About Joe Carrell

Nashville based producer/mixer/recording engineer Joe Carrell has accomplished a lot in his 20+ year career.  8 Grammy-nominated albums mixed and/or recorded, Dove award-winning songs and albums, 19 charting number ones mixed and many others recorded, Billboard top tens in multiple categories, and more. “I’m proud of those things, but that’s not what motivates me at all.  What keeps me hungry is that feeling you get sitting in the chair at the end of a mix and being moved...feeling like you made it everything it could be”.

Currently working from the historic Treasure Isle Recorders in Nashville, Joe says he is just as excited to get to the studio every day now as he has ever been.



Written by Joe Carrell

Okay, fellow audio enthusiasts, listen to these words carefully...Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor. You felt it too, didn’t you? Instant excitement, interest, and reverence for one of the holiest of holy grail compressors in our profession.

While the 40 plus pound hardware is financially out of reach for most of us, thankfully, our friends at Brainworx and Plugin Alliance have given us a spot on recreation that we can all access and enjoy.

I was excited to put the ultra-rare Class A version of this masterpiece into use on some mixes and check it out. I will say I did indeed hear the difference in overall clarity and ‘punch’ of the VCA compressor circuit.

That said, let’s dive into this mix. My mixing style is a multi-buss method that allows me to compress smaller amounts in several stages to tastefully achieve the dynamic control I’m looking for, by mixing this way, I can choose different types of compressors across group masters specifically for the sonic ‘flavor’ that they provide.

I pulled up a recent mix that featured acoustics drums, acoustic and electric guitars, and a dynamic vocal performance. The way the SHMC handles these different types of transients and varying dynamics will give you a great feel for the power of this piece.

Drums and Bass

Let’s begin with the drums and bass group. When choosing a compressor for this purpose, I look for a circuit that can control and shape my transients for punch, as well as bring up sustain to make things sound huge.

The VCA circuit of the SHMC is exceptionally good at this task.

SHMC Drums and Bass

You’ll see in the screenshot that I chose an attack of 30ms. This retains much of the initial attack of the snare drum, which I had carefully shaped earlier in the mix. Next, I chose the fastest release time so that the circuit’s recovery back to an uncompressed signal pulls up the sustain of the hit, creating an exciting and bigger sound. The ratio is at 4:1.

Next, I chose the steel output transformer for its grit and pleasing low-end bump. Lastly, I prefer the stereo link option on drums. That way, both sides are compressing equally, preserving my center panned foundation of kick, snare, and bass.

Now listen to the example, and you’ll notice the overall increase in the perceived size and punch of the drum kit. Also, notice that having the bass guitar in this group causes it to move with the drums in a musical way. 

One last tip for this group is to engage the sidechain filter with a setting somewhere around 90 Hz. This will preserve the low-end without pumping artifacts.

Please note in these audio examples, the compressor begins in bypass and is turned on and off every 4 bars.

Guitars and Keys

In this song, the presence of the widely panned electric guitars and the transients of the acoustic guitar were carefully crafted on the individual channels earlier using the Lindell Audio 254E, SSL 4000 E channel strips, and parallel compression (also with the 254E).

Guitars and Keys

My goal for this group is to achieve a ‘gluing’ together of the individual elements so that they will slightly move as one, while largely preserving the transients of each guitar. To accomplish this, I chose the VCA compressor section.

I typically choose a softer 2:1 or 3:1 ratio for this task. You will notice in the photo that the attack is set to the slowest 30ms setting and the ‘dual’ setting for release.

Think of the dual setting release as similar to that of an optical circuit. This means that the initial portion of the release is quick and then slows down towards the end of the release. This release style can be found in the optical section of the SHMC itself; as well as, in other legendary compressors like the LA2A or LA3A (Acme Opticom XLA-3).

You can use this to your advantage while compressing individual sources or groups that have a great variety of sustain or decay lengths.

For the output transformer, I chose the cleanest nickel setting. I selected the dual mono option so that each side could move independently, keeping the stereo field of the group feeling wide and lively.

