I recall one weekend night many years ago when I was an assistant my boss, Bill Schnee was mixing a song and one of the tracks of the mix was severely compressed. He kept working on it, trying to get it to sound the way he wanted with little success. Finally, in frustration he gave me one of the greatest lessons I ever learned. “Compression is the most permanent thing you can do.” He said. “Bad EQ, even distortion, can be gotten around. But when someone compresses things this hard, there’s absolutely nothing I can do with it!”
Bill has never been a fan of heavy compression. But even for those of you who do like it, the fact remains that when recording, it’s much better to use moderate compression so you’re not backed into a corner and screw things up. A 4:1 ratio, and 3 to 5 dB of compression should do it. This will give the mixer, even if that’s you, the freedom to compress it as much as you want later on. And you’ll then have the advantage if hearing it in context of the mix so you’ll know what’s best. But if you hit it too hard when recording, you can never take it back.
I’m not going to battle the idea of compression. If you want to have your final mix compressed to death that’s up to you. And I’m often one who will print effects as I go, but I rarely ever compress something to death unless it’s some sort of effect and there’s no doubt about it. But 99% of the time, since you’ll have the chance to compress when mixing, it’s really better to leave the final squash till mix….and avoid your mixer cursing your name and thinking you can’t engineer your way out of a paper bag.