Release me. Next, slow the release time. Now you start to perceive how attack and release settings alter the groove. Sadly, there’s no magic formula, such as making the release coincide with the upbeat. It’s a feel thing—just slide the control around till you find yourself nodding your head in time. Clip 5 (Image 3) is still morbidly over-compressed, but it has a subtle loping feel that supports the slow quarter-note groove. (A/B it with Clip 3, which now sounds lifeless in comparison.)
Now that the rhythm feels better, try lowering the ratio. Ideally, you’ll still feel the groove, but in a more natural way. In Clip 6 (Image 4) I’ve dialed the ratio back to 4:1, and I still perceive the head-nod impulse. There’s a dance to it.
Finally, raise the threshold (or, as on my 1176, lower the input control and then adjust the output to suit the mix). How far back can you dial the effect and still feel its benefits? In Clip 7 (Image 5) I’ve pulled it way back—the gain reduction meter, formerly pinned to the left, bounces merrily, with maximum reduction of about -5 dB.
After the extremes of the previous examples, you might wonder whether the compressor is having much effect. Hell yeah—just compare it to unprocessed Clip 2! In fact, it might still be too extreme, though it’s probably close enough to move on to other mix details before returning to fine-tune.
Now listen to the entire rough mix with this setting (Clip 8).
Finally, compare the result to raw Clip 1. All these settings are matters of taste, but to my ear, the final clip grooves better. The guitar competes less with the rhythm section, and the part feels less obviously overdubbed.
There are other compression terms and techniques to cover, such as knee settings, side chaining, parallel compression, bus compression, and the distortion/coloration unique to analog compressors, which digital clones mimic with ever-increasing realism. We’ll cover those topics in future columns. But for now I recommend focusing on the four essentials: threshold, ratio, attack, and release. Once you learn those moves, the remaining dance steps are easy.