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Exploring Alternatives to Compression for Volume Automation

Bitwig Tutorial | Dec 19, 2022

This video is about how compression can be replaced with alternative methods in production, such as using the tool device with an LFO, the FX grid, and note triggers. These methods can be used to effectively automate volume and create a pumping effect, without the need for a compressor. The video emphasizes that compressors are just volume automations, and that alternative methods should be explored.

You can watch the Video on Youtube


If you don't want to watch the Video, or search for a specific topic, here is the transcription of the video with links to video markers:

[00:00.000] So in this video, it's about compression and how you maybe not need a compressor for something.
[00:06.920] And this video is not about saying my method is better than using a compressor.
[00:13.160] It's more like putting out knowledge that you can do things differently with different
[00:18.960] outcomes and with different pros and cons.
[00:24.080] Just so you know, you can do things differently.
[00:26.520] And maybe sometimes it also has for some new people to understand some connections between
[00:32.760] things and why something is how it is.
[00:36.640] So maybe let's create a small little track or not a track, just, you know, a small pattern
[00:44.800] and maybe go to 120 BPM here and paint in some kick drums.
[00:52.760] Maybe put an E and a Q, something like this, FX2, maybe cut out here some frequencies in
[01:05.600] the middle.
[01:06.600] So it's, you know, not really important yet, just to demonstrate something, bit of distortion
[01:14.080] for the overtones.
[01:15.080] Just to have a nice kick drum.
[01:20.200] Okay.
[01:21.200] So I think we create just some kind of small bass.
[01:26.760] And here I just use one, something like this, G maybe.
[01:37.120] And pull this down, then we use a repeater.
[01:48.400] Just a small bass sound here, quantizer maybe.
[01:59.840] Ah, okay, okay.
[02:09.040] So the next step would probably be for you to bring in a compressor to duck the bass
[02:16.280] because of the kick drum, because we don't want to have, or to want to free the space
[02:21.440] basically in the frequency spectrum.
[02:23.320] So we want to have the bass go away every time the kick drum plays.
[02:27.800] So what you usually do is you use a dynamics plug in here, some kind of compressor.
[02:33.800] And then you select as a sidechain input kick drum.
[02:38.920] And then you fiddle around here with the threshold, the knee, the ratio.
[02:51.840] And then maybe you play around with the release time.
[02:54.080] So the release is up until the next kick drum comes in.
[03:00.840] So this is too fast.
[03:02.040] You can see we have here some space in there.
[03:05.240] And this is too slow.
[03:06.840] We never go back to the original volume.
[03:11.080] So you have to fiddle around with the release here a bit to get the right groove.
[03:17.600] And you can calculate this here, of course, with the, you can calculate the milliseconds
[03:21.880] here with the BPM.
[03:23.960] And people do this with the calculator maybe with some sheets, whatever.
[03:28.240] Or you can just dial it in by ear, which is most of the times what I do.
[03:35.160] So this is basically just, you know, a volume automation, because we reduce the volume here
[03:44.160] every time a trigger comes in.
[03:47.080] And usually you use some kind of detect algorithm here, dynamics, detect algorithm.
[03:54.440] So every time a waveform or audio signal crosses a threshold, you act on it and you reduce
[04:02.920] the volume.
[04:03.920] So how fast you can decide with the ratio, how fast you want to pull the volume down,
[04:08.360] you can change this with the ratio.
[04:11.040] And you can change the threshold and you can change the attack and the release time.
[04:16.480] So how fast the volume goes up or down until or after the trigger.
[04:25.560] So there's a lot of knobs you have to play around with.
[04:29.800] And it's pretty fine, it's what people usually do for years.
[04:35.400] And compression was invented in, as far as I know, for recordings, live recordings where
[04:42.720] you have like a drummer playing drums, and then you record it over the microphone.
[04:47.560] And the drummer is probably not really consistent in loudness levels, right?
[04:53.520] So sometimes it's nice, loud, sometimes it's nice to quiet.
[04:58.280] So you use a compressor for that to even out the loudness.
[05:03.240] This is what the compressor was invented for.
[05:06.600] But we are working most of the times in the box.
[05:10.120] So when I play a kick drum here, the kick drum is always the same volume.
[05:14.760] So there's no fluctuation whatsoever.
[05:18.000] Maybe a little bit, but you know, it's not audible for the ears most of the times.
[05:24.400] So the compressor is a bit overblown, I would say for that.
[05:29.880] So most of the times people use the dynamics or compressor for having this pumping effect,
[05:35.600] right, to bring out the volume in between the kick drum.
[05:40.080] So here we use it just to pull down the volume of the bass sound.
[05:43.880] So there is space for the kick drum.
[05:46.400] So the bass and the kick doesn't interfere with each other every time the kick drum plays.
[05:53.280] And we can replace this here easily with the tool device.
[06:01.360] And instead of using a side chain, we use here, instead of using an audio side chain,
[06:06.640] we can use here a note side chain because we have the kick drum here already available
[06:11.760] as notes.
[06:12.760] So there's a note in here, right?
[06:15.320] So we can use this as an input.
[06:19.120] And every time the kick drum plays, we get this information here and then we pull down
[06:23.040] the volume.
[06:24.040] So it's the same effect.
[06:31.880] Every time the kick drum plays, we pull down the volume and we can change how with this
[06:37.240] envelope here.
[06:38.240] So we have direct access and we have direct control over everything.
[06:44.480] So the next step could be that we don't or we get rid of this side chain altogether because
[06:53.920] you have to wire it up.
[06:55.160] You have to select it here, maybe select the right channel for that.
[07:00.240] Maybe you don't want to do that because every time you do a track, it's house or techno
[07:04.520] and the pattern is always the same.
[07:06.800] Kick drum is always at the same position.
[07:09.520] So you can save a preset with the LFO on that, taking a classic LFO for instance.
[07:16.800] And we can dial in here synchronization for notes.
[07:20.760] Use this mode and then we disable bipolar option here.
[07:25.720] And then we can pull down the volume here exactly where the kick drum plays because the kick
[07:30.480] drum always plays at the same position.
[07:36.680] And then we can change the shape of how the volume is released here with this small little
[07:42.840] thing here.
[07:45.640] So it's kind of a ratio setting here, how fast the volume goes back to the original position.
[07:58.000] You can also change here how much we want to reduce the volume.
[08:07.600] And because this is synchronized, if you change the tempo here, it's perfectly in sync.
[08:14.320] So you don't need to change anything.
[08:17.920] So this is only useful if you have predictable kick drum patterns or patterns for your drums
[08:25.040] where you exactly know the kick drum is always playing at the same position.
[08:30.080] And there are some plug-ins, VSCs out there, LFO I think is by XFARE and what's the other
[08:36.480] one I think called kick by Necromero.
[08:41.360] I'm not sure.
[08:42.360] There are a lot of plug-ins out there that basically do the same thing because the kick
[08:48.200] drum pattern is predictable.
[08:51.240] And you can play around with this here and you can also save this as a preset and put
[08:54.800] it on your track and you don't need to care for anything.
[08:58.720] The other benefit is that the release time here is perfect.
[09:02.640] So we get a perfect shape for the release time because every time the next kick drum
[09:12.640] comes in, we have released the volume in time because it's an LFO, right?
[09:19.240] So you don't need to fiddle around with release time and with attack time and so on.
[09:24.880] So it's perfect.
[09:25.880] It's a perfect shape.
[09:27.120] Maybe it's too perfect for you, but it's a way of doing it.
[09:31.760] Okay, so this is something you can do.
[09:34.560] Then you can also use this tool device on, let's put this here into group on the bus.
[09:40.320] So instead of using this here on the bass to duck the bass, we can also use this on the
[09:44.400] group where the kick and the bass plays together.
[09:49.560] And here most of the times a compressor is used to glue everything together.
[09:53.520] This is YouTube speak.
[09:57.360] Gluing something together is actually not only volume automation, but this is how people
[10:02.920] use it.
[10:05.680] It's also important that you match the frequencies of all these sounds to glue something together.
[10:11.240] So it's not about only volume automation, but that's how people use it.
[10:15.840] So here we can do two different things.
[10:20.120] Maybe use here an oscilloscope first, just to play and remove the modulation here first.
[10:32.960] So we can clearly see here we have a kick drum in there and what you usually do with
[10:38.520] the compressor is again, you pull down the threshold, fiddle around with the ratio, which
[10:50.400] is the speed of how fast the volume gets reduced, and then find the right release time, maybe
[11:00.160] switch off your makeup.
[11:02.200] And yeah, you reduce basically the volume of the kick drum here with the compressor.
[11:07.720] And then you use make up to bring up everything in volume afterwards with the same loudness
[11:14.160] as before.
[11:16.160] So you reduce the volume of the kick drums and then you bring everything up.
[11:20.880] So this is also something you can do with the tool device because we know exactly when
[11:25.680] the kick drum plays.
[11:26.800] It's predictable.
[11:28.960] So we can do this here to reduce the kick drum and see it goes down.
[11:36.840] This is before then we pull down the kick drum until we are happy with the ratio between
[11:45.560] the bass and the kick.
[11:49.640] And then we can change here the shape.
[11:57.240] And then you pull everything up in volume.
[12:04.640] So this is one way of doing it.
[12:06.520] You can also reverse the process.
[12:08.400] You can go here to a different, to a reversed or ramp waveform and leave everything as it
[12:18.680] is and then increase the volume here.
[12:31.000] You can see every time the kick drum plays, we stay at zero volume so we don't change
