4 Reasons for Using a Compressor on Your Sound Effects (That You Don’t Know)
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4 Reasons for Using a Compressor on Your Sound Effects (That You Don’t Know)

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There’s a host of ways to have your sound effects sound amazing. Most all of the good ones are covered in the MZed Pro Member Education and in articles here on Cinema Sound. This article will cover the 4 biggest reasons to use a single-band compressor on sound effects. Buckle our seat belts, because these apply whether you’re a sound mixer in Pro Tools or Audition – or you’re an editor in Premiere or Davinci.

1. You Can Add Punch

I’m not talking about Kool-Aid here. That’s for brainwashing – which I suppose is what I’m trying to do here. Never mind.

By careful use of the attack and release settings in your local compressor plugin with a reduction in the -5 to -10 or more range, you can add a significant amount of “snappiness” or “punch” to sound effects which are lethargic or needs to “pop” in a scene, say, where someone’s hand slamming onto a table needs feel like a gun shot. Instead of doing what most folks do which is turn the fader up – which otherwise messes with the balance of ambience and music, getting a snappy attack does the same thing without ruining carefully mixed layers.  Depending on the plugin, an attack setting between 5 ms and 20 ms with a speedy release between 40 ms and 100 ms will render a “crack” on the initial sound which really adds that Kool-Aid Punch to the mix. You can use this technique on just about anything that’s apathetic. Why does this work? Because the short attack keeps the compressor from engaging briefly until after the sound has “poked over” the threshold. The lower you drop the threshold, the stronger this effect (and the quieter the overall sound will be – counteract by raising the gain).

2. You Can Crush Transients

If you have the opposite issue of #1 above, and the opening sounds are too poppy or punchy, you can reduce the

Premiere Pro Single-Band Compressor

attack value to zero, using a “peak” setting instead of an “RMS” setting (when available), and the opening of their attacks will be as smooth as an android’s face. Here you’ll want a release setting greater than 75 ms. Why does this work? Because the fast attack disallows any sound to “poke through” the threshold and everything gets mashed down. The higher the ratio and lower the threshold the greater the crushing of the initial peaks of the sound. Think about using this kind of technique with recorded punches, gun shots and the like.

3. You Can Make a Compressor GROUP! (Dark Ninja Tips)

If you have a ton of SFX happening during a particular scene or moment, you can bus your SFX tracks to a channel where you’ve added either a nice easy/slow compression for smoothing things out or a fast draconian compressor to shave off anything transients which might poke through the mix unwarranted.  For example: if you had a bunch of door slams, punches and kicks happening in a big brawl, you could take the output of those tracks in that scene, send them to a hard-setting compressor which would insure that not slam or smack would get a solo performance in the mix. On the other hand, if you had a ton of car honks that you wanted to tame, you could do the same thing but have them bussed to a slow/easy compression which would happily balance them all.
4. You Can Smooth Out Ambiences

Smoothing out volume is what most people think of when they consider using a compressor. Although ambiences are their own category, they definitely fall under sound effects in my book – and course. Sometimes, we find a really GREAT ambience which rises and falls – which is bad. Drop a slow attack, slow release, low ratio on it, and your dynamic ambience worries are over.

In music we generally use compressors to color the sound of instruments, and while that’s super useful, in post production we use them for clarity, attack, and balance. Start experimenting with compressors in your next mix whether you’re in an NLE or DAW and see if things don’t get under control real fast.

In the Cinema Sound Store we have a set of presets which include a ton of both single-band and multi-band compressors ready to use in your timelines. As an MZed Pro Member, you get 50% off!

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