Keith Everette Smith

Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist, Music Director

THE RIGHT STUFF

As I continue to learn record production and mixing I’m always learning in extremes. I’ve tried producing tracks with extremely light “production” (few lays, fewer instruments, etc.) and I’ve tried massively over-producing tracks (stacks and stacks of guitars and vocals, many parts, heavy tuning). I’ve tried mixing songs the same way. One day I’ll mix with very little EQ, Compression and FX and the next day I might try really pushing things to their limits.

As with anything there are no rules. One engineer is going to find greatness in complexity and pushing limits and another engineer will reach the same heights of success with simplicity. I’m tending to fall somewhere in the middle with my mixes. I don’t particularly like extremely slammed mixes and I don’t get excited over the simple alternative either.

THE REAL SOUND OF COMPRESSED MIXES

I most often think of the “too much” or “too little” debate regarding compression. Modern mixing is the sound of compression. (and lots of other things but compression is a big one)

In my mixes, I feel safest right in the middle. I’m compressing most things in the mix, however, I’m not doing a lot of compression on any one channel. I spread the tast of compression out over several busses.

SHARE THE LOAD (over many compressors in the chain)

>>>A kick drum might be compressed 2-4db (4:1-6:1 ratio)
>>>which is fed to an SSL buss compressor or a Fairchild 660 compressor on the drum buss (compressing 1-3db with a slow release and med-fast release)
>>>which ultimately goes through the master buss which is being compressed as well (SSL buss compressor into a Massey L2000M Limiter).

So you can see, by the end of the chain there’s a decent amount of compression happening, but no one compressor is doing the job on its own.

WHICH COMPRESSOR SHOULD I USE? (and does it make a difference?)

It’s also VERY VERY important to mention how different compressors sound. The circuitry (or digitally emulated circuitry) carries a certain vibe which colors the sound of the source. Each compressor is going to sound soooo different from another even without compressing at all.

When I’m struggling over getting getting an instrument to compress right, I’ll do the following….

  • Decide what I’m trying to accomplish and think of the potential solution (IN MY HEAD… thinking about all the gear that I have available to solve the riddle)
  • Then I try my solution and work at it for a while. In the case of a compressor, I’ll choose a compressor and tweak settings for a bit. I want to be completely satisfied that what I thought up in my head is being achieved or topped!
  • If it’s not happening, I don’t tweak harder or to farther extremes… NOPE, I PICK ANOTHER COMPRESSOR.
  • Most of the time I find that the solution happens pretty fast when I stumble upon the right tool. That’s when I know I’ve got it right.
If you think about this concept from that of a keyboard player selecting his or her sounds then this might makes even more sense…

For the keyboardist, one song might call for a Piano, another might call for a rhodes or Wurli patch, another song might call for a B3 or String patch. If a song is dictating a string patch, the keyboardist is not going to look for another piano patch. He needs to find a great STRING patch.

This concept can be applied to our compressor application or to anything else in music production.
  • Is the drum groove just slightly off or is it the wrong groove altogether?
  • Does the guitarist need to try another pedal or try another amp?
  • Does the horn player need to practice his part for a minute or does he need to be replaced? (kindly and as graciously as possible)
  • Does the EQ needed used heavily or do you need to choose a new EQ?
  • Do you need a new Echo patch or should you be using a reverb?
  • Does the song need a new lyric or does the entire song need to be thrown out?
See what I mean?


Try these tips the next time you’re mixing. I promise you fewer headaches!! (but I’m not you so I take it back… I can’t promise you anything!)