Multiband Confusion

There’s one sure-fire way to kill the energy in a mix, and that’s through over-compression. Used tastefully, however, compression can make your mix sound more authentic, and have more punch to it. Where a lot of people get lost is by throwing multiband compressors on every track because they don’t know what they’re end goal is, and this destroys any kind of subtle emotion from volume changes. In this post, I’m going to be covering when you should actually be using a multiband compressor.

1. De-Essing- A standard vocal processing chain will almost always include a de-esser, which is simply high-end compression on the vocals. Think 4.5khz and up. What this does is makes sure those “S” sounds and harsh “T” sounds don’t slice through the top end of the mix. By using a high-shelf band from 5khz and compressing 3-6db, you can eliminate the harshness of these unpleasant sounds by blending the volume between the high mids and the highs. This is multiband compression, because you’re not compressing the entire signal, but rather the designated band. If you start “lisping” the vocalist, or making your “S” sounds come out like “Th” sounds, you’ve gone too far.

2. Melodies- Maybe you have a bell melody that, for some reason, at certain parts of the phrase, there’s one note that just really sticks out, but when you EQ it, it just doesn’t sound right. This is probably a good opportunity to snipe out that offending frequency with a multiband compressor. I love using the Pro MB from FabFilter, because it has a great visualizer, but also allows for some great customization, including sidechaining, expansion, and oversampling. I love using the solo-band feature to find exactly where the offending frequency is, and see if a medium attack, slow release compression gets rid of my problem. When that doesn’t work, often times I will actually flip on the expand mode. By pulling down the gain of the band and setting the threshold of the expander to pop up close to near my original sound peaked, you can make sure the only frequencies that cut through are the loudest, clearest ones. If this doesn’t allow for the control you want, it’s possible that there is too much compression, saturation, or reverb earlier on in the mix.

3. Bass thickness- One quick way to get your bass to have the sub thickness you want is to use a multiband compressor! Set up a low shelf from about 40hz and lower, and boost the gain 3-6db. If you hear crackling or distortion, you’ve gone too far. Then, use a compressor with medium attack, medium release and set the threshold such that you get about 3-6db of compression. What this does is bring the overall volume of the sub up, but will avoid clipping by diminishing the volume on the attacks. I like a slow attack to keep the transients, and I try not to overdo it. It’s a powerful trick, be warned!

4. Vocals- Most vocal EQs will have a low-mid bell cut of about 2-4db around 400-500hz. Sometimes, after you’re done with parallel compression and effects, the low-mids can come out bulky and boxy. I have found that a narrow band around 400-500hz will act as a guard so that this area of the vocals doesn’t get too aggressive. Even BETTER than a multiband compressor, though, is a DYNAMIC EQ. Very transparent sounding (especially if you’ve got the Ozone Dynamic EQ), and I think comes out better than a compressor, because it’s not bringing up low-volume sounds. What you don’t want to be doing is pulling up a multiband compressor preset and slapping it on your vocals. In fact, when I mix vocals, I almost NEVER USE MULTIBAND COMPRESSION (other than as a de-esser). I much prefer to use a combination of a CLA 2A, CLA 1176, and Vocal Rider (minimally used) to attain a nice solid volume foundation for the vocals.

5. Mastering- Most multiband limiters have a built in compression system to them. As you may already know, multiband limiters are in fact multiband compressors, because they attenuate the volume as would-be clips come through the plugin, allowing the lowest in volume parts of the mix to become louder, and the loudest parts of the mix become compressed in a hopefully transparent way.

6. The exceptions- If you’re trying to get a sound, perhaps an aggressive synth, to sound as loud and as nasty as possible, by all means, make a 10-band compressor and slam the hell out of it to attain maximum loudness. I would only recommend this for hard dance music, EDM, aggressive trap, or techno. If you’re trying to make a robot sound, by all means, saturate, high-pass, and multiband compress. All I ask is that you keep in mind the end goal. When you mix, before you turn any knobs or load up any plugin, ask yourself: “What should this sound like when I’m done?” Question every move you make like you have someone creeping over your shoulder. Validate every decision to yourself. Work with reason and purpose, and you’ll find your mixes improving drastically.

Thanks for checking out my blog, this post arose out of a discussion with a friend (@christlifeproductions) on Instagram who was asking about multiband compressors but wasn’t sure the most effective way to use them. In one word: sparingly.

Check out my Instagram for more tips, tricks, content I’m currently working on, and videos of me screaming nonsense at the camera. Follow me on Twitter because… I don’t know, I have one, and I Tweet stuff from the treadmill at the gym. Get at me @ mastrprod