• Is the way you understand compressor accurate? How to explain in musical terms.

    I use compressors on a daily basis.

    I think I know all the parameters come with a compressor. Threshold, ratio, attack, release, knee, etc. And they are explained well on manuals or any online resources.

    But when I tried to explain this to not-so-technical friends, they got confused. The question almost ALWAYS came following this too techie explanation is this.

    So, what does it do to the music?

    I used to immediately react and said “As I just explained, the signal passes the set threshold…” and realized that this isn’t really translating.

    So the question again. What does it do, musically?

    Answer came when I was watching an episode of Pensado’s Place with Jack Joseph Puig. He explained his understanding and use of compressor, and that was eye opening.

    • Attack time controls the tone (timbre) of the sound.
    • Release time controls the groove of the sound.

    I needed to think about this for awhile, but it makes total sense. Higher frequency travels faster, so when a compressor is compressing the sound very fast, more high-end would be caught and low frequency passes through (varies by release time, but let’s set the release to “unity” and ignore that for now.) Then, when the compressor is reacting slow, highs passes through. Resulting in tone/timbre change.

    For the release time, when compressed with slower release, it extends the “tail” of the sound. And when the sound extends a bit longer than original, you get this “sticky” and “laid back” feel. On the other hand, when the release time is set faster, you get the feeling that the sound jumps back up, so you get “bouncy” or “jumpy” feel.

    Once you get that feel, your use of compression becomes WAY more musical and artistic. Instead of thinking “Let’s get this signal compressed by 3dB focusing on attack”, I prefer thinking “I want this kick to sounds little heavier with darker tone, with laid-back feel rather than jumpy happy sound”.

    Try on your own session, and check if you like this theory. Leave a comment what you think about this.

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