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Buss Compression:
Another Mastering Controversy


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The topic of buss compression stirs up quite a lot of controversy at online forums.

First off, let me remind you of this:

There are no rules in recording. You should feel complete freedom to do anything you like and need to get your desired sound.

Having said that:

Here Are Some Guidelines:

I'd like to offer some sensible approaches for your consideration to using buss compression on your mix:

  • Apply it as soon as you start.
  • Start using it when you're almost finished – for example when you're about 80 percent done.
  • Don't use it at all!

Back To The Forums:

The independent do-it-yourself-ers usually favour points 1 or 2.

Meanwhile, people like me - mastering engineers - generally recommend the 3rd point.

What's My View on Buss Compression?

Glad you asked!

This type of compression is fine as an effect.

For example:

  • Adding a pumping type feel
  • Adding some pleasing coloration to the sound of your mix

However:

  • It should be done properly
  • It should not be done for achieving extra level. (That’s for the Mastering stage!)

Avoid confusing compression with limiting purely for level.

Be Aware Of The Drawbacks:

If you make a mistake, it can't be undone – unless you re-start the whole project again.

Be wary of coming to rely on compression to make your mixes work.

Is It Really Making An Improvement?

Make sure to A/B the compressed version and the un-compressed version with levels matched.

If you're unsure or not very experienced with it, it pays to be conservative.

It's easy to overdo it.

My Experience:

I once received a project with compression over every song. Quite frankly, it didn't work well.

The dynamics were for the most part gone. Everything had that squashed sound.

Unfortunately, this was a budget project, so there was no time for a remix. I did the best I could with some upward expansion and the client was very satisfied.

The happy ending to this story is that the client now trusts my judgement and has sent his subsequent projects without buss compression.

The Moral:

If you have doubts talk with me.

If you want a nasty, pumping compressor, just tell me!

You can also send me two copies of your mix – one with and one without compression.

That way, if your compressed version tanks, at least I have an idea of what you want. Then I can immediately begin working with your un-compressed version - instead of having to wait for you to do the whole mix again.

A Question:

So, if I hear that a compressor was put on the stereo bus for aesthetic reasons, does that mean I wouldn't use one in the mastering stage? So as not to change the feel of the piece?

That would really depend on two things:

  • The source material; and
  • How much compression was already used.

Parting Thoughts:

If you're looking for a general direction on mix bus compression, then avoid it if it's just because you think you're supposed to.

If you choose to use it, then have a reason!

I'm available for consulting anytime!

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