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5 Quick Compression Mixing Tricks

Hello, everybody. Hope you’re doing marvelously well. In today’s video, we’ll be talking about 5 compression mixing tips. Please, as ever, subscribe. If you hit the notification bell, you’ll get alerted when we put a new video up.

These aren’t the most straightforward ways that we use compression. For some of you, they may seem that way, but these are the more interesting things that you can do with a compressor.

So first of all, let’s start with a little lead guitar part that I just put down on this song. I just played guitar over the outro of the song.

Now, many of you will picture in a classic rock and roll band, the Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, or the Robert Plant, Jimmy Page. The sort of dynamic of a lead singer and a guitar player fighting each other. You know, one’s soloing, the other one is wailing over the top.

Well, how do we get around that when we’re mixing? Well, obvious things. You can sit there and you can do intricate volume rides. Or, you can cheat using this.


So, you know, I’m playing along with the melody that I’m singing there. You know, most of the time. But then other times, I’m kind of going crazy. So what I want is that interplay with the singer stepping forward and singing, and the guitar player like, just kind of like, pulling down his volume a little bit, and then going back up in between the vocals.

So how do we do that? Well, we put a compressor on it, and we sidechain it with the lead vocal.

So let’s just go for a good old fashioned compressor. I’m going to use something that’s easy to illustrate, which is going to be an R-Comp. That’s the R Compressor. So let’s go and select a sidechain input. Here, we’ll go buss 31. Then on the lead vocal, we’ll select, you guessed it, buss 31.

Now what’s happening is the lead vocal is sending to that compressor. We can also put it into pre, so I can mute the vocal. So I’m going to solo the electric here.

[electric guitar]

Bring the threshold down, increase the ratio. See? Isn’t that obvious what it’s doing? It’s ducking down quite dramatically. Six dB under the vocal. Simple as that.

Now, that’s a quick, poor man’s, easy way to mix a lead guitar and a vocal. Let’s have a listen to it in the track.


Now, it’s pretty dramatic what I’m doing there. I could actually bring the threshold up a little bit and not quite so much ducking.

That’s what we call ducking. Now, if you listen to old radio stations, they would duck like this over, you know, old radio from like the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. I mean, they were doing it in the 80’s, but a lot subtler. They would duck the track that was playing, so the DJ would come in, “Ah, now here’s the new one!” And the track would go, [imitates music], and all it was was this exact same technique.

We call that ducking, but it’s sidechain compressing. Really simple.

Okay, great. So that’s a very, very simple way of mixing a lead guitar player and a vocalist, especially on like, outro sections like this in a song. We’re going to listen to the drum track recorded at Sunset Sound. This has no samples on it, this is just the live.


He has a little bit of verb on it, but obviously there’s some live room mics on it. Two sets of stereo rooms.

[room mics]

Now the great thing about compression is we can use this to bring out the room tone, or exaggerate the transients. You don’t have to have a transient designer to do this. Obviously, transient designers are amazing for this.

So what I’m going to do — so I’m going to use this compressor to sculpt my room mics. So what I want to do is I want to let a little bit of the transients go through. So like, with a transient designer, which we’re not going to use, we’re going to use the compressor in this way. We’re going to see how that works.

So let’s bring the ratio up quite a bit.

[drum rooms]

Now immediately, here’s the fastest release time. Slow the attack down. So now we’re slowing the attack down, I’m letting a little bit more of the initial transient go through.

Bypass it. Put it in. It’s adding a little bit of a, “Pah, pah, pah.” A little bit of a spank to the initial hits. So — but at the same time, because it’s compressing, you can also hear the rooms coming up, because look, I’ve got the gain up to match the level. So here is it bypassed.

[bypassed, room mics]

Nice room sound, but pretty ordinary. Bring this on. Bit more rooms. Off. So it does two things that I like: it gives me a little bit more exaggeration on the transients, so I hear that kick and snare just a little bit more of the initial spank, because the attack is set so it’s just — the compressor doesn’t start immediately. It starts very quick, of course, but it lets just a little bit of that attack go through. So now, basically, it’s sort of doing the same thing you would expect with the transient designer.

[drum rooms]

I’ve got more room, and I’ve also got attack. Bypass it. Bypassed. Back in. So it’s kind of fun things like that.

Now, to exaggerate this idea, let’s go to a snare drum.


It’s actually quite spanky. But this is what I’m going to do. It’s actually got quite a lot of attack on it. I’m going to duplicate it, so I’m duplicating the whole channel. Everything. EQ, you name it. Now I’m going to go — we’ll go and we’ll get that same compressor, just so you can see how it works. Listen to this. Threshold…

[snare, adjusting threshold]

So this is the standard setting. Bypass. What I sometimes do, just for complete insanity is actually double it up. Both bypassed, both in. Bypassed. So it’s doing the same thing, it’s letting that transient come through. So I’m going to shorten the attack just a little bit more on both of them.

[snare, adjusting attack]

You hear that, “Pah, pah, pah.” Take that off. Back on. Quite dramatic there. Let’s find that section there, you can see how dramatic it is. It’s adding that kind of little spankiness. Now, quite often when we’re mixing, people are going for really exaggerated things. That’s pretty subtle, but this is what I like. So let’s just now put it against the untreated snare.

[snare and untreated snare]

Blend it up. In the whole track.


It’s just adding a little bit more of the attack.

I would do that all of the time before I got a transient designer. Before I either had the hardware, or of course, the later plugins. So literally, I’m using the compressor to do that. So look, just for shnits and shniggles, let’s print that so you can see what it’s doing.

[snare, printed with effects]


You see what it’s doing? It’s exaggerating it. We can even go — see, the rest of the snare is almost — here it’s significantly low. We can shorten it even more. Why don’t we take it down to like, 11 here on the attack, and everybody’s nomenclature is slightly different, but here on the Waves one, so now I’m going to print it.

