Why Instrument-Specific Compression Matters

Compression is a key technique used by many mixers and engineers in modern music production. It affords us the ability to make each instrument ring out loud and clear in a mix and seats each track perfectly alongside the next.

And while over-compression is a very real threat to the dynamics of your mix that will leave you with something dull and flattened, using the wrong compressor to accomplish your goals can be just as damaging.

Today, I want to look at the benefits of using instrument-specific compressors: compressors designed to get you the best possible results for various types of instruments and why they’re a better option than your stock compressor plugin.

By the time we’re done, you’ll be able to get quick, controlled mixes with exactly the right amount of dynamic range.

Common Instrument Groupings

One of the biggest benefits of digital recording is our ability to record multi-tracks of just about any instrument we can dream of. Assuming you’ve got the inputs and microphones, any modern DAW will allow you to track dozens of tracks at a time, meaning more complex drum setups. Layered guitars and vocals are also extremely common, with more takes adding up to bigger, fuller mixes.

But with so much more going on, we need a way to keep these tracks organized. We need to group them in a way that isn’t just visually appealing, but allows us to treat them collectively as well. 

For the most part, mixers are using aux tracks to group their instruments together and that’s where they’re applying the majority of their compression. While individual tracks can have their transients tamed with a compressor, the real glue that holds everything together lies on the grouped track – and every instrument has a different agenda.

Your drums need a compressor that can handle quick, percussive hits and big open rooms. Your guitars need something to squeeze every ounce of tone into a massive wall of sound. Your vocals need something that keeps them all sounding like they’re in the same space sonically.

With so many different objectives, you could dial in a stock compressor for each situation, or you could use instrument-specific compressors like Patrick Esper does in the example below:

Often, it’s not until you can see and hear these compressors side by side that you realize how much they can vary. While the basic concepts of compression remain the same, the way an instrument-specific compressor works is hyper-focused on the most common issues plaguing a particular instrument.

Drum Bus Compression

We’ve talked about treating your drums as a single instrument in the past, but without some level of bus compression, that becomes really difficult to do. Compression pulls together the most dynamic elements of your mix, making them gel together in a way that helps mixers shape their best results with ease.

It’s for this exact reason your drums will benefit most from instrument-specific compression. Drums are inherently more dynamic than most other instruments and their percussive nature often calls for faster attacks and smoother release times.

With a compressor like BG-Drums, you’re able to get just that from the moment the compressor is loaded onto your track. No menu diving for presets or tweaking it just to get a good starting point – an instrument-specific compressor should give you a usable result from the minute you load it up.

What Else Goes Into Your Signal Chain?

If you’re interested in learning more about ways to improve your bus processing beyond compression, look no further than our Virtual Signal Chain Secrets eBook. This incredible resource offers a behind-the-scenes look at how pros are using compression inline with other dynamic processors and time-based effects. 

See how they’re able to create consistently massive mixes every time.