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How to Use Compression to Enhance Attack

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How to Use Compression to Enhance Attack
How to Use Compression to Enhance Attack - youtube Video
Merry Quarantanukkah guys. I think this is our fifth day. I’m going to start into this video by showing you some really cool techniques, but before I kick that off, let me give you the basics. First of all, the record is, “Crazy.” It’s by Kade, and of course you are currently tuned into The Pro Audio Files YouTube channel, so if you’re digging this channel, if you like this video, by the end, I know that you’re going to have hit that like button and that subscribe button, and you’re going to have checked the description below for links to full length, for sale tutorials that go into really great, in depth information.

Okay, this tutorial is going to be about how to use compression in a sort of unexpected and backwards way, which is to use it to exaggerate dynamics. Normally, when we think about compression, we think about controlling the dynamics, getting everything to be dynamically closer together. That is in fact the exact definition of compressing something. We’re squeezing it together.

But what I’m going to show you is that by setting the attack and release times, and the input in exactly the right way, we can create a compression effect that does the opposite, and actually expands the dynamics.

Before I do that though, let’s play a little bit of this record just so we know what we’re working with. Alright, here we go.


So this is really rhythmically driven by the kick and the percussion, and if I just solo this up real quick, we get this.

[kick and percussion]

Now, the kick has a nice, really well shaped attack that’s just sort of plotting along. We’ve got a good drive from that sort of almost train track sounding percussion thing that’s happening over on the right, but we have this other percussion that’s kind of almost acting like a snare drum.


But it doesn’t quite have the bite that I want from it. I want to give it more of that snap, more of that sound that you would get from a more traditional snare.

So I’m going to show you how we’re going to do that. I’m going to pull up the Slate VMR here, and I’m going to go to a classic compressor for this technique, and that is going to be the FG Stress. Very similar to a Distressor, there’s a lot of models of this, but this one happens to be one of the best, if not the best, and I’m going to give you the basic formula.

What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to make the compressor miss the attack. In other words, all that snap, the compressor is not going to react fast enough in order to clamp that down, but what it is going to react to is the sustain, so basically we’re going to use this compressor to take the sustain of the drum down, and conversely, that therefore makes the attack come up.

It’s just proportions. So if we look at our settings, we’re going to want to have a very, very slow attack time. This is not going to change when the compressor starts reacting, it’s just going to change how fast the gain reduction is applied.

The release, we’re going to get to that. That’s going to be a really important part of this equation, because it’s going to become a really interesting musical control when we use these very unique settings.

Now, the input is sort of like the threshold on other compressors, except for on this particular compressor, the threshold is fixed, so we’re going to push into the threshold, rather than lower the threshold, but if we’re using a different compressor for this, you would lower the threshold, and the idea here is we want the compressor to be acting on most of the signal. Not just the attack, but also the sustain.

So I’m going to have the input up pretty high, and I’m going to have to play around with it a little bit, and therefore, I’m going to have the output pretty low, because I don’t want to clip my output.

Now, the other thing that’s going to be important in this scenario is that we use a hard knee style of compression. Now, a lot of the times, the knee in a compressor is directly tied to the ratio of compression, and that’s going to be true of SSL compressors, that’s going to be true of 1176s, and that is absolutely true of Distressors as well, including this FG Stress model.

So I’m going to go up to 20-to-1, or Nuke, and I’m going to be in the very, very heavy ratio area. These are all going to be too soft down here, it’s not going to give me the snap I’m looking for, so when we’re playing around with what exactly we want in terms of tone and texture and snap, we’re going to be looking at 10-to-1, 20-to-1, and Nuke. So now let’s start playing the signal and start playing around with things. Ultimately, what we’re going to want to do is dig into this and do a pretty fair amount of gain reduction.

[kick and percussion]

That might be a little too much. We can maybe back that off a little bit. There we go. So let me bypass this real quick.


Bring it back in.


We’ve definitely lost some signal level, so let’s push up the output a bit.


There we go. Now it’s going to be a little tricky to level match this, because inherently, we’re going to be changing the proportions of the sound. Usually, the overall loudness of something is defined by its consistency and its body, not simply its attack and its snap, and so in order to get this to sound the same level, we’re actually going to end up having to push this a little bit harder on the output, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Our next step is going to be looking at the release. The release is going to act as a density or body control, so basically we can have this sound be very anemic, where it’s really just mostly attack by setting the release very slowly.

[percussion, slow release]

Or we could have the sound be really fat and really full by setting the release very fast.

[percussion, fast release]

Right, and we hear a pretty massive difference there, right?

Now, it’s really important to recognize what we need from this sound. When we play it in context of the rest of the mix, we find that we actually need both the attack, as well as the release, because the release has a really interesting kind of white noise dragging texture to it.


But we don’t need that much of it. What’s really poking through is the attack. That’s what’s really, really capturing the essence of what this is supposed to be doing. So I’m going to slow the release down, and it’s going to clean things up, and actually going to allow the other rhythmic elements to shine through a little bit more.


