Vocal compressors aren’t just for vocals anymore. While compressors might have an intentional, dedicated purpose, they’re flexible enough to be used across various sources of audio in a harmonically appealing way.
So while tools like JW BG-Vocals might have been created with the intent of making a powerhouse vocal compressor, there are no rules saying they can’t be used elsewhere. Anywhere in your mix that seems to match the characteristics of a vocal is a great place to start.
Here are some of my favorite uses:
On Your Vocal Bus
Yes, the intended placement. Since JW BG-Vocals was developed as part of the Bus Glue series, it’s no wonder this is where it gets used the most. But have you ever thought about why? What makes a bus vocal compressor different from a compressor you might use on an individual track?
Individual vs. Group
You see, when you start processing at the group level, your dynamics change completely. You’ve no longer got a single voice with highs and lows, spikes in volume, and individual noise floors. You’ve got the summation of all your vocal tracks coming together.
This means that a single vocal’s peak is going to influence the rest of the vocals in the bus, and this is a huge part of the “glue” process that ties them all together.
While many compressors can handle these dynamics, they’re not always optimized for it. It’s why in the hardware world engineers are spending thousands of dollars more for bus compressors than they are for single-channel units.
In the software realm, we get the best of both at an amazing discount when you compare the results. Bus compressors are available at the click of a button, and can be applied to both individual tracks and busses of vocals simply and efficiently.
On The Mix Bus
Your mix bus is another great candidate for a vocal compressor, even if you’ve got a mix bus-dedicated compressor at your disposal. When it comes to dynamic source audio, vocals have varying dynamics to the extreme. Things like subtle breathing can sometimes need to be as prevalent as a scream. Your mix bus is the next logical place with dynamics this extreme, since it’s tying together every element of the song.
In addition to the leveling aspect a vocal compressor can add to your mix bus, there are bonus features that can be applied to the mix that a traditional compressor might not offer. In the case of JW BG-Vocals, these come in the form of some top-end boosting with the “Tone” setting, and some additional bite/clipping with the “Aggro” setting.
Hear how Fluff uses just a small amount of clipping (only about 4%) on his mix bus in the video below:
You can really get some extreme results out of these settings, but it just goes to show how much more flexibility you get when you start thinking outside of the box with your compressors and other processors.
On Any Dynamic Instrument
You can probably make the argument that most live instruments can be dynamic, and that’s sort of my point here. There are too many situations to list off one by one, but as a whole if the dynamics of a track match the dynamics you typically see with a vocal, that track is a great candidate for your vocal compressor.
Things like wind instruments and airy pads can benefit from the same type of treatment as a breathy vocal.
Loud, aggressive guitars and drums aren’t too different from loud, dynamic singers or screamers.
Finding the similarities in sounds is a great approach to finding new techniques and will keep you feeling inspired and creative. I love discovering new uses for plugins that don’t have anything to do with their intended purpose, because chances are there are very few others using the same tool in the way I am.
Develop Your Own Sound
By using your plugins in your own way, you develop your own signature sound. While using a compressor in place of another compressor might not seem revolutionary, it adds up quickly.
Experiment with your sound and find the tools that work best for you. If your vocal compressor sounds great on your guitar bus, use it. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong, because at the end of the day all that matters is the sound.
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