Getting right down to the basics, I’d like to talk about a very important step in the mixing process and that’s compression.
This article is more for beginners who are just learning what all these different plug-ins are and how they function. While listening back to your recorded vocals, you’ll notice how certain sections are louder than others, and some are more quiet. Unless it’s intentional, that would need to be fixed to make it sound more professional and even.
The point of compression is to make those louder parts more quiet and the quiet parts louder, giving the vocal an even distribution to be contained over the instrumental. After compressing your vocals the right way, you’ll be able to hear the difference in vocal clarity and volume.
First Steps Of Compression
Once you have your equalizer settings in place, add a basic or multi-band compressor to the track you want to improve. It can be a third party compressor or the stock compressor that your program comes with. Although the more expensive, the better the quality is usually how it goes, but the more comfortable you are with the stock compressor, the more comfortable you’ll be with a third party or top-of-the-line compressor.
The only compressor settings you need to focus on are the threshold, ratio, attack, release, and the gain (or makeup gain). These are the only ones that require adjustments to your vocal compression and you’ll be able to hear the difference. Next, I’ll jump into the ideal settings of all the aspects of compression.
Threshold & Ratio
One of the more important parts of compressing vocals is setting the threshold. The threshold is what keeps the vocal contained so it doesn’t cross over a certain decibel level. In order for the loud parts to become more quiet, your threshold needs to be at the proper volume level.
The key to this is how much gain reduction is involved. The higher the threshold, the less gain reduction it brings to your vocal. It’d be ideal to leave it at the default setting to get a sense of direction on how low the threshold should be, and then you can slowly reduce it or increase it.
The best sounding songs consist of vocals that are not compressed too much, but just enough to keep that natural sound to them while keep it contained smoothly.
A good rule to go by for setting your ratio is somewhere in the vicinity of 2:1 to 4:1. This will keep that natural and not to aggressive sounding compression when it crosses the threshold.
Attack & Release
While going through all these different settings within your compressor plug-in, it really helps to know what they actually do. The purpose of adjusting the attack is so the transients within the frequencies of your vocal are being put into action at the most appropriate force. The purpose of the release is to measure how fast or slow the meter is after it attacks.
Adjusting these two settings will really depend on how you want your vocals to sound after compression. So having a faster attack with a faster release will have your vocals sounding aggressive, which is why it’s a good idea to be subtractive while mixing. Turn the release up enough to where you can hear it and then slowly decrease the setting until you get the sound you desire.
Of course there are different presets I can provide, but there’s no one size fits all so this will require intensive listening to make the appropriate corrections.
This last part of the compression process is fairly simple. This puts the finishing touches by adding some gain to your vocal to make it sound cleaner and clearer. Now this is increasing the output volume of everything you’ve just done in the process so that you can hear all your compression changes.
I like to subtlety add some gain so that it somewhat matches my input gain on the meter, but not too much that it makes it too loud.
Crystal Clear Vocals
If you’ve followed along up to this point in the article then you should have some pretty clear sounding vocals to your new song! I don’t like to give too many presets because I’ve learned from experience that they don’t always work for the project I’m working on specifically. I learned to get in the habit of using my ears to my advantage and my music has turned out much better.
I really hope I’ve been able to help all who’ve been following along with these steps. I’m more than happy to answer any questions and help out if you run into any obstacles while compressing so we can get you those crystal clear vocals. Leave your comments and questions below and I’ll get right back to you.