What Is Gain Reduction?

Gain Reduction is one of JST’s most unique products available and with the introduction of Gain Reduction 2, has grown into one of our greatest series of products right alongside the Toneforge virtual guitar rigs.

At their core – Gain Reduction Deluxe & Gain Reduction 2 have all been developed for just that purpose: the reduction of gain. But what exactly does that entail, how does it work, what makes it different than everything else, and most importantly, why do you need it?

I’m hoping that this will shine some light on all of those topics and help you learn a thing or two about my personal workflow and how it’s impacted the design and development of this plugin along the way.

So let’s start with the basics – what exactly is Gain Reduction?

Gain Reduction Basics

The Gain Reduction plugins have always been some of the most difficult to describe to those that haven’t used them because they do so much more than you’d anticipate. The core of Gain Reduction starts with compression.

As a vocal compressor, I wanted something that took the things that I loved about other compressors and combined them into one. No multi-stage, multi-plugin approach, just one compressor that was really, really good at compressing vocals.

Working with metal vocalists, compression is key. I needed something that could absolutely squash a vocal to make it sound thick and aggressive, but I also wanted something that could be used on clean vocals for upfront presence. In other words, Gain Reduction couldn’t be a one-trick pony that only handled metalcore vocals. The “Slay” control acts as the amount of compression being applied – with the lighter settings being great for clean vocals and heavier settings working hard to squash an aggressive one.

Everything started from that simple concept and grew to incorporate other parts of my signature vocal chain. I knew that I didn’t want just another run-of-the-mill compressor, but rather something that was a complete vocal production solution. As the vision for Gain Reduction changed, more features were added to give control of the other elements of a great vocal besides the compression.

Thicker Vocals with Gain Reduction

As much as compression helps to control peaks and tighten up a vocal performance, there are other aspects of a voice that make it sound thick and harmonically pleasing. Depending on the voice, you may need a slight low-mid bump to help thicken up a performance, which can be done easily with the “Body” control in any plugin. If your vocal sounds thin even with that boost, the “Gain” knob in Gain Reduction Deluxe and the “Warmth” knob in Gain Reduction 2 work to add saturation – harmonically distorting the vocal to add depth and complexity to its sonic makeup.

Saturation is a powerful tool that extends beyond vocals into any instrument that could use some sweetening, but it’s a mainstay for vocal producers of all genres on their lead vocal. By adding even- and odd-order harmonics to the performance, we’re able to “fill out” some of the empty space around a vocal in a way that reinforces the primary tone. Unlike a full-on distortion that a listener hears as crunchy and sometimes over the top, saturation is almost always a subtle effect that adds a whole lot of warmth to a singer’s voice.

Extended Options in Gain Reduction 2

With the launch of Gain Reduction 2, we introduced a whole new set of features to supplement the already powerful Gain Reduction Deluxe plugin. While the two may look completely different, their purpose is the same: to provide an easy-to-use vocal compressor with controls that anyone can understand.

The main controls are still there: Warmth, Slay & Body. To make things even more flexible, a Light Mode or Heavy Mode switch was added, allowing the Slay control to be even further refined than in the first version of the plugin depending on vocal performance.

From there, we added a slew of new features to supplement your vocal mixing process. “Clarity” was added to give you control over the intelligibility of a vocal. “Air” was added as a way to control the top-end shine. “Breath” was added as a way to control the sound of breathing between notes, and can be used to boost or lower their presence in the final mix. And “Sibilance” was added as a De-Esser like feature that allows you to raise or lower the “ess” sounds in your vocal with a single knob (dedicated De-Esser plugins can rarely boost the frequency – only cut it).

The primary intent of all of these new additions is to provide flexibility and an all-in-one vocal production plugin. While you still may find yourself reaching for an EQ to treat a particular problem frequency, Gain Reduction 2 is simplifying the vocal mixing process and giving you a lot of control in a single space. It makes it so that you can get a killer sounding vocal without a lot of hassle, freeing you up to focus on the performance and how it fits in with the rest of your mix.

Working With Vocal Groups

If you’re heavily involved in the vocal production process, you know it’s not just about how a lead vocal sounds – it’s about how it can be reinforced with other elements of the mix. Your vocal is the bread and butter of any commercial song, so anything you can do to help accentuate it should be done.

For detailed guidance on how pros are working with vocals, producing them & composing around them to glue things together for the final mix, check out some of our content over in the JST VIP section. We’ve got guide like The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook to show you exactly what kind of processing is being done in the studio in pursuit of the perfect vocal take.

Check it out!