounds especially if you keep switching it on and off while mixing.
Don’t keep it on the whole time, keep it off while you’re doing any processing then switch it back on to make sure you’re getting the right balance.
But as always, too much of anything is bad, so too much compression will ruin the mix and all the punch that you desire. This is why a lot of people will not recommend you to use a stereo bus compressor in the final mix.
Setting The Stereo Bus Compressor
Whether it is hip hop, folk or jazz, the end goal is mostly the same. You want to get a punchy, in your face sound and glue the mix. The trick to getting the sound you desire is to get the timing of the compressor right.
The attack and release time settings will depend on the tempo of the song. If you have a fast song then using a fast attack will kill the transients and bring up the long and sustained musical notes in the mix. Using a slow release time on an uptempo song will squash the mix and create an undesirable pumping effect.
A slow attack and fast release time will keep the mix punchy and glue it nicely while making the low-end of your mix thick. A ratio of 2:1 or less, with a gain reduction of less than -4db will work well and keep the dynamics of the song intact.
Be careful when adding some make-up gain to compensate for what you took while adding compression. Unlike compressing individual sounds, you must make the compressed signal to be the same volume as the dry signal. Never use a limiter in the stereo bus, leave the loudness part to the mastering engineer.
Finally, keep bypassing the compressor to be able to hear the difference and make sure you’re not choking the mix. Hope you found this tutorial useful, watch the video below for a visual explanation about how to properly use mix bus compression to glue a mix and make it punchy.