compression is for kids

Well, at least that’s what engineering legend Bruce Swedien once said and so he did in his appearance in “Pensado’s Place”. That is Dave Pensado’s web-TV show – a sometimes entertaining while sometimes lengthy series of interviews with quite a bunch of names frome the recording pro scene. If one does not expect too much level of detail and information it could be some real fun to watch. One of the more interesting episodes is the one with Phil Tan and Charles Dye which are giving some more insights on their ITB productions:


  1. Don Wolfram says:

    It’s funny, I never use hardly any compression when mixing and some how, even though I think my mix sounds right, I feel guilty because every forum is littered with compression addicts who pretty much disown anything without it, but I am glad someone at the top has come and out said something like this.

  2. i too tend to leave tracks without compression, i know people that use compression on every track, even if doesnt need it …thx for posting these, great articles 😉 …cheers !

  3. with acoustic material is pretty common and useful. But yeah, many people compressing their kicks from their BIgga Nigga library which already come like a square waveform 🙂

  4. stargazer says:

    his rather plain statement might be a hint to work out the audio details much more during the recording itself and not the mixing process

  5. Indeed! On my very own I really do love compression as a transient treatment …

  6. Maxx Heth says:

    Well, props to Mr. Swedien! There are not many people of equal caliber who could readily challenge his opinion on the use of compression. I still prefer to use it when and where I find it appropriate to do so, but’s it’s mainly because I use it as an effect that I think (when properly applied, of course) will enhance the acoustic image and character of a particular instrument or sound. But I’ll never knock on someone’s choice to not use compression (just ask anyone who mixes classical or jazz), or any other effect in particular. I mean, if you can get it right via proper mic placement and mic choice with barely any mixing at all, then you’re way ahead of 90% of the people in this industry. (That is, unless you’re competing with dance music producers, in which case the only thing you’ll use a mic for is either sampling or tracking vocals..;))

  7. brok landers says:

    hmm.. i have mixed feelings about that interview. not that i don´t respect bruce, his great work speaks for himself (i mean it), but f.e. i´m not with him, generalizing compression is the demon. there´s a certain art to compression, and it´s, next to the fact that you want to make the signal steadier (the technical demands to make things fit in the mix), to be seen as a creative soundcreation during the process of mixing. i´ve recorded drums extremly often, so i´ve learned how to arrange the mic´s (which of bruce is right on, it´s the make or break, next to the fact that the sound comes out the fingers of the musician), but there´s a certain expression in sound coming from whatever compressors, which can add goods to the signal that you simply cannot achieve without compression. don´t get me wrong, abusing compression can´t do good at all, we all know that, but generalizing compression is the demon per se to me isn´t the way.
    an analogy: i drink a lot of tea. and while i like my tea mostly pure, there are certain cups where i jumped up to get me some sugar after nippin… and guess what (a very unpopular statement, here we go): it sometimes tasted way better than quite a few cup of teas that actually were pure and _very_ good. the only difference was (exept to the fact that it tasted better), that it tasted somewhat different. yet, i always first try the cup of tea, _then_ decide if it need sugar or not.
    and another unpopular statement (i know i get kicked for it):
    to me mixing isn´t about _preserving_ the recording and transporting it to the listeners ear the way it was recorded, but it´s to make it sound as perfect as possible to my ear and the ear of the artist who did the music. and if there´s 2million compressors involved, so be it. if that´s something that makes me and the artis go wow on, then that´s it.
    and yet another one:
    if the sound i want is coming from a 100$ behringer compressor, for god´s sake, so be it, too. i´m a gear whore, but i don´t divide in “established”, or “expensive” or “legendary status” or whatever, i divide in 2 categories:
    a) does it deliver the sound that i want
    b) does it not.
    that makes or breaks it. and even that can differ from task to task.

    so in the end, as brilliant bruce was and still is, i don´t agree with certain freeze-focussed views. music is too universal for such a narrow point of view.
    so my advice to the users/musicians/engineers out there is:
    don´t follow his (or mine or anyone´s) advice blindly. see it as a way of “i can try it out and see what this advices does for me”, but don´t let yourself be blinded by some mighty dinosaur-legend, just because he is one. use your ears, and moreover, learn to use your ears, and over the time passing you´ll find your own way, grasping and understanding things by identifying the useful from the not useful, while you do your stuff.

    just my 2 cheap cents.

    • Sven Bontinck says:

      I love your 2 cheap cents.

      If you listen to the things that Bruce has mixed, nobody will say that he doesn’t know what he is doing. His mixes are excellent, but dated and I’ll explain later on why.

      But… statements like : “compression is for kids” and the way he answered about “plugins” in a rather mocking way, seems a little bit insulting to everyone who is using these techniques.
      Regardless of his knowledge, oneliners and non-explained statements are useless. The whole interview with Bruce was at most entertaining, but not informative in any way.

      If he had expalined why he thinks that compression is for kids then we could have learned something, but it is clear that he doesn’t want to share any knowledge with anyone else.

