The use of compression in different genres

Mixing is a subjective art. Even top sound engineers mix differently: some of them prefer clean, transparent mixes, others stay for dense-graded; someone uses mostly analog devices, another one has already switched to digital processing. There are so many nuances, and the results may be drastically different.
Yet, these differences would be much less if we consider mixing in the context of a particular genre. Everybody knows that rock music should be loud and aggressive, while pop music should have a dance groove. Perfect mix in one genre would be totally inappropriate in another.

In this article, we examine how the use of compression varies in 5 basic styles:

- Rock
- Pop
- Hip-Hop
- Jazz
- Electronic

Compression is a key tool of mixing, and its use varies considerably between genres. The main rule in mixing is to have a clearer insight of the desired outcome before you start. Then, you will march a clear road rather than wandering about in the dark.


There are two main ways to use compression when mixing—for dynamic control or to shape the tone. In the case of Pop, you should focus more on the first option.

The Pop mixing should sound "polished". Mixing engineers achieve the sound which cannot be achieved in a live performance. Mixes need to sound clean, consistent and clear. The bass needs to provide a solid foundation. The vocals need to sit on top of the mix at all times. The kick needs to be loud hitting right in your chest.

If the vocal in your mix sounds too quiet, or the kick doesn't provide a dance groove, the track won't sound modern and doesn't get rotation on the radio.

This style requires heavy dynamic control. But compression alone isn't enough. You'll need 8-10dB of gain reduction before you get the levels of consistency you want. In turn, this will drastically affect the tone of the source material.

Instead, use volume automation, parallel compression and serial compression to reign in the dynamics without making things sound too punchy (slow attack time) or thick (fast attack time).


With Rock music, you can be far more liberal with your use of compression. Use a slow attack time and make instruments sound aggressive. Slam the kick and snare or clap. Often, the snare is the focus of the mix. Make it sound punchy. Make every hit almost the same volume. The same goes for the kick.

Mix buss compression will give you even more aggression. Heavy parallel compression on the drums will give them the power they need without causing pumping on the cymbals. You could even use heavy parallel compression on the entire mix.

Mixing Rock music requires you to be brave and not afraid to push the compressor and EQ further than you normally would.

Traditionally, Hip-hop shares more traits with Rock music than Pop when it comes to stylistic mixing.

In Pop, the top end is often exaggerated to achieve a certain level of sheen and airiness. But Hip-hop should be approached differently. It's more about aggression in the upper mids.

When it comes to compression, Hip-hop is somewhat of a halfway point. Generally, you wouldn't want to be as aggressive as with Rock music. But you can be heavier handed than with Pop.

Nowadays, any Hip-hop that you would hear on the radio will be approached like Pop music. But for a more traditional sound, treat it more like Rock music—except this time the kick drum is the focus, not the snare.

As for vocals, you will need to use faster attack and release times to get the compressor working. We recommend to start with roughly 2ms attack and 10ms release.


Traditionally, Jazz and other acoustic, more natural genres require little to no compression. This time, the compression is used only for better interaction of the instruments.

If you do notice some words becoming unintelligible in the vocal, just automate them up. You could try some light mix buss compression to add some glue and cohesion, but generally it isn't needed.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. A lot of modern Jazz tracks sound full, bright and loud. In this case, it's treated by the sound producer like Pop music, not Jazz. This is a creative decision that you or the artist needs to make.


One of the main reasons you use compression is to make things more consistent in terms of dynamics. But this only really applies to live, recorded instruments.

Samples, on the other hand, are consistent by nature. Unless you purposely vary the volume, each sample will be a similar volume. For example, a kick sample in a House track is already perfectly consistent. Every hit is exactly the same.

In this case, compression is far less useful. You can still use compression to shape the tone, but there is no need to control the dynamics.

Don't just compression for the sake of it. In Electronic music, you will still need to compress the vocals or any other instrument recorded live or simulating live recording. However, you will use compression far less than with other genres.

These are just guidelines. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Some of the best mixes come about by drawing influence from other genres and setting new standards. Do what's best for the track.

But when you want your mix to sound characteristic of a genre, think twice about how you are going to approach compression, and try to stay within these guidelines.

We also would like to remind you that if you already have some tracks to be played in cafes, restaurants or shops of our clients, the first step to do is to register on ExpertMusic portal. Promote your music and get the reward today.

Music experts team

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