Putting Compression On Master During Composing/Mixing

I’ve heard many people saying this is just the worst thing anyone can do in audio production, ever. Or it seems so sometimes at least. :) I’m actually not sure why this is? Does it have something to do with how your audio gets summed up once mixing is done and you move onto mastering?

I for one think it sounds like a reasonable thing to do as you probably would anyway in the end and it makes you hear the final sound sooner, that is if you’re doing mixing and mastering yourself at least (let’s save the argument whether you should or shouldn’t have to do any mastering if you have access to everything individually for now :)

Hope someone can shed some light on this for me, thanks.

it makes the mix a lot more dull, sometimes ive gotten it to sound nice. i dont think it’s a bad thing if you’re using a compressor with wet/dry settings and keep it more towards the dry end unless youre going for a particular sound

Intention and amplitude.

It’s the difference between a guitar being played without a distortion pedal, a guitar being played with a distortion pedal, and the whole band going through the same distortion pedal. Obviously if you want an acoustic guitar you don’t use a distortion pedal, and vice versa if you do. The point is that you want the “guitar” to sound like something not the whole track.

Historically, mastering meant preparing a recording for vinyl which has specific sonic qualities because the plastic groove is literally sculpted. You can’t just throw a compressed WAV file onto a vinyl record unless you want a shit sounding record. You have to give the audio engineer a file with decent headroom, good amplitude representation and good dynamic range, mono sub bass, etc. Then he/she runs it through their strange archaic hardware.

Same situation for playing your tune on your earphones, or in a 50,000 person stadium. There are rules to follow if you want it to sound good. You don’t compose to those rules you adjust after the fact.

This comes up countless times and has been answered elsewhere on the web. Like I’ve said a few times if I had no life I’d write a book on this area, and still some other people would be able to put it better than me.

Put quickly, there are no rules. But there are methods to achieve certain results. Know the goal and intension before you explore the method.

One way I like to look at composing and mixing: if you were a painter as good as Da Vinci or Dali you wouldn’t want to paint your masterpiece with welding goggles on.

Some interesting posts, thanks all. I need to run but I’ll quickly reply to this comment;

That’s the thing though, I hear this argument but don’t understand it. If I am to use compression on the mix (which of course gives you a certain sound, changes dynamics etc) wouldn’t you want to hear it with a slight compression already on as you go along with your music?

This way of thinking applies differently depending on what you’re doing as you guys touched upon, I’m looking at this from the perspective of electronic (dnb, house-ish, electronica) music where I compose, mix and, if need to, master it all myself.

I think the opposite of that argument is almost more true (well, once I fully understand this my view might change :), if you weren’t using compression on your mix you’d be working with ‘welding goggles on’ as it will sound less true to the final product? You might’ve meant it the same way I just described btw…

I’m sure experienced audio engineers would be gasping in horror if they’d read that though.

Maybe it’s not that much of a hard rule anymore? I thought all engineers were heavily against it?

You don’t have to do any one method - simply find what works for you and be open minded to trying new things. Lee Scratch Perry once had a mastering method of taking his master tapes, burying them in the garden, leaving them for a few years and then releasing the result. No one tut tuts Lee for doing this, in fact his wacky method is endearing and a marketing point. I know some engineers who won’t touch digital at all. Most of us here know of commercially successful artist who only use 8 bit digital samples. Some find quality in hegemony, others find quality in daring and weirdness. It’s subjective.

Haha, yeah he’s a wee nutter lol. I could stick my stuff on a usb and leave them in my jeans when they’re getting put in the wash… I might get some nice masters out of that.

I’ll stick to not sticking to rules for now, I just didn’t think it made much sense to have no master compression on -ever- so had to ask. Thanks all.

Hardwired where?

TV and Radio will always have on the master, usually set to Limit, as if you signal is too loud you will overmodulate, taking up more than your allocated bandwidth and thus susceptible to fines.

Music studios will have them on the returns of many channels but doesn’t mean they’re always used. Plus this thread is specifically about master so no point in talking about compressors that are always there on vocal mics for eg.

there is nothing wrong with putting a compressor on the endbusbut there are some things to keep in mind .
Make sure that your mixer levels are set before you slap on the compression , insert the compressor when you allready have a more or less balanced mix .
Bypass the compressor from time to time , so that you actually hear your mix without a compressor , if it doesn’t sound right ( well balanced ) without a compressor , adjust your levels untill it does , then slap on the compressor .
DOn’t overcompressor , it will kill the overall dynamics , use it gently
When you put a compressor and then keep adding instruments and mixer busses , it will be more difficult to get the mix right .
The way I do it , I insert the compressor at the final stage of mixing , when I know that every channel is more or less mixed right , the adding cytomic the glue …on the endbus …sometimes in limiting mode …great

I’m generally in the no-rules camp, but here’s some concrete reasons why this makes it harder to mix - any kind of velocity/volume adjustments you make respond in a way that is non-linear and context dependent. By non-linear, I mean that when you double the volume of a note, depending on where you are on the compression curve, may either simply double the volume or saturate the sound. By context-depence, I mean that the effect of changing the volume of a note is different depending on what else is in the mix and the levels of the rest of the parts. These two things combined make it so that it’s harder to conceptualize beforehand how mixing changes will actually sound.

That being said, in theory, you could get used to it and your brain could compensate accordingly. Also, engineers of yesteryear (and analog die-hards of today like the daptone records crowd) dealt with and exploited similar non-linearity issues when they recorded to tape and were able to do some beautiful recordings.

@revoll: thanks, that was a good explanation to me. i’m not so well-versed in this whole mixing/mastering stuff and you explained it to an extent that i could understand and agree with you.

I almost always throw a maximizer on the master track while composing to save my ears in case it gets too loud. Ideally the maximizer never gets triggered, it’s just a safety net. If the sound changes when it passes through the limiter, I certainly can’t tell the difference. It’s certainly good enough for the composing stage, and I can take it off during the mixing stage.

The only problem is sometimes I don’t bother with proper mixing and lazily let the master limiter get triggered because my levels are too high… that’s just a matter of self-discipline though. I’m getting better at making sure I always have headroom.

My template song contains a HP & LP Filter on every channel. Master channel as well.

What I got on master channel too: Basslane, Mixer EQ, Stereo Expander and Maximizer… :panic:

These things I would add anyways in the final mix and so I got a better impression how the instruments will sound in the final mix ;)

And now you can kick the shit out of me… :)