Compression is a key to controlling the Dynamics of your track.  In this article I will be going over the basics of Compression, other resources, and share a collection of Compression Presets I use in production. This will include Parallel compressions, Drum Compressors, and Side Chain Compression Presets.

Wikipedia explains compression as:

Dynamic range compression or simply compression reduces the volume of loud sounds or amplifies quiet sounds by narrowing or “compressing” an audio signal’s dynamic range. Compression is commonly used in sound recording and reproduction and broadcasting and on instrument amplifiers. Audio compression reduces loud sounds over a certain threshold while quiet sounds remain unaffected. The dedicated electronic hardware unit or audio software used to apply compression is called a compressor. Compressors often have attack and release controls that vary the rate at which compression is applied and smooth the effect.

Compression is a tool that lets us tighten the gap between the loudest and quietest parts of an audio signal. Most compressors have pretty much have these same basic controls:

Ableton Live compressor Explained

1. Threshold sets the level when the compression starts. If the peak of the sound is under the threshold, then nothing happens to it. If it is above the threshold amount it then becomes compressed.

2. Ratio sets the degree of compression above the threshold level. A ratio of 2:1 represents mild compression and means that when the incoming level (that is, the level above the threshold) rises by 10dB, the outgoing level will only rise by 5dB.  The different ratios let you decide how obvious, and how much the compression is happening to the signal.

3. Attack is measured in milliseconds and sets the time taken for the compressor to start working once the signal has passed the threshold.  For drum parts like snares and hi hats you will want some attack to come through. Other things like Sidechain compression you might want a slow attack to give it a pumping sound.

4. Release sets the length of time it takes for the compressor to return to its normal state once the signal has gone back below the threshold.

5. Gain lets you raise or lower the final output sound. Sometimes in compressing you make the sound much louder and it will clip. You can turn down the signal with the Gain Knob.

compressor Gain Knob Ableton Live

There are many different ways in how you can use these settings to take control of your dynamic range of your sounds. Here are a few of those techniques below.  At the end of the article there will be a free download for Ableton Live Presets to show of these techniques.

Instrument and Drum Treatment:

Compressors can be used to tighten the range of an instrument or drum.  By using the right settings you can make the sound more full and bring out details that might have been lost otherwise. It’s important to not over compress every element in a track, but it is useful to bring certain elements to the forefront.

Example Preset: (aq) Gental Drum Glue and (aq) Vocal Compressor

Sidechain Compression:

Sidechain compressor uses another signal other than the main input to control the amount of compression.  This way you can map a Kick to some other element, lets say a pad, and when the kick element is happening it will compress the pad.

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Example Preset: (aq) Ultra Sideshain Compressor

Parallel Compression:

Parallel compression is a compression technique that is a form of upward compression.  You do this by mixing a ‘dry’ signal with a heavily compressed version of the same signal. This helps to reduce the dynamic range by bringing up the softest sounds and adding audible detail.

Example Preset: (aq) Parallel Compression Rack and (aq) Parallel Compression Glue

Here is a free download of 6 compressor presets.  They show of these techniques and can be really helpful in your music production and mixing.

Download the Compression Presets


These Compressor presets are only a fraction of the tools you will find in the Mixdown Toolkit.  If you are looking to level up your mix, tighten your low end, or get all your elements, glued together, then the Mixdown Toolkit will give you the tools you need in Ableton Live.

Mid Side Mixing Ableton Pack

Other reading on Compression and techniques:

Jake from Warp Academy walks through Lives compressor.

Tarekith on the basics of Dynamics

I am always looking to hear from the readers of this blog. If you have a technique, a preset to share, or an example of how you used it in your track then comment below.