Transient is a word you’ll hear a lot of in recording, and in my opinion, it’s worth understanding.
A transient is a non-repeating waveform that occurs at the start of any sound. Think of a transient as the initial attack – the plucking of a string, or hit of a snare drum. It’s commonly defined as a sudden change in level, and our first instinct is to tame that spike, that peak in level with a compressor. However, if you squash the transients, your mix is likely to sound dead and lose definition.
Taming transients without destroying them can be considered a fine art, and can really make a difference to your recordings. If we’re talking sudden changes in level, you’ll also want to keep in mind that singing a ‘T…’ or a ‘Ch…’ involves transients. Retaining the attack of an instrument whilst taming its peaks to smooth out the mix is what we’re aiming for, but to do it well takes a lot of practice, and a lot of time and effort. Clumsily throwing a compressor on a snare drum is very likely to affect the transients involved in a detrimental way. Finding the right balance between retaining transients and taming the levels is something that takes time and experience.
So, now that you know what transients are, don’t just ignore them. Spend some time getting to know them, and help them to integrate.