SOUND 101: Final Mastering (Part 1 = Compression)
Compression, it is an essential part of mixing down music and final mastering. Luckily, most samples such as drums, bass, vocals, etc… has already been compressed and mastered for you already. All you need to do is make sure all your mix down levels are correct and your track should sound pretty good. For many of those producers still out there who sample their own sounds, compression is one of the tools you need to understand in order to get the right sound.
First of all, what is compression? It is basically, exactly what it sounds like, you are compressing a sound wave or squashing it by controlling the release and attack. The attack is how fast the compression comes in and the release is how long it takes to release the sound. For example, if I add a fast attack and slow release on a bass drum, the drum will come in hard and have a little sustain sound afterwards, and of course the opposite affect will happen if you do the opposite. The best way I can describe compression is by giving the example of a high power washer, you know the ones that you use to wash your car or boats with, etc…. The more compression you put, the stronger the sound will be, but only to a certain point. The danger of too much compression is the sound will not be as dynamic (same range as the original), but the sound will cut through your mix-down better then without it.
I personally use a hardware compressor first and foremost, that is patched thru into my mixing board, so that any type of sound that I sample through my mixing board goes through a little compression before I go to my DAW. And once I get the sound into my DAW, which I personally use Cubase, I use the Native Instruments Vintage compressors to help finish up the compression withing Cubase 6.
To give you the sense of what compression really does, if done correctly, the sound you intended to play will sound the same, just louder and so much cleaner. You should try all different compressors and see which ones you love to use. I personally use my old trusty DBX 266xl for live compression for vocals, keyboards, drums, dj mixes, or whatever comes through my mixing board. And then when I get into mastering, I love to use vintage compressors to make my drums sound fatter, more full, and of course that nice crispy but not harsh snap of the snare drum. And I finish it all off using the Transient Master from Native Instruments in order to give my mix down the final touch.