Skip to content

Multiband Compression: How To Use It Like A Pro (Now!)

Ready to dive deeper? Click here to download your
FREE Multiband Compression Cheatsheet
Wondering how you can use multiband compression like a pro? Keep watching to find out.

Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and in this video you’re gonna learn everything you need to know about multiband compression. I’ll also jump into my DAW and show you exactly how to use it to add clarity and presence to your vocals.

But before we dive in, I also put together a free cheatsheet with some extra tips and tricks that I won’t have time to cover in this video. So if you wanna dive deeper and learn how to use multiband compression to make your mixes sound professional, click the link in the description below or up there in the video to download this free cheatsheet right now.

So, first of all, what is multiband compression?

Well, let’s think about normal, regular single-band compression first. So single-band compression is the type of compression you’d get if you’d use any normal compressor. And the way this works is, it’s almost like an automatic volume knob. So, the compressor basically looks at the level, or the volume of the track, and says whenever that level exceeds a certain threshold we’re gonna turn down the track by a certain amount. So, basically, the compressor is automatically riding the volume of a track over the course of the performance.

Now, on a regular, single-band compressor like this, the entire track is turned down by whatever amount the compressor is turning it down by. So the low end is turned down by the same amount. The high end is turned down by the same amount. The midrange. Everything is turned down equally. So it’s almost like if you grabbed the fader on that track in your mix and just turned it down using your mouse or control surface.

Now, multiband compression works similarly, right, but the difference is that instead of just having the entire signal get turned down, now, we have multiple different compressors that are strung together that only work on a specific part of the frequency spectrum. So we can have a compressor that just turns down the low end of a track when it gets too loud, and then we can have another compressor that just turns down the high end when it gets too loud. And so, these are strung together in one plugin, and we have control over each individual area of the frequency spectrum separately.

So when is multiband compression useful?

Well, let’s take a look at a very specific scenario. So, let’s say you’re recording a vocalist, and the vocalist doesn’t really have great mic technique. So, in certain words, maybe he’s moving very close to the mic, so the performance sounds kinda boomy and muddy, and then, on other phrases or words in the performance, he’s backing up and so, maybe the vocal sounds a little bit thin. And so when you listen to this track and play it back in your DAW, you find that there are certain spots in the performance where there’s excess low end, but other spots where the performance sounds fine, or maybe it sounds even a little bit thin, right?

So, how do you address this problem, right? You have this track that’s tonally inconsistent. It changes. The tone changes throughout the course of the performance. Well, you could add an EQ to this track, right, and you could say, “Okay, I’m just gonna cut low end.” Well, the downside to that is that you’re gonna make the problem better in the spots where the low end was too aggressive, but in the other spots where the low end was fine, or maybe the track even sounded thin, you’re gonna make the problem worse. So, suddenly, you’re gonna end up with a vocal that sounds maybe good in certain spots, but sounds worse in other spots.

Now, a better solution to this problem is to grab a multiband compressor and set it up so that the multiband compressor is basically just looking at the low end of the track, and just turning down that low end when the boominess or muddiness comes out in the track. So, whenever that vocalist steps into the mic and gets really close to the mic and we hear that excess low end and suddenly things sound muddy, the multiband compressor’s just gonna turn down that area of the low end, but then, when the vocalist steps back and suddenly it sounds balanced and fine again, the multiband compressor is not gonna be compressing. It’s gonna get out of the way, and so, it’s almost like a automatic EQ that just pulls out that low end when it’s problematic, but leaves it in when it’s not a problem. And so the result is we have a track that’s much more tonally consistent.

So, before I jump into my DAW and show you exactly how to pull this off, I wanna talk about two very specific things you should avoid when using multiband compression.

The first is you wanna avoid putting it on everything. So, there’s so much hype around multiband compression, and people talk about it like it’s this magic, amazing tool that’s gonna make your mixes sound incredible and just take a crappy mix and make it sound great, and, I think, in general, it gets overused. So, people like to just throw it on everything, but you really wanna be careful with this approach. Now, there are some mixers that prefer using multiband compression more than others. I fall in the camp where it’s a very specific tool for me. So, I use it really as a problem solving tool to address tracks like I described earlier that are tonally inconsistent, but I’m not gonna use it on a track if I’m not hearing those tonal inconsistencies. So, if the track sounds like it’s fairly tonally even throughout the entire performance, then I don’t really need to use a multiband compressor.

