Kim Lajoie's blog

5 Compression Mistakes That Keep Even “Smart” People Stuck

by Kim Lajoie on March 2, 2012

Joe Gilder:

1. Waiting until the end of the mix to add compression to the mix bus.

This is the easiest way to unravel a great mix. If you want to compress the entire mix (which is totally fine to do), make sure you add the compressor to your mix bus EARLY in the process.

Then make all your mix decisions while listening to the mix THROUGH that compressor.

Well, I don’t think so.

Yes, mixing into a compressor is common technique, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it. There’s nothing wrong with getting a finely-balanced mix without any mix bus processing, and then applying gentle compression over the whole lot in the final stages of the mix. Yes, it’s possible to overdo anything and end up with a mess, but it’s also possible to get great mixes by applying compression at the very end.

I know because that’s exactly what I do, and I get great mixes doing exactly that.

Of course, it’s easy to do badly and, like most aspects of mixing, it’s easier to do badly than it is to do well. But is it “the easiest way to unravel a great mix”? I don’t even know what that means. If you have a great mix, isn’t it already finished? If you wanted to ‘unravel’ it, you could start by pulling all the faders up to unity and deactivating all your EQs. That’s pretty easy. Or maybe using heaps of bad reverb on the mix bus? That’s also pretty easy. If you asked Ian Shepherd, he might say trying to make everything loud unravels mixes.

Your turn: What do you think is the easiest way to unravel a great mix?


11 thoughts on “5 Compression Mistakes That Keep Even “Smart” People Stuck

  1. Dan Bong says:

    Right on! As I was reading from the top I was thinking “Well, not really…”, didn’t realise it wasn’t from you.

    Dunno about unraveling a great mix, but for me the easiest way to screw one up is to spend too long at it without a break. I completely lose my reference points and objectivity.

  2. Kapitano says:

    There’s lots of ways to mess up a mix at the final stage – applying a (too steep) EQ slope to everything, or an extra layer of (too much) ‘unifying’ reverb, (too much) widening the stereo on the high frequencies and/or narrowing the low ones, or adding the final maximising compressor, (cranked up way too much).

    I’ve killed mixes in all these ways, but it was all really the same mistake: Trying to make a *big* difference to the overall sound at the mastering stage.

    And why would I want to make the difference as big as possible? Mainly because I’d just spent the last week listening to the same track hundreds of times, and I was utterly bored of the song, and a big change wasn’t boring.

  3. Joe Gilder says:

    I’m certainly not saying this is the only way to mix. You have to keep in mind that my audience is mostly beginners…

    Also, I simply like mixing THROUGH a compressor the entire time. It’s gentle compression (only a dB or two of gain reduction every once in a while), but it usually allows me to use LESS compression on individual tracks, which I like.

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    I find it easy to lose objectivity when I spend too long on a song even when I take regular breaks. If a song remains ‘in progress’ for long enough, I start to lose my excitement about it.


  5. Kim Lajoie says:

    Ah yes, attempting dramatic changes in mastering is a classic killer. It’s particularly dangerous when people see the purpose of mastering as something like ‘adding the magic sparkle’. They focus too much on adding some mysterious sparkle or magic that doesn’t exist (if it existed, they’d probably add it in the mix).


  6. Kim Lajoie says:

    Mixing through a mix bus compressor is certainly a common technique – nothing wrong with that. Obviously it works for you, that’s cool.

    I wonder if your experience with adding mix bus compression at the end of the mix was similar to mine when I tried it years ago? I found that the mix-bus compressor messed up my mix balance:

    I tried it a few times, didn’t like it, then mixed into a naked mix bus for years (getting pretty good mixes while I was at it). It’s only recently that I’ve returned to mix-bus processing:


  7. Adam says:

    One way I hear people unravel a good mix is by boosting a bass or a high too much or with too much resonance. It unravels when people respond to that by boosting the said lows or highs of other instruments. I always cut and rarely ever boost.

    The second mistake I hear people make is applying too many effects to something and making it almost completely impossible to fit anywhere.

    The last, and most frequent, is WAY too many wet and forward effects.

  8. romik says:

    I use Kush Audio’s UBK-1 on the 2 bus, but only after all individual tracks that needed compression have been compressed individually and after group compression.

  9. Kim Lajoie says:

    Good comment about EQ. It’s easy to try to compensate for a boost by applying another boost. Often that just creates more mess. Best to listen to the sound raw and apply the tonal changes once. If you find yourself having to compensate for your previous work, better to reassess and possibly redo it.


  10. Kim Lajoie says:

    That’s a similar approach to mine. Do you find it easy to mess up your mix doing it that way?


  11. romik says:

    Not at all, as most of the work has been done already by dedicated compression, 2 bus compressor provides the final finishing touch. So it’s not controlling dynamics of the whole mix, but tightening up all the sections. I mostly go for 1-1.5db GR on a 2 bus.

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