Mix bus compression is a very powerful technique in a mixing engineer’s arsenal. It can be used to control dynamics, make a mix more consistent, and even add character and emotion to the whole mix.
But with great power comes great responsibility – it’s all too easy to overuse compression and end up with a lifeless, squashed mix.
In this article, we’re going to look at the best practices for mix bus compression, including setting the right attack and release times.
The Pumping Effect
The pumping effect of mix bus compression can add a certain subjective sense of loudness and aggression to your music, making it ideal for certain styles like pop and EDM.
For the pumping effect, you’ll want to set the attack time to a slower setting – this will accentuate transients, adding punch and impact to your mix.
When it comes to the release time, try timing it to the tempo of your track. By doing so, your compressor will pump in time with the beat, enhancing the groove and giving it a more forward feel.
Another effective way to use mix bus compression is by adding subtle distortion artifacts at certain frequencies to add character to the mix.
Let’s say you want your mix to sound smoother and warmer – you can achieve this by using an analog-modeled compressor, like SSL Native X-Comp, which offers many options to color your sound. From vintage-style saturation to more modern sounds, you can tweak the compressor to fit your mix perfectly.
When it comes to settings, try faster attack and release times combined with a low-to-medium ratio (2:1 to 4:1) – this will give you just enough compression to add character without squashing your mix.
You can also try auto-release mode, which will adjust the release time dynamically.
A gentle “mix glue”
Perhaps the most popular use of mix bus compression is to add a gentle compression that “glues” all the elements together without any pumping or coloration.
This is often referred to as “leveling” because it’s meant to keep the mix consistent and balanced without introducing any new artifacts.
For this, you’ll want a low ratio of 1:1.5 or 1:2, with a medium attack and release. This will ensure that the compressor won’t add any pumping or distortion, and it’ll keep transient smoothing and artifacts to a minimum.
How much gain reduction should I use?
The answer to this question depends on the style and intensity of your mix, as well as the character you want to add.
Generally speaking, 1-2dB is plenty for most situations, but if you really want to hear the compression working, more may be appropriate.
If you’re having trouble hearing the compressor working, you can try driving the compressor a bit too hard to start with. Once you hear what it’s doing to the mix, you can reduce the amount of compression to more sensible levels.
5 Things to Avoid When Bus Compressing
Finally, let’s go over some common compression mistakes producers make when bus compressing:
- Overcompressing – this will flatten out the mix and strip it of its life and energy.
- Trying to fix problems – mix bus compression won’t fix a bad mix. It’s only meant to enhance a good one.
- Adding a compressor too late – adding it at the very end can ruin the delicate balance you’ve worked hard to achieve. Instead, try adding it early and mix into it.
- Forgetting to gain stage properly – make sure you’re hitting the compressor at the right level. -18 dB is a good starting point that will give you plenty of wiggle room.
- Too fast attack times – faster attack times can often be too aggressive and destroy transients, leading to a flat and dull mix.
Practice, practice…and practice more
Mix bus compression can be a powerful creative tool and an integral part of modern music production.
But, if used incorrectly, it can have a detrimental effect on the overall mix.
So take your time to get to know the compressor and experiment with different settings until you find the sweet spot that works for your song.
With consistent practice and learning from mistakes, you’ll soon be able to master the art of mix bus compression.