Pop punk is a genre full of heavy hitters and catchy AF choruses. What started out with artists like Green Day, Blink-182, and Sum 41 grew into a wide array of bands incorporating everything from metal-like screams and breakdowns to Top 40 production-style synths. Atop all of these great, upbeat elements are energetic vocals that you just can’t help but sing along with.
But with great energy comes great need for compression – at least if you want to sound like a pro. Here’s why…
Don’t Tame Your Singer’s Performance
Part of the quality of any singer’s performance is their ability to move around as they perform. With pop punk, this is especially true. Pop punk singers in live environments bounce all around the stage – running back and forth to get the crowd to do the same. After all, how much better of a show is that than just someone standing in one spot without much energy at all?
In the studio, it’s hard to convey that same amount of energy with a voice alone. Your singer needs to be able to move around a bit, even if it’s just moving their head around the mic. Too often, I see producers telling their singers to stand an exact distance from the mic and not to move around because they can record a bit easier that way. In my opinion, this could completely derail your hopes of ever getting the vocals your song deserves.
Instead, let your singer move around and do what they need to in order to be comfortable. A comfortable singer is going to be able to sing more naturally and they’ll sound just like they do when rehearsing or performing on stage. On your end, this means using compression to tame the peaks of the performance and even out the levels. It might even mean experimenting with polar patterns – using something other than cardioid to minimize proximity effect in your recording.
Remember: there are almost always multiple solutions to the same problem in the studio.
Compressing for Mix Presence
Once the vocal has been tracked, don’t think you’re finished with compression just yet. Often, vocals will see two, three, or even four or more stages of compression before they get printed to the final mix. These stages of compression are much more transparent than trying to do it all with a single compressor and often work to massage a vocal into your mix as you go.
Think of each step as a new opportunity to draw something out of that voice. With the initial compression, you’re just trying to reduce peaks so you can bring up the overall level of the vocal track. The next stage might address sibilance or warmth within the voice and add some saturation. Just check out how Timmy Nawman approaches his vocal compression with Gain Reduction 2 in this pop punk track:
After you’ve got your lead vocal sounding just right, it still needs to sound like it belongs with any doubles or harmonies, so some vocal bus compression might be the perfect way to glue them all together. Think of it as pre-processing steps as your vocals approach the final mix bus where they’ll hit yet another compressor!
Pop Punk Vocal Production
As essential as compression is to great pop punk vocals, it’s certainly not the only thing contributing to the quality of your track. You need to understand what it is that makes a catchy vocal, why certain lyrics become “earworms” in the mix, and how modern vocal producers are using everything at their disposal to remain competitive on the charts.
If you could use a bit more experience in this area, make sure you check out The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook, which is available exclusively to JST VIP members for a limited time. Inside, you’ll get dozens of tips and tricks for writing and mixing great vocals in a way that applies to any style of music.