There is no one “best-kept secret” about audio compression during mastering, as the appropriate techniques for mastering depend on the material being mastered and the goals of the person doing the mastering. However, here are a few general tips that may be helpful:
1. Use compression sparingly: It can be tempting to use heavy compression to try to make a track sound louder or more “punchy,” but this can often result in a sound that is too squashed and lacks dynamics. Instead, try using minimal amounts of compression and focusing on other techniques such as EQ and limiting to shape the sound of the track.
2. Pay attention to the attack and release times: The attack time of a compressor determines how quickly the compressor starts to reduce the signal level once it exceeds the threshold. A slower attack time will allow the initial transient of a sound to pass through unaffected, while a faster attack time will start compressing the transient. Similarly, the release time determines how quickly the compressor stops reducing the signal level once it falls below the threshold. Adjusting the attack and release times can help control the amount of punch and sustain the track.
3. Use a compressor with a “soft-knee” characteristic: A compressor with a “soft-knee” characteristic means that it begins to apply compression gradually as the signal level approaches the threshold rather than suddenly applying a fixed amount of compression when the threshold is crossed. This can help to create a more natural, subtle effect.
4. Experiment with different compressor models: Many different compressor algorithms are available, each with its own distinct character. Experimenting with different compressors can help you find the best one for a particular track.