Continuing with more compression tips, I’d like to discuss of my all time favorite tool for anything and everything: the multi-band compressor. For many, this beast is a bit of a difficult tool to tame, but I’d like to break it down for you so you can include it in any of your routine and needs. In order to continue, I hope you’ve first read the first post about compression, and also the two posts about how to use EQs.
Common Use-Cases for Compression
Controlling harshness. Using a compressor, you can set the attack to be fast and the release to also be pretty fast. This makes the whole action of the compressor fast, controlling any aggressive sounds and taming them. If the attack is too fast however, it can distort, so you need to juggle with the settings to find your sweet spot.
To add punch. This is the opposite of harshness. You’ll want the attack to be slow and the release to be fast. The compressor won’t jump on the transient immediately but will instead create some snappiness. The ratio should be around 5:1 or even higher to achieve this effect in most situations.
To add thickness. Using your compressor in parallel mode, you can set it to about 50% wet/dry, then compress with a medium attack and a medium-fast release. I’d make sure the ratio is as high as possible too. If your compressor doesn’t have a parallel option, then you can use the compressor in a AUX/Send bus.
To glue together a mix. Very similar to thickness and punch, you’ll want to add this to multiple channels and busses at once. Again, parallel compression, slow attack, high ratio. That should do it. Experiment with exaggerated effects and then tone it down.
To sum it up, a fast attack makes the compressor react quickly, which means it is there to control something. A slow attack is to enhance the beginning of the sound. The ratio is how much of that effect you want in action, and the release is for how long.
The multi-band compressor works exactly as the use-cases explained above, but with a multi-band compressor, we can set a range of frequencies to be affected. Therefore, you can set thickness in the mids, control the high-mids for harshness, and enhance the high’s transients with a single compressor, but with different settings for each section.
The multi-band compressor has an additional feature: the use of crossovers that set points for where each section starts and ends. A crossover is simply a frequency you set. For instance, Ableton’s 3-band multi band will have 2 of crossover frequencies. You set the lower crossover which will set where the low end ends in the mids (ex. 200hz) and the other crossover will be where the mids end and the highs start (ex. 6khz).
My perspective on multi-band compressors is that I use them like a shelving EQ where I control each section’s aesthetics in a different way. You can then shape the tone of a sound or mix, or extract minute details. Ideal for finishing touches, multi-band compression can also be used to bring forward parts of your sounds in the most effective way.
Now, here are some situations where the effects of multi-band compression can be useful:
- Wimpy percussion: If your percussion needs presence, thickness and power, set your crossovers so you can control what’s happening between 200hz and 800, then up to 3khz. Beef up the first section with slow attack and high ratio and aim to add punch up there (refer to the notes above regarding how to do this).
- Pale pad: Again, say a weak pad needs presence, beefiness between 250 and 600 hz. I’d also compress between 4 and 8khz to add some shimmering, which is like adding thickness. You could even lower your section to hit all the way down to 90hz to get some analog feel.
- Crazy swirl: Sometimes transitional effects are great but can be not appropriate for your song. I like to control the highs over 7khz in a way were they don’t hit aggressively but will have the mids over 1khz enter smoothly. This is a way to control the harshness and presence; often very useful to create wobble, rubbery movement.
- Dull mix: A dull mix usually needs brightness which can be created by stimulating the highs and mid highs. This can be a combination of adding thickness or stimulating the transients. I’d say try sharp sections around 4khz to 8, then another one until 11khz and even compress above that with a 3rd section to create what we call pixie dust.
- Stellar reverb: A multi band with a reverb is pack of fun for me! I like to beef up the mids above 300hz and also create thickness between 2khz to 6. You can then control the levels to decide on the tone of the space you’re creating for your song.
- Deep kick design: Compress a section under 50hz and then another until 120, plus a last one that goes all the way to 500hz. I can guarantee you that if you have the lower sub purring, then you can also add a bit of punch around the mids to have a super deep, but punchy kick.
When it comes to my favorite multi-band compressors, here are some of them:
General tool for mixing that makes pretty much the best all around assistant to deal with numerous problems. Transient shaper, exciters, gate, compressors and all of them are in multi-band mode. You can’t get better than that.
The Drawmer compressor is amazing for creating ambient so imagine if you can set it in multi band mode, then you get awe dropping moments.
Elegant, precise and transparent would be the best way to describe this one. Really useful for the finishing touch of your mixdown.
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