So, I would say avoid putting it on everything, and make sure that you really have a reason and an intention behind using that multiband compressor, because there are a lot of downsides to using multiband compression. Specifically with some plugins, you can get phase problems, and it’s just a very aggressive and sometimes unnatural-sounding tool. So you really wanna be careful about how you use it, and I think if you use it as a problem solving tool to fix those tracks that are tonally inconsistent and really just use it to address that specific problem, I think that’s the best approach for using multiband compression.

The second thing you wanna avoid is using it on the mix bus. Now, some people will disagree with me, but I find that multiband compression on the mix bus is usually added when there are fundamental problems with the mix itself. And so rather than going back to the mix itself and doing the hard work of actually fixing those problems, people just slap a multiband compressor across the mix and call it a day. In general, you want to try to fix problems on the individual tracks themselves. So if you’re hearing that there’s a problem in the low end that maybe comes and goes, that’s a good indication that there’s some problem within the ground floor of your mix, so the actual individual tracks, that you need to go back and address.

Now, one of the misconceptions about multiband compression on the mix bus came from the fact that a lot of mastering engineers like to use it across entire mixes. I think there’s a little bit of a misconception here, because when you’re a mastering engineer and you’re using multiband compression, a lot of the times you’re trying to fix something because you don’t have control over the actual mix. So you’re just getting a two-track stereo file. So your hands are kinda tied. But if you’re the mix engineer and you have access to the original mix itself, there’s really no reason for you to use a multiband compressor across the mix when you can just go back to the original tracks and solve the problem. So I would say avoid using it on the mix bus. If you’re a mastering engineer, maybe, if your hands are tied and you don’t have access to the original mix. But just be very careful, because a lot of the times, again, going back to these problems with multiband compression, you can sometimes make your mix sound worse, and you don’t even know it half the time, because some of those problems can be a little bit hard to hear, and once you throw a plugin on, it’s easy to just look forward and not actually bypass it and hear that, wow, my mix actually sounds better without this.

So, next, I wanna jump into my DAW and show you exactly how I add clarity and presence to a vocal using multiband compression.

Okay, so I have a vocal here from a song called “Heroes of Hope” by Clean Green Music Machine, and I wanna show you how to use multiband compression to even out some of the tonal inconsistencies in a vocal and just give it an overall more polished sound. So let’s take a listen to this vocal first dry, so this is without any multiband compression.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us to keep it level spinning ♪

So the vocal sounds great; the performance is good, but I want you to notice that on the lower notes of her performance it sounds like there’s a little bit of a bass build-up. Now, this could be caused for a number of reasons. It could be she was moving into the mic while she was singing, or maybe there’s just a resonance in the room on a certain note, but it sounds like there’s, again, a bass build-up on the low notes in her performance. So let’s take a listen again and try to pick out that kind of thickness, or warmth, or kind of muddiness on the low notes in her performance.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

So, you can hear it right here on these low notes on, ♪ Duh na na na na na ♪ On that low note the ♪ Duh na ♪ Those two notes there, take a listen again.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

So you can see when she hops up in her kind of upper range it loses that warmth and that body, but when she’s low down it almost sounds like it’s a little bit too much. So I’m gonna see if I can use multiband compression to even out that tonal inconsistency and give us just a smoother, more consistent tonality throughout the performance.

So I’m gonna use FabFilter’s Pro-MB, which is one of my favorite multiband compressors. It’s just a great tool, and, basically, what I’m gonna do is set this multiband compressor up so that when that low end just sticks out, when it becomes a little bit too prominent, the compressor is just gonna turn down that area, but then, when the vocalist jumps up into her upper range and we don’t hear that excess low end, the compression is gonna get outta the way. So we’re not gonna be compressing the vocal when it doesn’t need to be compressed, and so the idea is that we’re just turning down the low end when it becomes problematic, but we’re getting out of the way when it sounds fine, and that way we can even out the tonality of this performance.

