Dancing Astronaut Studios: Episode 1: Compression and Equalization Basics
Welcome back to Dancing Astronaut Studios with Dubspot! My first two weeks of Dubspot Online courses have been going great, introducing basic mixing concepts to provide a foundation to build upon as the curriculum broaches more advanced concepts. Our instructor Daniel Wyatt is extremely knowledgable and interactive, hosting helpful office hours and providing personalized video walkthroughs in response to our homework submissions.
One of the most valuable lessons learned to date has been the concept of gain structuring. Most of the dance music tracks we enjoy are constructed around the kick drum. As the kick provides a consistent backbone for the track, it is crucial to ensure that it is set at the appropriate volume so that it can act as an anchor around which other elements can be mixed at appropriate volumes. This may seem straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many producers are uncertain about the correct volume to set their kicks. Getting it right from the start will not only make mixing an easier and more streamlined process, but it will save you valuable time down the road when it comes time to bounce the audio at an industry standard volume level.
Many of our lessons thus far have focused on the important building blocks of equalization and compression. Equalizers allow producers to exert control over the tonal character of their elements, boosting or cutting different frequencies to shape sounds to their liking. It’s important to remember that a speaker can only project a limited amount of sound at any given frequency, so using EQs is vital to maximizing the representation of each individual element and creating a clean sounding mix. Check out the chart below to see where different instruments fall in terms of their frequencies.
Compression is a studio technique that can be as difficult to understand as it is necessary to employ. Every single dance track posted on this site makes use of compression, and the effect is especially important for making loud and dynamic tracks in the newer genres of big room, electro and dubstep. Wyatt instructed us to imagine the compressor as a little elf with a finger hovering above the fader, pulling it down whenever the acoustic power crosses a certain threshold to decrease the dynamic range of the element. This has the effect of lowering the volume of louder sounds while amplifying quieter sounds, which is useful in achieving a more consistent overall sound and allowing elements to sit better in the mix. Compressors can also be used for other creative purposes, such as the ubiquitous side-chaining that keeps the kick drum from conflicting with the bass line in dance music.
Properly using these techniques can make a world of difference. Check out the following tech house track I’ve been working on. The first version features no compression or equalization, while the second version sports significant EQ cuts and targeted compression. As you’ll hear, the second version is noticeable cleaner and punchier in sound.
Sicarii – Untitled WIP (No Compression or EQ)
Sicarii – Untitled WIP (With Compression + EQ)
That’s all for this week! Tune in next time as we tackle compression and EQing aimed at individual instruments and specific elements within the mix.