A lot of podcasters want to know how to get quieter parts of their audio to sound louder, and parts that are too loud to be lower in volume. When a sound producer is working on a piece of audio, he refers to this as “taming the dynamics.” If you’re just starting out editing audio, you may be going through your entire podcast trying to lower the loud parts one by one. If you’re tired of that tedious task and are ready to use a tool that can do this more accurately and best of all automatically, stay tuned!
What is Compression?
Compression is a audio processor that, for the purposes of this article, levels the sound of podcasts, closing the gap between the loudest parts of your audio and the quietest. In this article, we are going to look at the basic functions of audio compression, and how you can use it to level out the volume of your podcast.
How to Use a Compressor
Compressors run off of 4 main functions called the threshold, ratio, attack, and release. We will go through each one with a short explanation to get you up and running. While there are some basics to understand, how you use a compressor is up to you and best when used by ear.
Threshold- The Threshold is the setting that tells your compressor when to start working. Think of it like this. Your audio is like the grass on a lawn some blades of grass are taller than others, just as your audio has sounds that are louder than others. Using the grass analogy, we can say the threshold is a setting that tells our “lawnmower” what blades of grass are too tall and need to be cut and which are below the threshold and so need to be left alone. So, if the threshold is set to -20db, everything above -20db will be compressed or lowered in volume.
The Ratio- This is where we tell the compressor what to do about the audio that is above (or louder than) the threshold. The depending on what setting the ratio is set at will depend on what is done with the audio. A 2:1 ratio, for example, tells the compressor that if the audio louder than -20db, it will be reduced at a 2:1 ratio, meaning for every 2 db that go into the compressor the compressor will only send 1db out. In this example it essentially cuts the volume in half.
Attack and Release- Then there are the two final functions of the compressor which are the attack and release. The attack is how quickly the compressor will attack the audio after it senses it has exceeded the threshold. Usually this dial is in milliseconds. So if we have our attack set to a slow, or long setting, the compressor will be slow to catch the signal that is louder than our threshold. Lets say, your recording has a word that is much louder than the others. If your attack setting is slow, the compressor may not kick in the the beginning of this loud word, but rather half way in between, since it has been set to attack, or kick in, slowly. Release, on the other hand, is how quickly the compressor will release or let go of the audio and allow it to rise to its original, or uncompressed, volume. By using these two settings, you can, not only level your volume, but also change the character of your audio.
Opt: Makeup Gain- You may also run into a setting called the makeup gain. This is the adjustment that tells our audio where to place the volume after we have compressed it. If you apply a compressor to a piece of audio, you may find that it gets quieter, so the makeup gain can boost your newly compressed audio back up again.
How do I get a compressor?
There are two main ways for getting a compressors You can purchase a piece of hardware, or equipment to connect between your microphone and your computer/audio interface, or by using a software compressor (which you can download from the internet “Waves” makes great software compressors.). With both hardware and software compressors, the functions are generally similar.
While compression can do a lot to change your sound and level your podcast, a word to the wise. Go lite on the compression. It is a processing tool that is easy to overuse and will sound very noticeable and artificial if used too heavily. However, if used correctly, compression can be a great companion for making your podcast sound strong, loud, and clear. If you are looking to use tools for increasing volume or loudness of your podcast consider using compression.