Dynamics Explained: in a Sound Context

Dynamics in the context of your instrument and in the context of your band, has quite a direct relationship to the sound of the band.  This is where it all comes together in a chain of events:  Good individual dynamics lead to good band dynamics; and good band dynamics lead to a good sound – the band’s sound.

It is only from this point onwards that, the mixing engineer has any amount of control, not before.  Therefore, if individual and band dynamics are poor, the sound will be poor.  This is true for both recorded material as well as live sound.

Why Manage Dynamics?

A simplified answer would be for better listenability.  For example, consider a loud and fast song from the metal genre.  The dynamics of the vocals has to be managed to “sit” in the mix of everything that is loud and fast.  If not, there might be intelligibility issues.  The goal here would be to make the vocals intelligible where by, all consonants and vowels and even the loud growls “sit” well in the mix.

When to Manage Dynamics?

Only when needed.  That said, most contemporary genres live by it and some don’t even sound true to genre unless it is over used.

Some of the more typical uses would included:

  • the Kick drum, to add more punch without overly peaking
  • Vocals, for intelligibility and the sit
  • Bass, to tighten up and blend

Consider this typical role.  If a bassist possesses good dynamics control, the role of the compressor would be just to tighten up the tone and not the dynamics per se.  The dynamics control will be in the hands of the bassist.  However, if the engineer is forced to correct the dynamics, the tone will be adversely affected and perhaps a new tone might even have to be crafted altogether.

How is Dynamics Managed?

The mixing engineer will typically utilize compressors (and / or its variations) and different techniques to manage and control the dynamics from here on.  Most commonly, compressors would be inserted on individual channels where needed.

Apart from this usage, compressors may also be used for creative purposes to even alter tonal characteristics.  It could also be used to alter the perceived volume of instruments or even the whole sound.  Extreme compressor settings are used for limiting (more commonly via dedicated Limiters or Limiter functions).

Compressors are a difficult tool to master.  It may take a good deal of learning, mentors, years of practice and a discerning ear to get it to work right.  This is perhaps the reason that new users ditch it (or don’t hear much of a difference) and seasoned users swear by it.

Lastly, most tutorials and new users tend to rely too much on the meter reading.  Yes, they are a guide but, Meters show Levels, but not the quality of the sound.  That’s a job for the ears.

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  • No Name

    If I may ask, what exactly is a tube compressor? 

    • Uses vacuum tube technology (pre-transistor era) but, still very much in use in high-end applications for its warm characteristic sound.