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Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? #3020506 12/22/19 07:53 PM
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Anderton Offline OP
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If I see one more video with "pro tips" about bus compression on YouTube, I'm going to scream. I love it when the person enables the bus compressor and points out how the sound is bigger and punchier. Well, yeah, and the output meter is showing a higher level. Why not just turn up the volume control? That makes anything sound bigger and punchier.

It's really instructive when you match LUFS levels with a "pro tip" bus-compressed version and a version without bus compression. There's very little difference. The individual tracks are so compressed anyway...

Which brings me to my point: We are currently in the process of losing two important musical elements that add emotion, dynamics and tempo changes. They have both become an endangered species.

I'm using less and less compression. I NEVER use a bus compressor, although I do some multiband limiting when mastering. That's it for dynamics control. And now that I've figured out how to add tempo changes to a mixed song, my songs breathe with a kind of tension and release you'll never get with a flat-lined tempo track.

I can't help but wonder if people think vinyl sounds better because back in those days, records had dynamics and tempo changes. Maybe the preference for vinyl has little, if anything, to do with the technology.

Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Anderton] #3020518 12/22/19 09:23 PM
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I am not a fan of tossing compression on "because needs it" and I hugely agree about flatlining dynamics.

I have an RNC inserted into my Focusrite ISA One for vocalists who do not have good mic technique.
I've got it in Super Nice mode with 1:4 or less ratio - usually less. Threshold and Attack are set to only kick in of somebody goes from a whisper to a scream.
And, I mostly bypass it.

A touch of compression on bass and kick after recording goes a long way. I try to let the rest breathe, otherwise it just sounds loud and flat.

I may also export a mix, bring that back as a track and do a final with that track compresed a bit and the main mix left with as much dynamics as possible.
Straight up compression on the whole mix, uhhh... no...


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Anderton] #3020519 12/22/19 09:37 PM
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Just to add, some vinyl records suffer from "groove cramming", where the music on each side is longer than it should be and groove depth and width must be compromised.
K-tel did it often, piling a bunch of "hits" onto one record.

The Rolling Stones and many others kept their song and album length shorter so their singles and albums would benefit from maximum practical groove width and depth.

Do You Love Me by the Contours comes to mind (Early Motown). Even on canned music, that song pops right out.


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Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Anderton] #3020527 12/22/19 10:33 PM
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I tried playing around with compressors on CD material and found that few of them work well for program material (bus compression). The acid test is anything with lively latin percussion. The achilles heel is the RMS detection and there are not many good designs.

I never use bus compression on my music either, the mix sounds too flat and the mix quality suffers.

Separate compression sounds far more natural while still sounding dynamic. Mandatory on kick, bass, and vocals. The JBL/UREI 7110 with optional Jensen output transformer is exceptional on bass, the JBL/UREI LA12 (or single channel LA10) does a great job on vocals and you can't hear the compression in action, and for percussive kick/snare the old Drawmer DL231 with its log detector (not RMS!) works really well. I also have a pair of JBL/UREI LA22s for the "problem" sounds; I had a problem track with a guitarist with a feedback squeal when he stopped playing for a split second and the frequency selective compression of the LA22 tamed that REAL well. The LA22 can also do expansion, which sounded great on a snare track with marching rudiments.

I started out with the Alesis "dirty 30"; once I heard the 7110 I understood why the Alesis units earned that nickname. I sold the 30s a long time ago.

Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: The Real MC] #3020549 12/23/19 01:31 AM
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Originally Posted by The Real MC
Mandatory on kick, bass, and vocals.

I agree totally with bass and vocals (I don't record acoustic kick, so can't comment on that). However, I think that's not because of an artistic decision, like people make with bus compression, but technical realities. Singers are not going to have perfect mic technique, and human lungs hold only so much air. Bass is constantly fighting the laws of physics - amps, speakers, and the bass itself have far less than a flat response. So even if the bass player is playing with even dynamics and a fantastic touch, the technology won't translate it properly. With bass and vocals, it seems the dynamics processing restores the original intention, instead of trying to cover up for something.

Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Anderton] #3020598 12/23/19 12:04 PM
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Why is "punchy" a criteria? Does it sell records? Or is it that all big selling records are punchy?

Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Mike Rivers] #3020626 12/23/19 06:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
Why is "punchy" a criteria? Does it sell records? Or is it that all big selling records are punchy?


That's a really good question that's never answered, so I'll give it a try.

Auditory memory can be long or short term, but when listening to music, we're dealing with sensory memory, which is by its nature short term. Compression raises levels and creates a sound with more impact, which makes the brain go "wow, cool!" The problem is that if it keeps up, then it's listener fatigue time. People use compression and kill dynamics to draw you in, but once you're in, there are no dynamic changes to add interest, and keep you involved.

This is why I think dynamics is so important. When it ebbs and flows over the course of music, it maintains your interest. This is most apparent with something like a symphony, which can last a long time but still hold your interest as the dynamics, instrumentation, and tempo changes go through various twists and turns. If you take a Beethoven symphony and squash it to the same degree as most current pop music, it loses all the qualities that make you want to listen to it all the way to the end. if you then take that symphony and remove all tempo variations with time-stretching, it becomes pretty much unlistenable.

Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Mike Rivers] #3020633 12/23/19 06:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
Why is "punchy" a criteria? Does it sell records? Or is it that all big selling records are punchy?


Craig's answer is illuminating, bearing in mind that musicians may (and probably do) listen in a very different way than the general populace.
As musicians, we often listen for subtleties that are lost when music is overproduced with the goal being maximum volume and impact.

