OK, so I think first off, I need make it clear that I’m fully aware, from the moment I mention audio compression, I open up a whole world of $hit. First of all, yes music is subjective, and if you like what comes out the speakers then your mission is complete.
Now that’s out the way, my first tip, is “a good track needs room to breathe”. I fully support Dynamic Range Day and also get really frustrated when I hear a track that is potentially great, but so over-compressed that the life has been squeezed out of it. There is a great little video on youtube (click here) explaining how the “Loudness War” can affect the punch of a track to an opposite and detrimental effect.
However, as much as I agree with DRD in general, when it comes to Electronic Dance Music, suggesting your tracks should have a dynamic range level of DR14 to DR8 is near impossible. There are a few simple reasons for this:
** Electronic Music uses electronic instruments, which have very little dynamic range by their very nature.
** DJ’s are renowned for pushing gains to the limits in nightclubs, so they have very little room for pushing the gain of a track with DR14 (which they would do, whether they’re supposed to or not!).
** For a DJ to mix two tracks of very disparate DR levels seamlessly, it would take a fair amount [more] of their concentration.
So there is clearly a finer line between “good” and “bad” dynamic ranges in EDM tracks, and it’s for this reason that I think extra attention needs to be paid to compression techniques.
It’s for this reason that I always suggest for everyone to use a professional mastering engineer wherever possible. It’s not just about equipment, but also having a pair of ears that have been trained over years to not only spot what’s obvious, but to also spot the things that may not be quite so obvious. HOWEVER, I’m fully aware that not everyone has a budget for professional mastering, and I’m also aware that all the magazines out there suggest that you can all do it yourself, and I’m also aware that most people will persist on trying to do it themselves regardless of their equipment and listening environment.
I’m not going to sit here and dictate the exact numbers/settings of compressors, because it’s going to be different for each compressor and each track, however, there are a couple of things to look out for.
First of all, if you want some more punch in your drums, let’s say your kicks or your snare, rather than just compressing the hell out them, use some parallel compression. This can be done by duplicating the track, so that you have two sets of the same kicks/snares playing at the same time, leaving one untouched, and the other one with the gain right down and some really heavy compression (a ratio of something like 14:1, a hard knee, and the threshold at something extreme like -25dB). Once you’ve done this, slowly lift the gain of that heavily compressed channel so that the two mix together, adding punch from the heavily compressed channel to the overall clean uncompressed original sound.
More is More
I know there are plenty of tutorials out there that claim to tell you “how to master a track” or “how to make it loud”, but unfortunately most of the ones I’ve read seem to suggest that all you need to do is simply throw in a compressor/limiter to your master channel (after EQ etc) and squash it to hell and back to make it “loud”… And it’s this, I fear, is why my inbox is constantly full of tracks that load up in WaveLab looking like a big bloody sausage! Although there is no exact science to compression techniques, there are a few things to try on top of what I’ve mentioned above. Firstly, use more than one compressor along the way. Instead of sticking a big fat compressor/limiter on your master channel, try gently compressing parts of your track (perhaps individually or in Aux Busses, or even both), before giving a bit of gentle compression in the master before the EQ process (WARNING: EQing after a compressor has a very different effect than EQing before a compressor… Experiment with it), and then another one after the EQ process, before then having a gentle limiter to catch any stray peaks.
Finally, here are a couple of tracks (one original and one remix) that I made recently… They reach a Dynamic Range level of DR6, and I’m personally happy with that! Both tracks have been produced, mixed, and mastered by myself, using the techniques mentioned above. To find out your official Dynamic Range, please visit http://www.pleasurizemusic.com/ (The TT Dynamic Range meter is free for members)