Monday, August 17, 2009

Mix Compression: Two Approaches

I was on and came across a very heated discussion about mixing compression on the mix bus. Someone had made a comment about not using it and it went on and on about whether you should, how you should use it, what gear or plugins you should use, and so on. I really don’t want to get into all that right now, but I will re-post what I posted on gearslutz here:

There is no one answer to whether you should use compression on your mix buss or not. Everyone has a different approach and I have gone through my own phases where I did or didn’t compress the mix. (Presently I’m off it, but I do happily compress about everything else and I’m using a slight limiter on the mix.)

I once had the honor of moderating a panel for NARAS that had Brendan O'Brien and Jimmy Douglass on it. What a treat! I threw away the questions that had been prepared for me and asked all the things I had heard rumors about and wondered myself for years. One of these was about mix compression. When asked what each of them used on their mixes Jimmy's answer was "None", Brendan's was "YES! Lots! Sometimes 2 or 3 compressors in a row".

Now I think this shows a fault in how people ask these kind of questions- or rather, the results they hope to achieve. They want to find an answer or technique that they can just plug in to their current routine to get the same results as the one that they are getting the advice from. But it is totally out of context. Whatever Jimmy is doing in other parts of his mix means he doesn't need to use comp on the buss. Brendan on the other hand is working towards using that, and I'll bet is running some sort of compression from the start.

Mixing (and production) is like cooking. There are lots of ingredients that must be added at the right time, in the right order, in the right amounts to get the right results. Yet strangely it might come out differently the next time. And someone else might cook something equally as good, but take a different route.

* * *
A few other interesting notes from that panel:
I asked both of them how long they spent mixing a song. Jimmy: 2 or 3 days. Brendan: 5 to 6 hours.
Was it true that Brendan uses the same bass guitar that he’s had for years with the same original strings on every song? (this based on a rumor I’ve heard around Atlanta from a few people) “No!”, he laughed. While he does have a favorite bass and the strings might be old (he didn’t really know when they’d been changed, so they are probably old) he doesn’t use it on everything, just when appropriate. Again, think of the context. I’ll bet there are several rock producers who heard this rumor and stopped changing their bass strings.