Why I Don't Use Compression During Production
One of the first mistakes I watch new producers make when they start to write their own tracks is smashing mix bus or the individual tracks with compression.
This creates the illusion that the track is bigger than it is, and the only problem is that you’re only fooling yourself.
I used to do a similar thing when I first started producing. I had this delusion that if I could get a mastered sound as I wrote the track, I would need fewer elements and less work to finish it. What I didn’t realize, was that doing this made my job harder. I was training my mind and my ears to get used to a sound that was not right and completely off of how things should be done.
An interesting thing about the human brain is, once we get use to something we tend to like it. Then once it changes, we feel like something is then missing.
That’s the major issue I find with using compression during production. We will over compress, and trigger our brains into thinking the track sounds bigger. While actually we’re just getting our brains used to something that sounds completely wrong and we’re cheating ourselves and our listeners out of what we could be doing if we made things just work in the production itself.
My advice is to use proper samples and quality instruments. Don’t even consider touching a compressor unless it’s absolutely necessary during production.
In electronic music, majority of the time we’re programming everything so we have complete control over dynamics and velocity of the instruments. Unless we are using compression as an effect, such as side-chain pumping, or going for some type of pumping on an individual loop element.
Smashing the master bus with limiters and compressors, is one of the worst things you could do for your track. Most of the Inner Circle Producer members will agree that if the track works without compression, it will be that much better when it gets to the mastering stage.
Also most mastering engineers will tell you to leave all compressors off of the mix bus anyway. Plus there isn’t as much compression happening in mastering as most people think. As most volume is achieved through clipping converters, and not slamming limiters or compressors.
Another major issue that most people won’t talk about is aliasing in software compression plug-ins. This artifact of digital signal processing will add excess noise and mud into your signal. The more you compress, the more this happens. Aliasing occurs at lower sample rates like 44.1k, and gets better the higher you go up.
For this reason, many recording engineers and producers like to work at higher sample rates like 88.2k and 96K. As aliasing and plug-ins function much better here. With that said, we much prefer to use plug-ins like “Kickstart”, “LFO Tool”, and “VolumeShaper” for sidechain compression. As we still get the pumping or ducking effect required, without any aliasing. Even at lower sample rate such as 44.1k.
The last thing you want is a bunch of aliasing artifacts on all your individual tracks just because you needed to duck your kick drum.
Now this does not mean we are anti-compression, we actually love it. We have quite a few high end hardware and software compressors in our collection. From tubes to solid-state. It’s just knowing when and where to use them.
Our advice from the Inner Circle is to write your tracks with no compression at all. Make sure the sound is working without any. Get used to it sounding that way. Focus less on your mix bus, and more on your programming and melodies. Doing this alone will help in your productions as it’s one less thing to worry about. You can focus on what really matters, and that’s the song or track. Then in the final mixing stage you can start to focus on using compressors to tame and tone shape individual elements that need it.
Compressors are like fast cars on the highway with no speed limit. It’s fun to drive fast, and there’s no one there to stop you. Although you might speed yourself out-of-control. Save compression for the mixing and mastering stages and your productions and mastering enginers will thank you.