The Beginner’s Guide To Vocal Compression

A well-compressed vocal performance is capable of sending chills down your spine. Defining the correct way to compress a voice is difficult though, because no two vocal performances are identical.

There are few instruments that can compare to the dynamism of the human voice. Think of all of the popular music of the past hundred years and it’s easy to see that vocals are the most common element.

Even looking at different sections of a single song, you can usually hear a drastic difference between the way a verse and chorus are sung. For engineers, this means jumping through hoop after hoop to settle a vocal into the pocket perfectly.

Fortunately for all of us, compressors can handle a large amount of heavy lifting necessary to take a vocal performance from good to great. A compressor, by definition, limits the amount of dynamism in the vocal, but in a subtle and effective way when done correctly.

All of this equates to more control over your vocal, and in turn, a more powerful, defined sound for engineers and producers to work with.

What To Look For In A Vocal Compressor

When looking for a vocal compressor, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options out there. Many, many compressors claim to do it all, and some will claim that they’re ideal for vocals – but how can you be sure?

A vocal compressor should be flexible and adaptable without being overly complicated. A lot of the “bells and whistles” are truly just functionality to disguise the truth that some compressors just don’t sound that good on their own.

Look for features that enhance the sound, not hide it. 

A good, colorful compressor should saturate your vocal in a way that enhances the sound, but far too often they bury it instead. Look for a compressor that piques your interest based on its sound, not on an endless array of knobs and settings that you might never need.

Instead of giving in to the marketing hype of any given compressor, use your ears to make your own decision. Watch demos where the presenter pushes the compressor to its limits. See where the plugin shines and where it falls short of your expectations.

By letting your ears guide your decision, you can sift through the BS and track down the right fit for you and your vocals.

Compressing On The Way In

Too much compression while recording can be a nasty thing, but a small amount can work wonders.

From a psychological perspective, compressing your singers voice while tracking can boost confidence. An overly dynamic singer will be “smoothed out” and sound a bit more mix-ready, something that can actually improve their performance.

In addition, including a compressor in your signal chain on the way in can take away some heavy lifting of compressors later on in the mix.

The basic guidelines for compressing on the way in are pretty simple:

· Maintain a low ratio
· Adjust your input/threshold to just catch the peaks
· Compensate with makeup gain to ensure proper gain staging

Following these steps will give you a lightly compressed vocal that should be easier to work with when it comes time to mix.

Use caution – printing compression during tracking means no turning back later.

Compressing While Mixing

Once you’ve captured your vocals and your ready to start gluing them together with the rest of the mix, you’ll usually find that it’s time to add more significant compression. Whether the purpose of your compression is to add body, inject some air or just to even out the sound a bit further is up to you.

The benefit of using a compressor like Gain Reduction Deluxe is that you don’t need to know right off the bat what you’re looking for. The controls lend themselves to experimentation: add more or less Slay to your vocals and quickly tweak it until it sounds right. You can do the same tweaks with Body, Gain & Lo-Fi until you’ve got the perfect fit for your song.

Compression shouldn’t require an overly technical person to find the right sound, and that’ why we built Gain Reduction Deluxe with a simplified interface. Rather than leaving too many parameters to be adjusted, we wanted something that did as much as possible on the back end based on a few simplified adjustments.

The end result is an amazingly powerful compressor that’s been able to articulate my signature vocal sound in a way that’s easier than ever to use.

Ready To Stop Using Presents?

Presets are a great starting point on compressors where you don’t know what you’re doing, but when the controls are made to work for you, it becomes much more intuitive to do it yourself. If you’re ready to start using a compressor made to work for you, give Gain Reduction Deluxe a try (you won’t be disappointed).

Once you’ve gotten a chance to feel it out yourself, let us know what you think over on the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum!