Compressors / EQ + Attributes

It’s been a looooong time since I was inspired to write a new song, so when it hit me this morning I got home and am now updating VSTs, etc. before starting Cubase. When I start a new project, I keep thinking about the Slate Bundle (gee, thanks Lenny… :mrgreen: ) and realize that even if I wrote material frequently enough to justify the $14/month cost, I wouldn’t know how to use half of the plugins in that bundle.

More specifically, compressors and EQ give me issues because - to me, at least - a compressor has one job: compress. :laughing: EQ has a similarly singular job. However, we all know that compressors and EQ all have side-effects (compressors color the sound, for example), and that results in mix engineers like Chris Lord-Alge favoring one set of compressors / EQs over others.

This overloads my brain because I don’t know what compressors are best for specific situations. The extent of my knowledge beyond “just slap Pro-C2 on and use a preset” is using an LA-2A and 1176 on the mastering buss (which I don’t do since I own neither or even VST emulation).

Long story, short: is there a handy list of compressors, the side effects, and what situations they are most likely to be used in? Ditto for EQs.

First answer: I don’t know of one, but I’d guess they exist. Maybe search for info…

Second answer: I would also look into approaching it the other way around - find a reference recording/mix that you love and where there’s something you want to replicate, and research how that recording/mix was done and with what gear.

That’s a great idea. Unfortunately, that won’t necessarily work for me because of the fairly wide breadth of genres that I play / record. Not that it isn’t possible, but the number of records that are well produced in each genre would result in much more research than I’m able to do.

If it were me, I would just record the song in the simplest fashion while it was hot in my brain, then think about what comp is needed, etc., after that.

It’s easy to do the opposite, to line up all the VST’s, and this and that, and oh so pretty, then realize there’s not one sixteenth note of music recorded yet (" …and how did that rhythm actually go?"). :frowning: .

For your question about comps, this article might be a nice starting point:

Yes, this, once you have an idea in your head about how you want it to sound, and if you can think of some music you already know and like in a style that is not too different.

Then you don’t need but one or two references, don’t need to worry about not having references for each of the broad range of musical styles you play in. :slight_smile:

Agreed on your point, and that’s not how I work. I track first with minimal, if any, VSTs included. (99% of the time I’m not using any VSTs during tracking.)

The URL you listed is flat out amazing and gives a lot of great information that I will be using! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Write your song first
Then decide what needs EQ or compression
Just grab ANY compressor and EQ
If it sounds good it is good, if you don’t like what you hear on to the next
The cubase stock plugins should cover 99.9999% of your needs
Don’t get hung up on name dropping and gui’s at the end of the day it’s all just math…

Agreed, but the math is what matters. I’m looking for specific coloration of the signal to be able to get a desired quality in my result.

To be more specific, I’m happy with my sound. But I also know it could be better, especially when I A/B my stuff to that produced by Lenny, Kim, Jet, etc. I currently own Komplete, the FabFilter Suite, plus others. But either I simply don’t know how to use what I have (certainly possible though I’ve been using them for a while), or there’s something missing due to the way they affect the signal chain.

My biggest deficiencies are the vocals and overall sheen in the final mix. I’ve gotten better at both of these over the years, but am looking to elevate my game even further.

Let’s put it differently then: impact will be 99% skill, 1% plugins.
The plugin itself will not give you the desired result, it’s how you put them to use.

Let’s agree to disagree, because I think you’re missing my point.

No I’m not, you say that you would like to understand which plugins in your arsenal contribute to a certain sound.
It’s the wrong question to ask, the better question would be which production techniques contribute to a certain sound.
Once you know what freq, Q and gain you need you can get that sound with any EQ that caters for those parameters.
Same for compression, as soon as you know what attack, ratio and release you are looking for, you can do that with any compressor that caters for those ratio’s you can add tube or bitchrushing with stock plugins, experiment with serial or parallel compression, use FX on sends, or inserts, choose where and when to apply sidechain etc etc.
Plugin “vibe” is a futile piece of the puzzle.

The primary goal of owning multiple different compressors is to achieve certain types of compression without too much tweaking. This way you can focus on making the character of the compressor work in the context of your music instead of wasting time trying to make it do a certain thing. Different compressors do definitely have different “specialties”.

That said, I do believe that OP is well covered by what he already has and that he just needs to learn when to use which tool.

The only question that might be useful here is to look at your audio monitoring environment. Have you, for example, calibrated your listening position to any degree? I sat down with a calibrated level meter and went though the procedure to get at least some grasp of what monitoring level I was using. It was very a very useful exercise for me. I now have markings on my interface so I know I’m monitoring at or near a specific dBSPL. Doing that I’d say was the single biggest thing I did recently (this year) that had a real impact on my understanding of how to get things to sound better.

