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The Changing Nature Of Compression

Why squashing the heck out of music with compression has become perfectly acceptable...

In the good old days of “making records” compression was mostly used as an envelope modification tool.

But around the beginning of “the great loudness wars,” some famous studio mixer dudes found they could get more work done in a shorter period of time by removing all the dynamics from the music, then equalizing it into place in the sonic arrangement.

Seeing as many of these dudes are charging several thousand dollars per song, and don’t really care how the final product hits the street as long as they can wail through a couple/three songs a day, it’s a great idea.

Unless you happen to like music.

Unfortunately, the actual product – a hyper-compressed, no-dynamics ball of ick – is now viewed as normal for the presentation of music. The real irony is that this all started with the advent of the compact disc, which was heralded as the Next Great Thing due to it’s extended dynamic range.

So here we are in 2008 with racks and racks of “studio quality” compressors traveling with so many live shows. Lately I’ve also been in clubs that had more Empirical Labs “distressors” than many studios.

The original problem with “live” compression was that it “sucked up” the stage sound between songs, which often caused feedback. But with the proliferation of “personal monitor” rigs, this is no longer the case. So squashing the heck out of the music has become perfectly acceptable.

Now, in addition to compressing the bass, in addition to compressing the drum sub, in addition to the studio trick of using parallel compression on the drum sub, in addition to compressing the vocals, the backing vocals and a maxi sub mix of all the vocals, I’ve seen more and more of the brothers compressing the “2 Mix” bus.

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