If there’s any audio source that’s ripe for compression, it’s vocals. Whether it’s to tame unruly peaks or to add color and character, compression and vocals go together like peas and carrots.
Vocals are the focal point of most contemporary music, so you want them to sound as best as possible. Truth be told, a bad-sounding lead vocal is one of the fastest ways to make a listener hit the “skip” button.
With the possible exception of compressing bass, vocals are the most difficult source to compress properly. One wrong move, and you’ll end up with an unnaturally squashed, pumping, spitty, unintelligible mess.
In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the process of compressing your vocal tracks. By the end, you’ll be able to create ear-grabbing, studio-quality vox that are guaranteed to take your productions over the top.
First, before you even think about touching a compressor, you need to sort out your vocal track’s dynamics with automation.
While slamming a vocal track with a compressor will tame an overly dynamic performance, it will also give it an artificial, lifeless quality that screams “amateur mix.”
To start with, use 1–2dB gain boosts and cuts. If the vocal gets too quiet, boost; if the vocal gets too loud, cut. (Tip: Use a gain plugin insert to do this so you can use your volume fader for overall gain adjustments later)
This is just a starting point, however. You’ll be adjusting your automation parameters all throughout the mixing process.
Aim to get your vocal 90% of the way there with automation. The end goal is to make your vocal sit — intelligibly — in your mix without resorting to compression.
Once you achieve this, then it will be time to deploy your favorite vocal compressors to give it that final 10%.
Another thing to be aware of before you fire up a compressor is low-frequency mud and unwanted resonances. Both issues — even if you can’t easily hear them — can cause unpredictable compressor behavior.
Vocals, for the most part, don’t contain an abundance of low-frequency information. Hence, if there are low frequencies in your vocal track, they probably don’t need to be there.
To eliminate unwanted low end, apply a highpass filter to your vocal track.
Start with a cutoff frequency around 40Hz with a gentle 6–12dB slope. Slowly increase the cutoff frequency until your vocal track sounds thin, then back off until it sounds right.
Resonances are essentially a buildup of frequencies within your mix. These frequencies will kill your vocal track’s dynamics, steal its headroom, and worse. …….
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