[12:36.040] anything.
[12:37.200] And everything in between is getting increased in volume.
[12:41.240] So we bring basically up, or we bring up everything in between the kick drums.
[12:48.000] So this is before, right, and this is after.
[12:56.240] The kick drum stays the same.
[12:57.680] We only change everything in between the kick drums and we can change how here also with
[13:03.280] this shape knob here, or with the curve control, probably too much.
[13:15.440] So and this is easily possible because the kick drum pattern is predictable, but if you
[13:20.280] do house and techno music, you know, every track is the same, kick drum wise, so nothing
[13:27.320] really changes.
[13:28.320] So you can save this as a preset, pull it onto your track and then play around with all
[13:33.400] the knobs and you have basically a perfect volume automation or compressor without playing
[13:38.960] around with release time attack times because the LFO is always in sync.
[13:44.440] And yeah, we basically save the analyzing part and the analyzer takes some time, some
[13:50.000] latency, you need some latency compensation for that, right, so everything is on point.
[13:55.160] So this is basically perfect.
[13:58.160] It's probably face perfect.
[14:00.280] I haven't tested this, but you can do if you want to.
[14:05.480] So this is something you can do.
[14:10.200] Some other things is you can also go a bit crazy with the grid if you want to, but this
[14:15.600] is a bit more work to set up, but you can also save this as a preset.
[14:21.400] So for instance, let's say you are on the base, back on the base here, and then you
[14:29.520] see an FX grid in the FX grid, we can use a multiply and the multiply changes the volume.
[14:39.600] So let's, let's say we have your one as an input.
[14:46.200] So this doesn't change anything in volume.
[14:48.520] Let's go for the base here, we have one in here, the volume is exactly or stays the same.
[14:56.120] We have zero here, volume is zero, so we can change the volume with this.
[15:05.760] So we take an AD device here, we switch off the pre-code here, and we can take trigger
[15:12.640] four nodes, every time the kick drum plays here, we get the trigger of the AD now.
[15:21.480] It's basically the same we did before with the LFO.
[15:24.720] So four nodes, every time we trigger this, and then we subtract this shape here.
[15:34.760] Let's go for it.
[15:35.760] So let's go here first.
[15:36.760] We can see how it looks like.
[15:38.560] So we get the shape of the envelope in here, right?
[15:44.160] But we want to have actually the opposite, we want to instead of increasing the volume
[15:48.360] or going up to one, we want to go down from one to zero every time this envelope is triggered.
[15:55.560] So we subtract this from one, we use a constant here, then we take this.
[16:04.960] So you can see we have basically the opposite signal.
[16:07.920] So every time we trigger this envelope, we have zero, and then we go slowly up back to
[16:13.680] one to the initial volume.
[16:15.640] So we can use this as an input.
[16:19.160] You can hear every time the kick drum plays, we go down in volume.
[16:23.720] And now you can also use the AD to shape, yeah, basically the ratio, maybe go to relative
[16:31.520] here, okay, we can do this.
[16:50.000] So the benefit of this is you maybe have more control inside of the grid about when something
[16:56.880] gets triggered, because you maybe have not a simple kick drum pattern, maybe you have
[17:02.520] here something like this, right?
[17:10.920] And then you don't want to use a side chain for that.
[17:14.440] You can just use here and gates thing, we go up to eight, here's a kick drum and here's
[17:23.200] a kick drum, or here, or if you need more notes, yeah, 16.
[17:48.480] All right, so now we have basically the same pattern in here.
[17:59.240] But this is too complicated in my opinion here, it's better just using a note trigger.
[18:06.240] But if you have predictable patterns like techno tracks or house tracks or whatever,
[18:11.760] then maybe just putting an LFO onto a tool device, it's much simpler than pulling out
[18:17.880] the compressor, filling around with release and the tech times, you know, using a side
[18:24.560] chain setup and so on.
[18:27.000] So sometimes this is easier for me, and it's also a nice way of looking at things that
[18:33.080] compressors are just, you know, volume automations, and nothing more.
[18:38.520] And if you say this compressor or that compressor has a different color, or sounds better or
[18:44.680] whatever, most of the times in these plug-ins are just EQs in there at the end, or maybe
[18:50.440] a bit of distortion or whatever algorithm they use to bring in a bit of overtones or
[18:57.880] harmonics.
[19:00.380] But really compressors are most of the times just volume automations.
[19:04.480] So inside of Bitwig, this is not a problem to modulate something.
[19:08.480] So use maybe a tool device with just an LFO on it.
[19:11.840] Okay.
[19:12.840] And don't say it's better if you feel like your compressor sounds much, much better and
[19:17.880] it's easier to use than just use that.
[19:19.800] It's just any, and you know, I give options.
[19:23.800] I want to put some knowledge out there that you can do things in other ways.
[19:29.720] Okay.
[19:30.720] Thanks for watching and see you in the next video.
[19:33.160] Bye.