I second the sage advice to use more reference tracks and seeing if there’s any good trade or technical journals with articles about how a particular track was produced. Also, I agree with the general idea of getting the idea at least sketched out and then start with enhancement, correction and working toward a finished mix and final master.

I posted about this in a sort of related thread here: “What is a good mix or master?”

I try to find language to describe a sound I want to create or re-create. I find that if I can do that, I can come closer to knowing what techniques or technology might be used to achieve it, or I’m better able to ask a clear question that another engineer or producer can answer. I’ve used the basic charts from David Gibson’s book, “The Art of Mixing.” that provides some common terms for the coloration of sound in the major frequency ranges. Perhaps something like that would be useful? It has been for me. I also like David over at Mix Bus TV on youtube.

Bottom line is I hope you keep working on things and finding new ways to make interesting sounds. For me, the stock Cubase plug-ins and a few others I’ve started to use from Tokyo Dawn Labs provide me with a wealth of sounds and capabilities beyond anything I’ve ever had the good fortune of working with before. Good luck. Keep at it. :slight_smile:

Sure, yes they can, but how one uses them makes the sound, no one will say “that LA2A with 2dB GR is so typical “Lenny” it really defines and contributes to his sound”. Hence it’s not the most productive question to ask.

I have to agree with you guys and “agree” with foolmoon here:

“The most productive question to ask” (is not the sound of specific models), or “The only question that might be useful here is to look at your audio monitoring environment” are really a bit presumptuous questions. They presume that the monitoring system is wrong or that the person in question isn’t capable of achieving the sound they want using just any old plugin of the right kind. How do you know that that’s true?

It’s absolutely a valid question to ask which compressors ‘do what’ to the sound. If overdriving a real hardware 1176 when feeding it vocals yields one type a sound and a generic non-modeling plugin does not then that’s a difference worth understanding.

It’s worth understanding from a practical standpoint because otherwise the person might be reaching for these generic plugins and never achieving that specific sound (assuming there is one), and will be searching in the wrong place (i.e. “I’m incompetent” instead of “wrong tool”). And once the person understands what side effects the different devices yield they’ll be able to more quickly get to their desired sound by choosing the right tool for the job sooner. This discussion is somewhat akin to telling people not to worry too much about which mic to buy and just learn their monitoring system and plugins instead. If all these devices indeed were equal then of course I’d agree, or if they all had distortion characteristics that were very similar. But they don’t. Really prominent, skilled and successful engineers have insisted on some tools over others for decades, and it hasn’t only been about ergonomics and the user interface.

It’s also worth understanding from a theoretical standpoint because knowledge is a good thing.

So sorry for being a bit of a grouchy old fart today (recent events in the US has me on edge), but I think this is a prime case of where “Let’s just answer the OPs question instead of answering different questions” is actually the more productive approach.

If you know what your plugs do and you know what your favorite artists do you, this topic wouldn’t be here.
So it’s really about 2 questions:

  1. What do these plugins do?
  2. How do my favorite artists use them?

The “how” is imho far more important than the “what”
besides that, you also need to be able to hear what’s being used, I.e. if the tube crunch is the compressor or any other random tube 3rd order harmonics generating device. Very few can deduct full mixes to gear stacks on track level

Well, considering I am my favorite artist that leaves me in a bit of a conundrum, doesn’t it? :mrgreen:

I know what the outboard gear type does: compressors compress the signal, blah blah blah. What “compressors” as a general type definition doesn’t tell you is what the various specific compressors do to the signal that enhance or attenuate certain frequencies, which make some compressors better suited for vocals than others, or for drums, etc. That’s what I was trying to figure out.


I was hoping people understood that statement wasn’t to be taken too seriously. :stuck_out_tongue:

The ones that are best for specific situations are the ones that get you to the end result that you required, the quickest (or should i say most enjoyablest). The only way to discover this is in the doing. That’s the secret… If we could be told the secret in 1 word we wouldn’t understand it anyway. Just like telling someone how to ride a bike. Doesn’t matter how much is done in the telling, you can’t ride it until you can. Like there’s 2 different kinds of knowing!!! One might know it all but still can’t.

That been said, knowing the downfalls and advantages to certain techniques can be a huge head start, point in the right direction.

We have to program into ourselves the call and response of what is wrong in our mix, what we want to achieve and how to achieve it. Just like we maintain balance on a bike. We have no actually idea of how much pressure we are reasserting in different directions or the technical explanation of how we are doing it, we just do it! Go watch a video on someone trying to ride a bike with inverted handlebars!

It’s a little bit of a wild one but I hope it clicks, makes sense!!!