The compressor is one of the producer's most basic tools in the toolbox. When correctly applied, compression is also one of the most useful techniques for putting some "oomph" in a track, bringing it to life, and adding character to everything from bass and drums, or to the entire mix.
Once you familiarize yourself with the various parameters and terminology of a compressor, the underlying principles are actually quite easy to understand.
How Compressors Work
Compressors affect the most basic aspect of sound: Volume.
In studio lingo, we use the term “dynamics.” The just means how a sound’s volume changes over time, like the immediate crack of a snare or punch of a kick. Another example might be a chord progression that varies slightly in level as the sound evolves.
When you apply a compressor to these signals, it can modify their dynamics to bring them in line with our production's objectives.
For more information on compression, check out this video:
The essential concept in understanding this process is that a compressor lowers the volume of a signal when that signal’s volume exceeds the level determined by the compressor’s threshold setting.
The amount and rate of that volume reduction is determined by various other parameters with names like ratio, attack, and release, which we will look at next week.