Let’s listen to the glue, size, and presence that the SHMC can add.

Please note in these audio examples, the compressor begins in bypass and is turned on and off every 4 bars.


For my vocal groups, I often prefer a somewhat slow and gentle circuit. The soft 2:1 ratio of the optical compressor preserves the “punchiness” that I had achieved on my lead vocal channel with something like the Purple Audio MC77 earlier in the mix. By pushing just a few dB of compression into the group compressor while performing my volume automation, I can preserve the overall feel I achieved on the lead vocal with the benefit of it sitting in the mix.

Another huge benefit is that a small amount of compression on this group does a fantastic job of gluing the lead and background vocals together as a cohesive group.

Vocal Buss

You will notice that I also engaged the VCA compressor with a 3:1 ratio, fast 1ms attack, and fastest release time. This can be an effective way of grabbing any remaining peaks and really locking the vocals into place. Just 1 or 2dB can go a long way.

For the output transformer, I again chose nickel for its clarity and slight presence enhancement. 

Lastly, for my vocal buss, I generally use a linked stereo setting.

Let’s listen to the example below to hear the SHMC in action. Notice not only how the vocals are more controlled dynamically; but how musically the lead vocal moves overall, especially with the background vocals.

Please note in these audio examples, the compressor begins in bypass and is turned on and off every 4 bars.

Stereo Buss

Due to the control achieved through the multi buss approach, I don’t require much dynamic control on my stereo master. It’s more about the final stage of punch and/or glue tying the mix together.

Before discussing the settings of the SHMC, I should mention that ALL of my in-the-box mixes have the Black Box Analog Design HG2 as the first insert (Stereo Master). The harmonic saturation it generates is invaluable to me in what can be an otherwise unimpressive sounding digital buss.

I mix into it from the beginning, and it is vital to my mixes.


The gentle ratios within the VCA circuit of the SHMC are perfect for what I need on my master.

For this song, I chose a 2:1 ratio. For the attack, it’s always 10 or 30ms for me. In this song, I chose 10ms. Concerning release, I chose the fastest option to provide glue while maintaining punchiness. The nickel output transformer was chosen once again for its clarity.

The Brainworx ‘extra unit’ features like the monomaker, stereo width, variable high pass filter, etc., are super useful on a stereo bus. You’ll notice for this song, I chose to use the high pass filter to preserve the low end and have as little ‘pumping’ as possible. The monomaker, is also engaged, keeping the low-end contained to the center. Lastly, I have a little stereo width enhancement in use as well.

Stereo Buss

In this audio example, you will notice that when the SHMC is engaged, the mix seems to become both thicker and more present at the same time. The lead vocal, while not actually louder, appears to be more critical and powerful. The snare drum seems to be more powerful as well.

Please note in these audio examples, the compressor begins in bypass and is turned on and off every 4 bars.

Up next...

At this point, I am ready to send the mix to the client for approval. Of course, we all know that louder is better in the minds of many. Because of this, I almost always print the reference mix through software like the Brainworx bx_masterdesk so that it is competitively loud. 


Take a listen to the ‘finished’ master sound you can achieve through this single piece of software.

Occasionally, I will have a client use this as the master with no further steps necessary.

Please note in these audio examples, the compressor begins in bypass and is turned on and off every 4 bars.


To summarize, while these examples are from a previously finished mix, you will have your best results using these compressors on groups throughout the actual mixing process. This way, you are making individual instrument level decisions and performing automation while the compressors are moving along with you in real-time.

If you choose to use my included presets (or any other presets), simply turn the threshold knob until the desired sound and compression level is achieved. 

For reference, in my examples, you hear 1 to 3 dB of compression.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the new Class A version of the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor as much as I am!

Download Joe Carrell's presets for your DAW here:

Joe Carrell Class A Presets

Joe Carrell

Credits: “Once Was” - Elle Sera

Elle Sera on Facebook

Produced, recorded & mixed by Joe Carrell at Treasure Isle Recorders, Nashville. 

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