[snare, printed]

Oh, you can really hear it there. Look at that. See what it’s doing? It’s just adding the front of the snare. Now obviously, this is printed and delayed, but I mean, look at what it’s doing. It’s just exaggerating the front of that.

We can go even shorter. Why don’t we go like, super, super short.


There we go there. Now it’s only that transient. Look at that. Crazy. Now it’s delayed, because it’s gone through hardware. So now what we’ve done is we’ve created a snare that’s just the initial attack. So — just like a transient designer. So there’s what compressors can do to help the attack of the snare if you don’t have a transient designer.

Overheads. Let’s listen to the overheads.


As you know, I like to record my overheads in phase with the snare. So that’s great, so that means if I zoom in on the front of the snare, pretty much in phase. Absolutely wonderful.

So the snare’s fairly centered, cymbals around it. But there’s only one problem.


What is the problem? The problem is all I can hear is the snare in there! Oops. So what do I want to do? I want to put a compressor across it! You guessed it. So let’s go and choose a compressor. We’ll do something different just for the heck of it. We’ll go to our good friends, McDSP, and we’ll get their most bog standard compressor. Here it is.

Okay. And what are we going to do? You guessed it, we’re going to sidechain. We’re going to sidechain from the snare. So let’s find an available buss, go to the snare top, send from there, we’ll put it pre so we don’t have to hear the snare, we’ll loop — listen to the overheads.


Select the key. Set the release a little faster so it doesn’t grab too much. Look at that. Isn’t that amazing? So that’s the snare top sidechain compressing the overheads. Listen to the cymbals singing. It’s still just as loud, but look at the snare. Now the snare is being tucked into the overheads. Plus, the other thing I love about it, not only does it bring the snare down into the overheads without affecting the overheads, which is great, it makes the snare sound really spanky and very SSL-y. Listen to that.


Listen to the whole drum mix.


So everything we’re doing here is just adding some extra spank. Making that snare just sing. Sidechain compression-ing the snare to the overheads. It’s a really awesome trick that I use all the time.

One last trick. This one’s so easy and honest and obvious, but we’re going to do it. Another sidechaining trick. Okay.

So let’s take our shaker. Look, here’s a shaker.


It’s great. Love it. I want to control it more, but the transients are super, super fast, and does my compressor catch it? Here’s the CLA-2A which is a great compressor.

[shaker with CLA-2A]

It’s nice, but I want a bit more, [imitates shaker sound] and a little less, “Pah, pah, pah.” So I don’t want what we’ve been doing, where we’ve been exaggerating the transients, I want something different. So this is what we’ll do.

We’ll come along and we’ll grab — we’ll grab — let’s go for the McDSP again. Okay, so we’re going to grab this compressor, we’re going to do this. We’re going to — on Pro Tools, we’re going to Shift+Option+D. We’re going to duplicate the playlists. Okay?

You’re like, “What? Why are we duplicating it?” Well, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to send from the track. You guessed it, we’re going to sidechain it. We’re going to send from buss 32. It doesn’t matter, you can use any one, I just said buss 32 because I wanted to.

And then, here it is. Buss 32. What am I going to do? Well, this is what I’m going to do. Because the attack time is not at absolute zero, I’m going to do this. I’m going to get the whole shaker track across the whole thing, and I’m going to pick it up, and I’m going to move it along. Okay, so what’d I do? I just picked up the track and I moved it forward a little bit.

Why did I do that? Well, there’s a little thing called look ahead compression. Now, there are compressors that do look ahead, but we’re doing the most basic stuff that you can do using any compressor, whether it’s stock — we could open up a stock compressor. Any compressor can do this. I’m now going to mute that track, because it’s just using it only for sidechaining. I’m then going to take my send here and set it to pre.


We’re going to now start compressing. We can have our release. Oh, that’s so good! So what it’s doing is it’s using the information of this track here that’s highlighted to compress the other one. It’s a great little trick. It’s a quick and easy way to do look ahead compression. It’s very straight forward. You can do it on anything. You can do it on a vocal.

If there was too many transients coming through and it was too, “Pah, pah, pah, pah,” you could set a compressor on the end, and then you could nudge a track forward and have that respond to it.

See what it’s doing? It’s making my — it’s giving me that, [imitates shaker seeds]. It’s giving me all the energy that I want. Bypass. Turn it up. That’s exactly the way I want it to sound. That’s all attack.


Now it’s, [imitates shaker]. Because I want that thickness in there. It’s a failsafe way of just getting a look ahead compressor.

Now, obviously, there are look ahead compressors you can get, but if you’re just using stock compressors, there you go. I mean look, we can go and quickly demonstrate using the free compressor. Here’s the bog standard compressor.


I mean, it’s like, now the compressor becomes like an EQ, because now it’s bringing out the, [whooshing noise], and less of the, [ticking noise]. Less of that high frequency that was bugging me.


Because I want the, [emulates shaker], because that brings the energy to the track for me. And I was already, as you can see, compressing it pretty heavily with an LA-2A. So that’s already happening, but because it’s a slower attack time, it’s letting too much attack going through.

Now, obviously, a shaker is a minor thing, but like I said, you could do it on a vocal, you could do it on a guitar that maybe has too much attack on it, but you don’t want to go in there and rebalance all your plugins, because quite often, when you’re balancing compressor into EQ and stuff, one affects another affects another. This is something you can put on the end to just control your transients.

So please sign up below for our free compressor cheat sheet! There’ll be some more detailed overview of how you do this, and of course, if you subscribe and hit the notifications bell, you’ll be alerted when we have a new video coming up.

Thank you ever so much for watching, and have a marvelous time recording and mixing with compression!


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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