Just another thought - live sound to me shouldn’t sound overly compressed like the “album”. Of course, I see your point in highly reverberant situations. Probably a compromise between the “album” sound and higher dynamics sound of live while maintaining intelligibility.
That live “punch in the face” sound while maintaining intelligibility is the goal!
When I mix sound live, I want it to sound better than the album so I use very little or no compression.
Very interesting to think about. Definitely will keep that in mind while mixing.
Certainly all true Dave . . . a wee bit goes a long way though. If you can hear it working, it’s too much.
Nicely put Dave.
One other aspect that we live mixers have is the elasticity of the medium (air) that plays a huge part. Because of the distances from our stage, arrays, etc, we get terrific compression and smoothing that the studio guys will never create electronically. Combine that with our addition of boundary reverb and we then create a sonic landscape that exceeds the limits of the recording studio.
Nice advice Dave. I will certainly put it into practice, I have 2 upcomming events in two quite reverberant venues. I firmly believe in compression, unless you have ideal, out-of-space, musicians and with 20+ years of FOH experience, each.
I work for a large church with a wide variety of age groups attending at the same time. Some people like loud rock music and some think organ and choir are the only way to go. Sadly mixing here is as much political as it is artistic.
I use compression in a variety of ways. On the band and vocals I try to maintain energy over time without crossing that threshold that gets the villagers after me with pick axes and hot tar. The downside is that it sounds louder than it really is which sometimes brings out the pick axes and tar anyway, but mostly it helps walk the line between too quiet and too loud.
I use it on my omni lav mics to control how loud people come out of the speakers. The theory is that if I can control how hard it hits the walls I can control how loud it is when it gets back into the mic. I do most of the compressing when someone gets excited and speaks out loud. As long as I don’t overdo it, it sounds natural enough and I can keep them out of feedback easier. I always follow up with a gentle expander set to compress only as much as the maximum compression used on the top side. This keeps the recording people happy because the sound doesn’t go away entirely when they stop talking.
I’ve been wondering about this myself while running FOH in a worship situation. I’m ready to introduce some compression on vocals for that occasional overzealous person who steps up to a mic. I plan on using it very conservatively, but it will keep my older folks from jumping out of their seats when a loud mic-swallowing person begins to speak. Thanks for the thoughts on compression.
I’ve been mixing live sound for almost 40 years and if I have compession available in the racks, I’m going to use it. Cuurently I’m mixing an eight piece band with eight vocal mics and three horns. I use compression on the vocals, horns and bass, with tube compressors on the lead vocals. The key, as with all of life, is moderation.
Good article, especially the part on creating an even level consistently above the room reverberation.
Just a note on using compression on speech mics, especially lavs or omni earset mics:
If you think about it, compression will reduce the gain of that microphone as the signal exceeds the threshold you have set. At the same time your feedback stability margin doesn’t change, so that you create a situation where the mics aren’t as loud as they would be uncompressed, but are just as prone to feedback.
The bottom line is that compression must be used very carefully on microphones that are used at levels just below feedback. Excessive gain reduction from compression can make those microphones unusable.
I generally use some kind of compression on every channel, with a lot of it being more of a limiter function. A few shows ago I toggled back and forth between compressing the whole mix with light compression (1.3 maybe, but a pretty low threshold) and decided against it as it had the tendency to keep the lead vocal from popping over the mix.
This weekend I’m going to try putting “the band” on a subgroup and do a mild compression but leave the lead vocal out of this subgroup. The idea is I’ll be able to actually reduce the lead vocal level a bit and still have it pop out more while keeping the band more level.
As a relatively young engineer I find it comforting to know I’m doing things the way more experienced guys are, as far as compression is concerned… Thanks for the reassurance Dave. See you all out there.
I agree compression can be a great tool I won’t leave home without it! But it must be used carefully. If you reduce your dynamic range while still running the same peak levels, the demands on the amplifiers and speakers in increased greatly. As is true in virtually every aspect of audio, you give up something to gain something.
I would have thought the same thing about compressing an omni mic but I found that it helps, not reduces my gain before feedback. I was in a fairly live room with three people on omnis all talking back and forth. Everything was fine at a regular conversation level until one guy yelled and we had feedback. I compressed all of them, with a very high ratio on the loud guy, and the problem went away. I’m not sure if my theory about reflected sound getting back to the mic is accurate or not, but the results were exactly what I was looking for. And bear in mind that I’m not compressing much for people speaking at normal levels in that situation, I’m setting a high ratio and a high threshold so they’re uncompressed at soft or even regular levels but controlled at higher levels.
I recently tried adding compression to live vocals at a venue, and found (after setting the ratio to 4:1, setting threshold for 8db of Gain Reduction, and then compensating with 8 db of makeup gain) that the microphone’s channel was producing a lot of excess noise (maybe self-noise being amplified)...
Is there a fix for this—am I compressing too much?