Sorry I’ve been out of the loop lately… 2013 has proved to be an even busier year that 2012! It’s only the second week of January and I already have 3 records to produce/record by March, 4 recording dates this coming week, a handful of videos to finish editing, some NAMM performances to prepare for, a clinic, and the shower is leaking. And on top of that I just had my Lasik surgery done on my eyes, so my vision is still not 100% (if you see mad typos all over the place just ignore them cuz I can’t see them!).
But anyways, enough useless rambling. Let’s get to some useful rambling. I recently received a message from a bass player who inquired about the use of compression in his sound. I’ll recap the message for you here:
“I was recently in the studio, and the engineer suggested that adding a good quality compressor to my rig would help tighten up my end of the band’s sound. Now, I’m using a Ric 4003 thru a SanAmp bass driver pedal, into an old Peavey 500 watt head into a 2×15 cab, mostly for the volume as the SansAmp is the only real EQ I actually use. It’s set for a real growly, overdriven, Geddy Lee-esque tone. We tune down C standard, modern hi gain metalcore type stuff with a mix of breakdowns and more syncopated/rhythmic bits. Judging by what I just told you, would compression really do anything for my sound or “tighten up” anything like the engineer said? I understand that compression is basically an automatic volume control of sorts, but I’m not sure it would help me at all. Thoughts?”
While I am going to reply to his question as best I can this may apply to YOUR sound as well!
In a nutshell, YES compression will “tighten” things up because that’s exactly what it does. It takes your loudest volume and your quietest volume and squashes them together somewhere in the middle. In the recording biz we call that “tightening” the sound, or making it sound more cohesive and pleasant.
Because think about it, when you kick on a record (or CD, or mp3, or… whatever) and you listen to a song, when do you ever hear the bass go away? Unless he or she stops playing altogether, a record of quality has a consistent bottom end to it, throughout the entire song and even continuing to the next song. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try it right now. Put on some music and listen to the bass guitar, kick drum, and any low-pitch synthesizers. For the most part their volume remains consistent and full-bodied for the entire recording. Other instruments may fluctuate, like vocals or guitars, but you never really lose that bass do you? That’s because these days we want to hear a really “tight” sound.
Now, listen to a classical recording and you won’t hear that at all. Sometimes it’ll get so quiet you can’t even hear it!
So is this “tight” sound preferable? Well that’s for you to decide, but also it isn’t. Because let’s be honest, I know a TON of bass players who hate compression. They never use it. But guess what? As soon as you go into the studio and finish playing your song, guess what the engineer does to your song?
Compression on the bass. Compression on the master bus. Multi-band compression at the mastering lab. I bet your bass get compressed 4 or 5 times.
And if you walk on to any legitimate stage and send your signal to the FOH engineer, guess what he’s going to do to it?
You bet he’s gonna compress you. It’ll make the band sound substantially better, not only because of the “tightness” that I mentioned earlier, but there are more than likely some acoustic anomalies in the room you’re performing in, and compression may help tame those boomy tones.
So I know this is a long-winded answer, but to be completely honest compression will definitely tighten your tone because that’s precisely what it’s designed to do. But you may not like playing with it and prefer that the engineers do it for you after the fact, so you may disagree. And also don’t forget that while compression is a great surgical tool it can also be used as an effect. I prefer slapping with a compressor because I like the suction sound it makes. I love the sound of reggae bass with HEAVY compression. Multiband compression is great for when you want to compress only a certain group of frequencies and can give you some gnarly bass tones.
As always, try this out on your own and see if you like it. Buy a compressor pedal and throw it in the mix at rehearsals and gigs. If you get a stompbox compressor you can always bypass it if you think it sucks. I recommend checking out FEA Labs compressors cuz they rock 🙂
Here’s a few videos I have done if you need more advice on the use of compression. I hope that either answered your question, or guided you towards asking another one!