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Compression 101 for Sound Designers: How to Control Dynamic Range in Live Performances

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Compression is another important tool for sound designers and engineers working in live performance. It allows you to control the dynamic range of a sound, reducing the difference between the loudest and quietest parts of the signal. This can be especially useful in live performance situations where the volume of the actors' voices may vary significantly from one moment to the next.


There are several ways to use compression in a live performance setting. One common use is to even out the volume of the actors' voices so that they are all roughly the same volume, making it easier to mix and balance the sound. This can be particularly useful when working with lavalier microphones that may not have the best dynamic range.

Another use of compression is to add punch and clarity to the sound. By compressing the signal, you can bring out the attack of a sound, making it more defined and punchy. This can be especially useful for instruments like drums or guitar, where a crisp attack is important for defining the sound.


When setting up compression in a live performance setting, it's important to pay attention to the threshold, ratio, attack, and release settings. The threshold determines the level at which the compressor starts to take effect, the ratio determines how much the signal is compressed, the attack determines how quickly the compressor responds to the signal, and the release determines how quickly the compressor releases the signal once it falls below the threshold. By adjusting these settings, you can fine-tune the compression to achieve the desired effect.


A good compression threshold for live microphones in a live performance setting is typically around -20 dB, although this may vary depending on the specific needs of the performance. A ratio of 3:1 is a good starting point, as it allows for a moderate amount of gain reduction while still maintaining control over the levels with the input faders. A medium attack time and a fairly quick release time can help to smooth out the dynamics of the vocal performance without introducing any unwanted artifacts. A release time of around 50-100 ms is a good place to start, although this may vary depending on the specific needs of the performance and the sound being compressed.


Overall, compression is a powerful tool that allows you to control the dynamic range of a sound in a live performance setting. By understanding how to use compression effectively, you'll be able to craft a more polished and professional sound for your live performances.

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