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How to Use a Mix Bus Compressor

How to Use a Mix Bus Compressor

Here's one of the most a common problem I've noticed in many songs when I'm doing coaching sessions or song reviews.

The issue? Turning on the bus compressor way too early in the mix, leading to a loss of dynamism and a collapsed mix.



In this video and article, I’ll guide you on how to avoid this pitfall and how to hear compression. While I'm using Reason in the video, this still applies no matter your DAW. 


The Bus Compressor: On or Off?


The master bus compressor in Reason is your friend, but only when used correctly. There's a big button that says 'On/Off' – for most of your recording and mixing process, you want to keep it OFF.

The reason?

Let’s delve into that.


Before we jump in, a quick heads up: I have a free Reason mixing template available for download. It’s packed with presets that'll speed up your process and enhance your sound quality.


The Problem with Early Compression


The main issue arises when you set your bus compressor too early. For instance, you might have your bass and drum line set and then apply compression. This seems fine until you start adding more instruments, and before you know it, you're over-compressing.

This excessive compression can trick your ear into thinking this flattened sound is how your song is supposed to sound, but in reality, it’s robbing your mix of its punch and groove. 


Ideal Compressor Settings



The key to a beautiful sounding mix lies in the right compressor settings on the mix bus.

Here are the keys:

  • Aim for subtle compression, usually around 1 to 3 dB.
  • Set your ratio at 4
  • Always use an attack setting of 30 milliseconds.
  • For release settings, stick between 0.1 and 3 milliseconds, depending on your taste.
  • Use the threshold knob for gain reduction and the makeup knob to compensate.

You'll find that most master bus compressors have settings that make this possible. This article includes my review of the best mix bus compressors.


The Issue with Wrong Settings


If you set your compressor with the wrong settings too early, you might end up thinking your song is bad. In reality, the problem is simply that you're compressing the life out of it. That's why you don't want to turn your compressor on too early. But even if your settings are right, too much compression too soon can end up hiding the problems with your mix. 


Listening to Compression


It’s important to understand what compression sounds like. Check out the video to hear what it sounds like when we crank up the compression in this video for demonstration (or better yet, experiment on your own). Pay attention to how different settings, like a 10:1 ratio or varying attack and release times, affect the sound. The goal is to maintain the punch and groove of your track without squashing it.


The Worst Setting


Please, don't ever use this setting on your master bus compressor: fast attack and slow release. You’ll notice how it completely kills the groove. The setting could be useful on other instruments, but it's a death sentence on the mix bus.




The takeaway here is simple: don't rush to turn on your compressor. Understand the settings and apply them thoughtfully. If you avoid early compression, your songs will maintain their dynamism and sound better throughout the mixing process.

Thanks for tuning in! Don’t forget to download the free Reason mixing template. Happy mixing!

From a Frustrated Producer in a Ragtag Bedroom Studio to Major Placements on TV Earning $1,000s!


My name is Evan, and I've been making music since around 3rd grade. I'm from San Diego, California, but I've lived in Washington, DC for the last 20 years.

After 3 grueling years of grad school, though I had put aside serious attempts at making music. I found myself spending my days doing work that was dreadfully uncreative, with a ton of student student loan debt.
Which made me feel like my favorite parts of myself were withering.
But I didn't know what to do about it.
Being in my early 30s with tons of student loan debt, in a world where there is "no money in music," I felt like my youthful dreams of trying to "make it big" were dead. Like my music would remain unheard in my head and hard drive. 
Frustrated by my inability to get my music heard, I started researching solutions.
Instead, I wanted to find a way where I could focus on making the music and let someone else deal with promoting it. 
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In addition to being a music producer, I am passionate about teaching people how they can make professional-sounding music and earn money licensing it, all in their spare time.

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