Compress or impress?


There’s a lot of misconceptions about compression, how it works, how it affects the sound, what are the benefits and how to use compression (or avoid it) in mixes but also during airplay. What’s the “loudness war”? What are the standard nowadays? How can compression damage the sound?

Routinely, I hear radios who are over-compressing, actually limiting, tunes that have already been compressed and limited during the mixing and mastering phase. This doesn’t help the sound, in fact it’s badly hurting it! Add to the fact that most internet radios and podcasts are streaming at 128 kbps which is quite a low bit rate, already damaging the sound, and you get a lot of shows where the sound is pretty atrocious.

This week, I was also asked my opinion on a tune that is to be released for Xmas and is supposed to be a cover of a pop song, I was surprised to hear such an amount of compression and limiting in that tune that it was sounding more like Metallica in its worst days than a light-hearted pop tune for a young audience… that mixing and mastering engineers made such mistake in their assessment of the amount of compression for the genre is rather disturbing.

This really made me think that I should try and write a few articles on compression, what it means, what it can do, how it can help the sound but also how it can damage the sound irreversibly. Dynamics is a vast subject and very misunderstood, even by some novice sound engineers (and apparently some seasoned ones!) and indeed by a lot of radio hosts as well.

Now, the trick will be to find a way to explain this complex subject with something anyone can understand. I’m thinking of a “compression for dummies” kind of refreshing course in a series of articles… If I can pull that off, maybe this will help radios (and even listeners) recognize the effect of over-compression and make them strive for a better/more natural sound.