Going to a nightclub where a DJ is "performing" can also be illuminating (take your -30db earplugs!!! It will stil be way too loud, ugh....).
The dance floor will be packed from start to finish and the beat goes on on on on on on on on...
It's al about the THUMP!

I am lucky to be in one of the best bands in our area and well-booked.
We are pretty "rootsy" with a wide range of genres, the lead singer knows at least 1,000 songs and is rarely stumped by requests.
Our gigs tend to be at places that draw a mixed crowd, younger, older, fans of country music, fans of more modern styles, blues, roadhouse etc.
I can chicken-pick or shred as needed and will happily just lay into the groove if that gets them up and dancing.

So we play a variety at first to see what gets them up on the dance floor.
I've often said "It's not a party until a girl shakes her ass" because that's when the dance floor will start to fill up.
We do play our share of slow country ballads for older folks to show their steps, if that's who wants to dance we'll give them a set.
In that sense we are both artists and Tip Jar Whores, it all runs together.

I have friends who play only modern "Ultra-Thump" styles and some of them make a decent living out of packing the casinos south of here.
I would prefer to slit my wrists in a tub of warm water or stick my head in the oven and turn the gas on.

In the end, they are not there for us, we are there for them. In simple terms, there are still lots of folks who want to hear a variety of music actually played credibly at a volume that does not push their brains out of their nose.

As to where this culture originated, I would venture a guess that corporate "music" entities noticed what was hitting and promoted that culture relentlessly.
Listen to some modern "country" on the radio, it has become a hybrid Hip Hop-ish format.

This too shall pass but I have no idea what comes next. I'm glad I am old, I just want to play my guitar!!!


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Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Anderton] #3020735 12/24/19 01:06 PM
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Craig explained correctly that heavily compressed music gets your attention - and also makes extended listening fatiguing. That justifies a little "punchy" music, and accounts for its value to a dancing audience and therefore a reason for being.

Maybe I'm skewed by the number of magazine articles, software, and how-to videos about making your mixes more punchy that makes me think that this is what you have to do. I'd like to think that it's not all that bad, but I hear punchy country music, punchy bluegrass music, and even punchy classical music. Maybe it gets attention because it gets attention.

So what do you do once you get their attention?

Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Mike Rivers] #3020763 12/24/19 05:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
Craig explained correctly that heavily compressed music gets your attention - and also makes extended listening fatiguing. That justifies a little "punchy" music, and accounts for its value to a dancing audience and therefore a reason for being.

Maybe I'm skewed by the number of magazine articles, software, and how-to videos about making your mixes more punchy that makes me think that this is what you have to do. I'd like to think that it's not all that bad, but I hear punchy country music, punchy bluegrass music, and even punchy classical music. Maybe it gets attention because it gets attention.

So what do you do once you get their attention?


It is certainly a formula for success. As you pointed out in the current thread about the failure of SACD, most folks listen on mediocre playback "systems" and a high level of compression will get more attention on those formats. I do listen to my recordings through the speakers on my laptop, a Music Bullet with a single 1.25" weefer and an unmarked widget that folds open with 2 gigantic 1.75" weefers for genuine stereo and that "big sound". I compare to commercially successful records, I want to at least have all instruments intelligible even if the "bass" is not going to move enough air to disturb the flight of a mosquito.

As to your last question, I don't know. I am still wondering "How do you get all their attention?" It seems where music is concerned that attention spans may match those of a weasel. Song of the Month or Week has been replaced by song of the instant, if it gets played that long.


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Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Anderton] #3020881 12/25/19 09:52 PM
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I have been wary of compression for all of the stated reasons. I was raised on classical and soundtracks as a kid, so dynamics are nearly as important as the notes. That said, I find myself welcoming a slight *dusting* of compression. Its good for 'drooping' issues with a single instrument's presence at times and yes, I dare to strap it onto the master output once in a blue moon. I've had it work wonders in lifting a mix, but if I think I need more than two more decibels, what I really need is to comb back through the mix and make some per-track adjustments, yah?

I also felt like a dark wizard when I squeezed a struggling piece between a limiter and a compressor, which made it pop properly without damaging the sonic footprint. I can't answer for the bizarre social zeitgeist we now accept in pop music, but I don't believe that the 'Us' of KC is aiming for the 'tween audience anyway. I have nuttin' to offer you unless you're far enough along to sit and listen for a minimum of 5 whole minutes without checking your phone. Really narrows the focus, don't it? smirk Compression is only a menace if you use it as a STYLE rather than a tool.


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Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: KuruPrionz] #3020889 12/26/19 12:48 AM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
It seems where music is concerned that attention spans may match those of a weasel. Song of the Month or Week has been replaced by song of the instant, if it gets played that long.


I'm not sure whether it's attention spans, or whether there is such a tsunami of content that people bail from a song if they don't like the first 20 seconds.

Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: David Emm] #3020914 12/26/19 06:01 AM
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Originally Posted by David Emm
Compression is only a menace if you use it as a STYLE rather than a tool.


Compression should be an accessory not a tool.

Re: Bus Compression: Threat or Menace? [Re: Anderton] #3020932 12/26/19 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton

I'm not sure whether it's attention spans, or whether there is such a tsunami of content that people bail from a song if they don't like the first 20 seconds.


Isn't that the way that the program or music director of a radio station worked? It's what kept listeners listening. But their ear wasn't caught by sonics as much as good melody and lyrics. It could be that for today's radio a punchy first ten seconds could be what makes the grade. With so many pop songs being one verse and a chorus repeated four times, it's hard to judge the impact or staying power of a song by its lyrics.


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