Let’s just experiment with slowing it down a lot, just to hear how that sounds.


I actually like that openness a lot. I think maybe if we find a sweet spot that’s maybe just a little bit faster on the release than where we have it right there…


Nice. What we’re really trying to do is define that rhythmic sentence, that [mimics drums and percussion], and so if we find this exact right release, we can keep the body, we can keep the texture, but we can also allow it to be open so that the other rhythmic elements that are in the record are popping through too.

So I’m going to bypass this, we’ll hear it.


Bring it back in.


So we’re getting a little bit more attack from the drum than we had before, even though we’re using compression.

Now I want to take this idea, and I want to go one step further with it. I’m going to show you how we can use another plugin to really shape the exact dynamic that we want, and then we can go back to the FG Stress, and actually contour the attack to be the shape that we want, and that’s a slightly more advanced topic than what I was just talking about. We did the heavy lifting here, but now things are going to get interesting.

I’m going to pull up this FG Bomber, which is effectively a couple of transient designers sort of slapped together. It can act as if it’s bringing up sustain in certain settings, or it can act as if it’s exaggerating attack and diminishing sustain in other settings.

So let’s check that out.

First of all, I know that because I want to really solidify the attack of this drum, I’m going to set it to tight, because what we’re trying to do is really focus right in on that snap, and this is probably the best setting to do it.


I’m going to turn the intensity up to 100 just so we can hear what this is doing, I’m going to turn the drive way down, and I’m just going to rotate it all the way up so that we can hear what happens as we change the drive.


You hear how when I started with the drive way down, we have a lot of sustain?


Then once I get to about minus 3 here…

We start really hearing more of the attack, and by the time I get to like, plus 3, we’re really just hearing the attack.


Once I get above that, we actually start getting an exaggeration to the attack that’s kind of interesting.


It has almost like a clacky texture to it, which I like, and I think we’re going to work with that.

Now, just for fun, I’m going to switch these tone controls over here, just to hear what we would get. Here’s the control for present.

[percussion, present switch]


[percussion, fat switch]

And tight.

[percussion, tight]

So they’re all kind of similar using this particular drum. They sort of change based on the frequency content in the sound, especially if you have like, multiple things coming together, like it’s on your mix buss, but out of all the three, the one that says tight to me is giving me the best image of the attack itself, so we’re going to stick with that.

Now what I’m going to do is I’m going to determine the intensity, and the way I’m going to do that is in the context of the mix. I’m going to start from zero, and I’m going to start turning this up until I start hearing the attack the way I want to.


It’s interesting. I love how the attack of this drum sounds in the mix. I almost want to leave it way up, but then I feel like I’ve transformer the character of the drum quite a bit, and I don’t know how the producer for the record would necessarily feel about that, so I need to make a solid decision on how transformative I really want to be.


This feels right to me. So I have the intensity up pretty high. Now in solo, this is definitely going to change the sound pretty dramatically.


But this is why we make these decisions in the context of the record, because what we get in solo is not necessarily what’s going to be best when everything else is involved.

Now, we have our basic setups going, here’s where things can get really fun. Going back to this compressor, I can use the attack speed to shape the attack. I can make it feel a little spikier by having the attack slower, or I can start to create a slightly rounder attack sound, which has a different feel, and a different texture, just by operating within the slowest speeds of the attack, so maybe going down to 8 at the slowest, or I’m sorry at the fastest, and 10 at the absolute slowest.

So for example, if I drop this to let’s say 8…


The attack really starts to recede, as opposed to having it at 10.


But watch what happens when I start doing this in the mix.


I’m going to kind of tell you what to listen for because that might have been subtle, but listen to how the percussion element sort of steps out of the mix when I have it very slow, because the attack is jumping out so much. When I start slowing the attack down, it rounds out and we get a shape of attack that actually sits down in the mix in a slightly more smooth kind of way, and it might be better to glue this drum into the mix that way, simply by contouring the attack, rather that taking the attack down through backing off the FG Bomber.


So now that we’ve done all of this, let’s bypass this and listen again.


Now listening to it in comparison, I think we’ve been a little too transformative, so what I want to do is start moving it toward how it originally sounded to begin with, so I’m going to back off the intensity here. Start there.


And I’m going to use this mix knob on the FG Stress, and I’m going to take it back down to 75% to bring the original sound back in a little bit more.



[mix, before FG Bomber]


[mix, after FG Bomber]

I’m pretty happy with that. We might want to turn it down overall, like maybe a half decibel, just to kind of even out the level.


And now we have a percussive element that’s acting a lot more like a snare drum.

Alright, kind of an interesting concept, something that I definitely think you should play around with when you’re experimenting and shaping your sounds, especially if you’re doing sound design or making a beat from scratch, and you want to experiment with how a snare drum is hitting, or how a kick drum is hitting, or how a percussive element is hitting, and play around with what happens when you start to exaggerate the attack.

Alright guys, if you dig what I’m doing, hit that like button, hit that subscribe button with the bell so that you get notifications, stay safe out there, and until next time.


Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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