Compress, Digress

It has been quite a while since I updated anything on here. Primarily because a lot has been going on for me on the net, and off it as well. I spent the past fifteen days trying to mix a song and make it sound as good as possible to the best of my knowledge. And during the course of me trying to find the right tools and know-how on how to get the right mix, I stumbled onto such a huge wealth of knowledge on various mixing techniques, that I still feel quite overloaded with the information. Now that I'm mostly done with the mixing process for it, I find myself much more free to write about it.

One of the biggest problems I faced during mixing this particular project was figuring out what my approach to compression would be. Believe me when I say, compression can either make or break your mix. While some tracks needed a lot of compression, others not at all.

For all you newbies, Compression or dynamic range compression is the process of narrowing down the range of dynamic volume of a track. In other words, when you apply compression to a track, the louder parts of the track might get lower in volume and the softer parts, louder. In common man terms, compression tries to level out the audio range of your track. It is a very important technique used in mixing music extensively. Enough with the producer talk, time to talk about something else.

One of the most difficult and processed tracks on a song are usually the drums, especially if it's more of a rock track than an electronic arrangement. However, compression has to be used sparingly and not to be slapped on everything, something a lot of producers tend to do these days. Sometimes you have to look at the odds and see if everything manages to balance itself out in a mix. Other techniques like EQ, automation and various types of aural exciters can always help to take your mix where it needs to go.

Another major challenge I faced was trying to make an orchestral arrangement properly fit into a mix, without really taking a lot away from the vocals. For the longest time, I tried to figure out whether orchestral instruments need to be compressed in a mix. I ultimately decided against it, as dynamics are quite important as far as orchestral instruments go. That being said, there's never really a rule of thumb for any mixing techniques and that's something that I have eventually realized. Sometimes it's better to ride the fader into battle!

There are a lot of sample libraries and instruments like violins and cellos that sometimes end up taking a large chunk of the 5-10k spectrum of the frequency range in a track and that's somewhere the lower end of the vocals might end up sometimes. At the end of the day, if you can't hear it in a mix, it's probably not worth it to keep it around. There is of course the Fletcher-Munson curve that you have to learn to deal with. You can read more about it here. To put it in short, we all have a hearing bias and nobody has a perfectly flat perception of hearing.

As far as updates and progress goes, I managed to get my hands on a ton of books dealing with orchestration, something that I have been dabbling around with for a while, and I realize that it's important to learn how an actual orchestra sounds like to be able to emulate it well enough through samples and sample libraries, something that I will hopefully try to work some more on, in the future. (courtesy an enlightening conversation I had with an experienced musician on Skype)

Progress has been slow and time hasn't been plentiful primarily due to an exam on the horizon, but hopefully I will be able to put up a showreel/portfolio of a lot of my previous work in a few weeks. Stay tuned for that. Also being the gear-head that I am, I managed to acquire new piece of gear, work with which I shall reveal in due time.

More exciting times ahead, Ciao.