So, let’s take a listen first. Now, the first thing I’m gonna do here is try to find the spot in the vocal on the frequency spectrum where that low end is sticking out. Now, I noticed in this performance it was really just on that one note, that ♪ Duh na na na na na ♪ That low note. So I’m gonna try to find the spot where that note corresponds to a specific frequency.

Now, this multiband compressor has a spectrum analyzer built in, and it makes it really easy to find the perfect spot for this band, because, in a second, you’ll see, we’ll play this and you can actually see the notes of the performance on this spectrum analyzer. So, let’s take a look.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

So watch again, and I want you to notice there’s a bump right around, let’s say 250 or so. Take a listen.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are ♪

So, right there, you see.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are ♪

So that area corresponds to the specific note in this performance. So I know that because that’s the note that’s sticking out to me, that’s gonna be the area that we’re gonna wanna zero in on our multiband compression.

So I’m gonna add a new band here, and in the Pro-MB you just do that by clicking on this area. Now, if you’re using another multiband compressor, like Waves has the C4, you may have to move the bands around, because that has a fixed number of bands, but this will allow you to create bands anywhere which is really cool.

So, the first thing I’m gonna do is just play this again, and try to zero in on the spot where this area is really aggressive, and so I’m gonna use this band solo feature. So, now, we’re just listening to this specific area of the frequency spectrum, and the goal is, I wanna set up this band so that it contains as much of the problem as possible without hearing any of the good stuff on the left and the right of the problem. So I don’t wanna start to affect or change things that sound good. I just wanna kinda zero in on the problem. So we wanna set the band narrow enough where we’re not really affecting the good sounding stuff on the left and the right, but wide enough where we’re getting the entire problem contained within this band. So I’m gonna solo this here. I have this band solo feature on. So we’re just listening to what’s going on between this band, and, then, I’m gonna play the track and just try to adjust the width of the band, and the specific location of the band that we can try to find the place where it really sounds its worst, but we’re not getting any of that good stuff on the side of the band. So, let’s take a listen.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower ♪

So, you can see here, one of the first things I’m noticing, lemme just turn this up a little bit so you can hear it a little bit more clearly. Now, one of the first things I noticed when I played that, is you hear a lot of that good information on the left and the right side. So, I hear parts of the vocal that sound good to me, and that’s telling me that this band is too wide. So we’re getting too much of the information on the left and the right that we’re not gonna wanna get rid of. So, the first thing I’m gonna do, is just narrow this band, and I’m gonna do that while the track’s playing until I hear the problem, but not so much of the good stuff on the left and the right.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us to keep it level spinning ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

So it’s tricky, because even on this specific multiband compressor, the narrowest I can go is right about here, and I’m still hearing some of the good stuff on the left and the right, but, unfortunately, I can’t go any narrower. So, we’re gonna have to work with this, but, again, the goal here is to contain all of the problem within the band, but not to hear the good stuff on the left and the right of the band, because we don’t want to be compressing that stuff that already sounds fine to begin with.

So I’m gonna un-solo this now and turn down this track again, and, now, what I’m going to do is adjust the threshold so that I can see the compressor start to pull down the signal when that area of the frequency spectrum gets too loud. So right on those notes of the performance where we’re hearing that area jump out, I wanna see that the compressor’s starting to turn down the signal right in this area. So I’m gonna adjust this threshold while the track is playing, and see if I can get that to kind of bounce and turn down when it becomes problematic.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

So that’s starting to look good for me. You can see that when those low notes hit, the compressor is turning down that area of the frequency spectrum, but then, when she starts to jump up into her higher range, it gets outta the way, and we don’t see that compression anymore. So, if this threshold is too low…

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

You can see it’s compressing everything, right? And it’s compressing even the stuff that we don’t wan it to compress. So, even when that vocalist jumps up into a higher register, we’re still seeing compression. So that’s not what we want, right? We just want the multiband compressor to be reacting when there’s a problem to be taken out, and we want it to get outta the way and not compress at all when there isn’t any problem.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs ♪

So that’s starting to look good to me. Now, the next thing I’m gonna adjust is this range control. Now, this is a little bit different than a standard compressor, and the range control basically determines how much maximum compression there’s gonna be. So this is set to 6 dB, which means this is never gonna get pulled down by more than 6 dB. But I can already hear, by listening, it’s not really doing enough for me. So I’m gonna turn this down to, let’s say, -12, and I’m gonna keep turning this down, and the goal is I want this to react a little bit more aggressively. So I want it to be pulling things down a little bit more so we can really get rid of that excess low end a little bit more aggressively.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us to keep it level spinning ♪

