OTT refers to Over the Top compression. And to put it simply, OTT is electronic dance music. This is so ridiculously true that I’ll say it again: OTT is electronic dance music. Every single professional producer I know uses this specific type of multiband compressor. It’s an absolute staple and a tool that you should be using. Let’s dive in.
OTT is multiband upward and downward compression applied at the same time.
Downward Compression: the process of lessening the dynamic range of a sound by reducing the louder signals. In other words: downward compression makes the louder parts of a sound quieter.
Upward Compression: Upward compression is the process of lessening the dynamic range of a sound by increasing the quieter signals. In other words: upward compression makes the quieter parts of a sound louder.
Multiband Compression: Multiband compression divides the frequency spectrum into different sections, or bands, so that each band can be assigned unique compression settings.
OTT comes as a stock Ableton effect – if you’re an Ableton user, it can be found under the multiband dynamics section in the Ableton stock audio effects. If you’re not an Ableton user, don’t worry. Steve Duda (the genius behind Serum, LFO tool, and several other amazing plugins) made a free version of OTT that can be downloaded here.
It really comes down to two reasons:
Making a sound bigger and fuller while maintaining control over the tone and character? No wonder this thing is the not-so-secret sauce for so many producers.
Now let’s get into the fun part: how to use OTT effectively.
OTT absolutely crushes a sound. That’s what it’s designed to do. If you drop OTT on an audio signal with the factory settings (100% Amount), there is a good chance the result will sound terrible. However, if you back off the amount knob and allow more of the original uncompressed signal to come through, the result is the patented OTT sound: full, rich, and warm.
You can use OTT on pretty much any element in the mix – leads, basses, even the master. The most important thing to remember when using OTT is that you want it to be transparent. The goal of this effect generally isn’t to completely alter a sound; it’s to enhance the sound and make it sound like a better version of itself. This is why parallel compression is such a valuable tool; it allows you to enrich the sound by layering on a super-compressed version while still keeping the original sound’s character with the dry signal.
Now that we know how to use OTT compression at a high level, let’s dig into some of the most important parameters and make sure we understand what each does.
This is the dry/wet knob; it controls what percent of the audio signal flows through the effect. For example: if you have the amount set to 30%, 70% of the resulting audio will consist of the original “dry” signal and 30% will be the ultra-compressed “wet” signal.
I’m going to be honest – this is the only knob I touch most times I use OTT. That’s part of the beauty of this effect: it’s super quick. I usually throw it on, start with the amount at zero, then gradually bring it up until I achieve the desired effect. Remember: transparency is key.
The three dark maroon bands control the downward compression level for the three different frequency bands. To compress a band more, drag the band to the left. To compress a band less, drag the band to the right.
In the following example, the high frequencies have the most downward compression, followed by the mids. The lows have the least amount of downward compression applied.
The three dark blue bands control the upward compression level for the three different frequency bands. To upward compress a band more, drag the blue band to the right. To upward compress a band less, drag the blue band to the left. In the following example, the high frequencies have the least amount of upward compression applied, followed by the mids. The lows have the most amount of upward compression applied.
The Time parameter is extremely important in OTT. It’s also extremely underappreciated.
This parameter will scale your attack and release settings to allow more or less transient to come through. Keep the following in mind when setting your time parameter:
The output and input knobs control the gain going in (input) or out (output) of the effect. The output knob in the top right corner is the master output that controls the entire signal; the other input and output knobs are frequency band specific.
Over the top multiband parallel compression is an invaluable tool for making sounds full, warm, and professional sounding. It’s a staple in electronic dance music, and should absolutely be a staple in your production workflow.