      I can think of a few reasons why he said those words.

      – the use of compression is something that’s more complex and advanced than one might think. Maybe Bruce simply doesn’t understand what the possibilities and advantages are that compressors can provide for modern music standards.

      – Maybe he does his recordings and sets his levels so accurate that he can mix al the components of his music without getting overs. It is possible to do that. Listen to Michael Jackson’s album Thriller and you will hear indeed that everything is very crisp, clean and powerfull. However, when compairing the dynamic level to the modern standards, it’s clear that they are very different.
      His favorite subject, the transients, are all there, but the average level is way lower than what we are used to today. The only way to get these higher levels is by using compressors. Transients are transients because of the level difference with the sound that follows. The transients in Thriller are extremely loud and give the beats the power we all know now, but at the same time they do prevent the music to get the high average level of todays music.
      It’s a mathematical thing and there is nothing that can change that, beside the use of compressors.
      I use them mostly in two different ways. One, to tame a few excessive transients here and there, and two, to raise the level of the non-transient parts of my clips/tracks.

      Maybe one day Bruce will enlighten us about how he can get a decent mix that suits the modern dynamic levels we are used to, without the use of compressors. That day we will really learn something very cool. 😉


      • I don’t think Bruce doesn’t understand anything related recording, his mentor was Bill Putnam (pretty much the man who invented recording as we know it today), and if I remember correctly he was with Bill when he designed the 1176.
        Even though Thriller is great, it’s from 1982, you should listen to Dangerous and tell me if that doesn’t sound modern. Then, look at the year it was done. I also believe some of the tracks in Invincible were recorded and mixed by him, that one sound modern too, but I don’t like it too much.

        Besides all that, modern music standards tend to sound awful (powerful and exciting at first but that can turn to boring and lifeless), so whatever that trend is, I would try not to follow blindly =P .

        He says that about compressors because he believes they kill the emotion in music and that if you choose your microphones correctly (record good musicians), you shouldn’t have to use a lot of compression.
        In his new book he says he may use a little bit in bass and here and there only if it is necessary. He tries not to, that’s the trick.
        Finally, If you want to be enlightened by Bruce, I’d recommend you to get his books, very nice reads!!



        • Hi Ignacio,

          Thank you very much for the tip on the new book from Bruce. I’ll definitly look into that. I wrote that maybe he does not know (or knew?) enough what the benefits of compression could be, but I am (very) sure that he knows a hell of a lot about recording and mixing.

          You gave the perfect example why compression has it’s use. The bass in Dangerous is present and defined, but I always had the feeling that it was lacking in power, like the low end was a bit absent. I listened to the original CD again after many years on my Sennheiser HD595 on my E-MU 1616m and using a compressor on that bass could have done something that gave that song just a little bit more power and fullness in the low end to carry the rest of this indeed almost modern sounding mix.
          At the same time, the snare/clap combination does hurt my ears because the difference in level with the rest is so high. If you turn the level of that song to a decent level for the bass, the sharp and clean snare/claps are so loud that it is not healthy anymore, at least not for my ears because each clap does hurt a little bit.

          So in my opinion this song even has to much dynamic, which only shows Bruce his skills in recording and mixing. But using a compressor to lower that dynamic range 3 to 5 dB maximum, could have eased the listening experience a little bit for people with sensitive ears.
          But I have to admit that i have very sensitive ears from since I was a kid.

          It was just not nice to say something like “Compression is for kids.” because there are uncountable top producers and professional engineers around the world that use (subtle or less subtle) compression with great skills and to the benefit of thousands of songs since many years. And as you wrote, now even he is using it careful. That was my main point. In the past I watched many “Into the lair’s” with Dave Pensado. Those are very informative video’s to watch and in many of them he is talking to some top engineers. It is amazing what the right dose of compression from the right guys can do to songs, even if it is only about a few dB.

          Of course there are also countless modern songs that are mixed and compressed to death, some extreme examples almost to the edge of becoming frequency modulation instead of dynamic music, but that is another debate. 😉


  8. With due respect for Bruce genius I agree the statement above: “… don´t let yourself be blinded by some mighty dinosaur-legend” absolutely. I try to trust my ears and If I use a compressor for my snare or vocal – they get just more presence and will sound better in the mix.
    Another useful thing is its coloring function: using it I get a silky solo wind instrument …
    As association an example comes in my mind: a discussion of two professors – both generally accepted experts at the Acedemy of Science. One of them tells his collegue: “Sir, your opinion is errorneous and quite unacceptable for me …”

  9. I believe he meant using compression WHILE TRACKING ,not mixing… 🙂

  10. brok landers says:

    funny how the respective video isn´t availlable anymore – i just wanted to check if you maybe were right… 🙂


  1. […] the more prominent examples like Charles Dye or Phil Tan, gearslut and down under producer Dax Liniere gives some great insights into his latest production […]

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