♪ We’re wise and we’re ♪

So, even though the range is turned down now to around -20, I’m still not really feeling like this compression is aggressive enough. So I’m not feeling like it’s taking out enough of the problem, and, so, the next place I’m gonna go, is this ratio control, and this basically controls how aggressive the compression is. So by turning up the ratio control, we’re setting this compressor up so it’s a little bit more aggressive, and it’s just gonna crank things down a little bit more. So it’s gonna give us a little bit more action when we need that area pulled out.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us to keep it level spinning ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us to keep it level ♪

So I’m gonna crank this range all the way down.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us ♪

So I’m still feeling like this compression is not quite doing what I want, and what I’m finding is that I can’t get enough compression going on to really take that problem out without turning this threshold down to a point where suddenly it starts reacting on all of the words, or all of the phrases in the performance. So, the next place I’m gonna go is this knee control, and, right now, this is set to 24, which is what’s known as a soft knee, and that basically sets this multiband compressor up so it actually starts compressing before the signal hits the threshold. So it’s a little bit of a gentler, softer form of compression. It tends to sound a little bit more natural, but the downside is that, for a very specific problem like this, where we only really want the compressor to be working in certain spots, it can set this compressor up so it really starts to react to more words and phrases than we want it to. So I’m gonna crank this down a little bit to a harder knee, and that’s gonna basically set this compressor to be a little bit more either like it’s on or it’s off, right? So when we go above the threshold then it’s gonna start working, but when the signal is below the threshold it’s not gonna be doing as much. So let’s take a listen again, and I’m gonna adjust this knee and threshold to try to find a spot where the compression is really just taking out those parts where it’s a little bit too aggressive, but then getting outta the way when the vocal doesn’t have that problematic spot.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us to keep it level spinning ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us to keep it level spinning ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us to ♪

Okay, so I think that’s a good compromise. I’m still seeing that the compression is working a little bit harder than I want it to in the spots when I don’t really feel like there’s anything to take out, but the compromise here is I’m finding that those areas that sounded a little bit too thick and full to me are now sounding a lot better. So let’s take a listen in bypass first, so this is without any multiband compression, and then I’ll flip it in and out, and I want you to, again, listen to those low notes in her performance, and listen to just how much more balanced this performance is with the multiband compression engaged. So, first, this is without our multiband processing.

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

♪ We seen it all ♪

♪ We are with superpower vision ♪

So you can hear that, when the multiband compression is engaged, we’re taking out that excess low end energy, but when the vocalist jumps up into her higher range, the multiband compression gets outta the way, right? So we’re not pulling out low end when it doesn’t need to be pulled out, and what ends up happening is the vocal sounds a lot more balanced tonally, right? So in the spots where there’s too much low end it sounds a lot, just, better; it sounds more balanced, but, then, in the spots where she jumps up in her range, it still sounds like we have that fullness and low-end without it sounding like it’s too much. So, overall, we’ve added more of a tonal balance to this performance.

Now, the one last thing I’m hearing here, is that I might have gone a little bit overboard with the processing. It sounds like maybe there’s a little bit too much going on. So one of the ways that I can kind of dial this in a little bit, is either bump up the threshold so maybe there’s a little bit less compression going on, or, on this multiband compressor, there’s a mix knob that actually allows us to blend in some of the original signal. So I might back this up to 80% or so, and just blend in some of that original signal to give me a more natural sound.

I hope you enjoyed this video, and if you’re ready to dive deeper, remember I also put together that freecheat sheet with some extra tips and tricks for multiband compression that I didn’t have time to cover in this video. So if you wanna dive deeper and learn how to use multiband compression to make your mixes sound professional click the link in the description below, or up there in the video to download this free cheatsheet right now.

Now, before you go, leave a comment below this video, and let me know what’s your favorite multiband compressor plugin? I’d love to hear from ya; I read every comment, and reply to as many as I can. So, again, leave your answer in the comment section below.

Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips right here on my YouTube channel, or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.