In audio mixing we rely on a number of tools both physical and digital to help us carry out our work properly.
Compression is one of those tools. It is mostly in digital form nowadays because most DAWs come with such effects..
The role of Compression in audio is to fix dynamic range which is a fancy word for volume.
Compression allows us to have a uniform volume level through out our vocals or instruments which makes the mix better and a pleasure to listen to.
People make a lot of mistakes in mixing and this post will discuss how to fix one of these mistakes. which is over Compression
With that said, How do I fix an over compressed sound?
Decompressing a sound that’s already compressed is not something easy and won’t work to a 100%.
Which is why the first thing I advise you to do is to just consider re-recording.
If you have access to the original uncompressed sound then you just might want to start afresh and do your best to get the compression right the second time.
As you know it, compression can be an effective tool but it can also be quite destructive if over used without proper planning and assessment.
Therefore, re-record over compressed vocals and start afresh. I know it’s not what you want to hear but this is the best and safest way of dealing with over Compression.
Use Volume automation
Your next option is to use volume automation to try and retain some of that naturalness to the over compressed sound.
This is a lot of work and takes some skill to do. As far as volume automation goes, it can only help you boost some quieter parts as well as tone down the loud parts.
If the over Compression has distorted the sound, volume automation is probably not the best way to go.
But it can be helpful if you can pay attention and listen to the over compressed sound and decide what needs more volume and what needs less volume.
Use an expander
You obviously know that compressors compress and limiters limit the dynamic range, however, an expander, expands it.
Louder and quieter parts basically become relatively louder and quieter accordingly.
It basically does the opposite of what a compressor does.
Upward expanders amplify the level of signal that passes the threshold, rather than attenuate or reduce it like a downward compressor.
A downward expander attenuates or reduces the signal that drops below the threshold, rather than amplify it like an upward compressor.
Overcompression can, in some cases, be partially controlled through expansion. However, its not a sure-fire way and its not guaranteed to make your recording sound better in the end.
But it’s worth a shot.
Use a Declipper
Another helpful tool that you can use to fix an over compressed sound is a Declipper.
A declipper in itself is able to detect and repair over saturated signals.
This can be useful in repairing added harmonics that are usually a result of over compression.
Like any other method I’ve mentioned here, a declipper won’t work perfectly but it can help you alleviate some of the bad effects of over compression.
Another tool that you can use to try to get a good fix on an over compressed sound or signal is multi band compression.
Multiband compressors basically split the frequency spectrum into separate bands.
Each frequency band also has its own dedicated compression settings.
You can therefore apply different amounts of compression to the separate frequency ranges of the over compressed vocal.
Multiband compressors also act as an EQ so you can tweak various parameters until you find what makes the audio sound better.
But even this won’t solve the over compression to a 100%.
How to avoid over Compression
Lets look at how you can avoid over Compression.
1. Know what Compression does
You need to understand first and foremost what a compressor does before you even begin to use it because this will save you the headache of having to re-record a vocal because you messed up the compression.
Understand what each parameter does on a compressor and know how to use it.
2. Attack and Release
Attack and Release on a compressor are two important parameters that you should pay close attention to because they do the opposite of each other.
Attack is how quickly your compressor compresses a signal when it passes the threshold and Release is how quickly your compressor let’s go of the signal.
You need a good trade off between these two parameters so you maintain a natural balance between attenuation and natural dynamics.
If these two parameters are not well coordinated you could easily end up with clashes between them which is something you want to avoid because it could create some level of distortion.
3. Good threshold
The threshold is a parameter that sets a level that when the signal exceeds becomes attenuated.
You need to set a good threshold depending on the Vocal or sound you’re working with.
Having the wrong settings for threshold could easily have compression work against you.
Which is why it’s important to pay attention to your signal as you adjust the threshold until you find a good level.
4. Set the right ratio
Using the right ration is also a must. You don’t want to push your ratio to high because you’ll end up with a limiter instead of a compressor.
Therefore its best to keep your ratio low and not too high.
5. Be an active listener
Most people make the mistake of simply applying an effect and hoping for the best without paying enough attention to the audio itself.
You need to become an active listener if you want to become a better engineer.
Listen to your tracks thoroughly and decide how to use your compressor. This will likely allow you to get good dynamic range without completely destroying the audio.