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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Vocal compression is an essential skill for any music producer or sound engineer. Understanding how to compress vocals effectively can make the difference between a professional and an amateur recording. In this guide, we’ll delve into the basics and advanced techniques of vocal compression, touching on various topics like vocal tracks, dynamic range, and release times.

Understanding Vocal Compression

Vocal compression helps control the dynamic range of a vocal recording. It ensures that the loudest peaks are reduced while the softer parts are elevated, maintaining a consistent vocal sound. This creates a more polished and professional output that sits well in the mix.

AspectDescription
PurposeControls dynamic range, balancing loud and soft parts for a consistent sound.
ThresholdSets the level where compression begins, targeting vocal peaks.
RatioDetermines compression intensity, with 2:1 to 4:1 being common for natural vocals.
AttackFast attack catches transients for punch; slow attack preserves natural peaks.
ReleaseAdjusts the time for the compressor to stop, with slower times preferred for smoothness.
Makeup GainBoosts the compressed signal back to the desired level, maintaining original tone.
Types of CompressorsFET (fast attack), Optical (smooth), VCA (versatile), Tube (warm).
Advanced TechniquesIncludes parallel, multiband, and serial compression for refined control and enhanced sound.

Choosing the Right Compressor

Types of Compressors

Different compressors have different characteristics:

  • FET Compressors: Known for fast attack times, suitable for aggressive vocals.
  • Optical Compressors: Smooth and natural sound; ideal for soft vocals.
  • VCA Compressors: Versatile and precise, suitable for a wide range of genres.
  • Tube Compressors: Warm and rich sound, often used for vintage recordings.

Preferred Compressors for Vocals

Popular choices include:

  • Universal Audio 1176 (FET)
  • Teletronix LA-2A (Optical)
  • dbx 160 (VCA)
  • Fairchild 670 (Tube)

Professionals often use a combination of these for dynamic control.

microphone in a music studio

The Basic Compression Process

Setting Threshold

The threshold determines the level at which compression begins. Set it so that the compression process kicks in just when the vocals start to peak.

Determining Ratio

The ratio controls the amount of compression. Ratios between 2:1 and 4:1 are common for vocals to maintain a natural sound while achieving dynamic control.

Adjusting Attack and Release

  • Faster attack time catches transients and can add punch.
  • Slow attack time allows transients through, preserving the vocal’s natural peaks.
  • Release times should be adjusted to maintain a smooth sound without pumping. Slower release times are often preferred for vocals.

Applying Makeup Gain

After compression reduces the volume, makeup gain boosts the signal back to its desired level. Ensure it matches the original vocal tone.

male vocalist recording vocals in a music studio

Advanced Techniques

Parallel Compression

Blend compressed vocals with the original signal to retain natural dynamics while adding punch.

Multiband Compression

Compress specific frequency ranges independently to handle problematic areas in the vocal recording.

Serial Compression

Use multiple compressors in sequence, each applying gentle compression. This can create a more transparent and controlled result.

Practical Tips and Tricks

  • Use a reference track to compare your vocal mix.
  • Experiment with EQ after compression to shape the tone further.
  • Pay attention to background vocals and make sure they sit well with the main vocal track.
  • Try sidechain compression to duck the vocals against other elements like the bass guitar or snare drum.

Making Use of EQ After Compression

Using EQ after compression can help enhance certain frequencies and cut out unwanted noise. A high-pass filter can remove rumble, while mid-range boosts can add presence.

EQ TechniqueDescription
High-Pass FilterRemoves low-end rumble and unwanted bass frequencies.
Low-Pass FilterReduces high-end hiss and excessive brightness.
Mid-Range BoostEnhances presence and clarity, making vocals stand out.
High ShelfAdds air and brightness to the vocals for a more open sound.
Low ShelfAdds warmth and fullness to the lower end of the vocal range.
Notch FilterCuts out specific problematic frequencies, such as resonance or harshness.
Overall BalanceFine-tunes the vocal sound to sit well in the mix with other instruments.
EQ PlacementPost-compression EQ shapes the tone after dynamic control, ensuring desired sound.

Vocal Compression – The Complete Guide – Video

Vocal Compression – The Complete Guide

Expand Your Skills

Ready to dive deeper into the world of vocal production? Check out our other blog article on WHAT IS A DE-ESSER and learn how this nifty tool can enhance your vocal recordings by taming those pesky sibilant sounds.

Looking to level up your skills even more? Consider enrolling in our vocal production course taught by industry pros Kevin Energy and Jasmine Knight. Uncover insider tips and techniques to make your vocals shine in every mix.

And if you’re in need of top-quality vocals for your next project, don’t forget to browse our extensive collection of Acapella Vocals. From soulful melodies to powerful hooks, we’ve got everything you need to take your music to the next level.

Conclusion

By understanding how to compress vocals, you can significantly improve the quality of your vocal recordings. Employing the right techniques and settings can yield a polished, professional sound that stands out in any mix.

Remember, mastering the art of vocal compression takes practice and experimentation. Don’t be afraid to tweak and adjust settings to find what works best for your specific genre of music and vocal recordings.

FAQs

What is a good starting point for vocal compression settings?

Start with a threshold that reduces peaks, a ratio of 3:1, and medium attack and release times. Adjust as needed based on the vocal’s characteristics.

Should I use EQ before or after compression?

It depends. EQ before compression can affect how the compressor reacts, while EQ after can fine-tune the overall sound.

How do I avoid over-compressing vocals?

Use a gentle ratio, keep an eye on the gain reduction meter, and aim for natural dynamics. Listen for any signs of pumping or artifacts.

Can I use stock plugins for vocal compression or do I need expensive ones?

Stock plugins can be highly effective for vocal compression. Many DAWs come with powerful compressors that are more than capable of achieving professional results. It’s more about how you use them rather than the cost of the plugins.

How do I know if my compression settings are right?

Trust your ears. The vocals should sound balanced and sit well in the mix without sounding squashed or unnatural. Regularly compare your compressed vocals with reference tracks to ensure you maintain a natural and polished sound.