Vocal Mixing Guide | Compression


In this article we're going to learn how to compress vocals.   Not seen part one?  Check out our the first instalment where we prep the recordings & learn how to EQ harsh vocals


With the amount of options available, mixed opinions and numerous techniques available, we've decided to get back to basics.  All of the techniques used can be applied to any compressor or DAW and don't require any special plug-ins, just use what you feel the most comfortable with.  The role of the compressor in this article is to control level.  We want to be able to hear all of the lyrics and style at a similar volume, preventing certain words from being lost or hidden.


What is a compressor? 

A compressor is a piece of hardware or software (plug-in) that controls dynamics.  To put it simply, it turn's down the loud sounds and turns up the quiet ones.  This can be incredibly useful is smoothing out a recording that changes volume lots, make a guitar performance even or in this helping compress a vocal recording.




What are the settings on a compressor? 

The compressor has a few settings that are worth noting, especially when looking to learn how to compress vocals.  So..

Threshold - The level at which the compressor starts working.  This will be different for different sound sources.  A quiet vocal will need a greater threshold compared to a loud vocal that will need less level.

Attack - This is the speed or time taken for the compressor to start working.

Note: The attack setting on a compressor is crucial - Slower settings allow for the transient to come through before being clamped down'

Release - The speed at which the compressor returns back to its normal state.  The speed that you set is often dependant on the tempo of the song or the speed of performance.


How Do I Compress A Vocal Properly?

Learning how to compress vocals takes time and there are no strict rues but here's my guide:

  1. Firstly, see if you can level out some of the vocal levels using clip gain or similar.
  2. Start with a low ratio of around 3 or 4:1.
  3. Begin to lower the threshold until you see some gain reduction
  4. Set the release as fast as possible
  5. Set the attack as fast as possible then slowly dial it back - we're looking for something that feels natural but quick enough to catch the transients.


Working with this first level of compression is a balancing act and will take a little tweaking.  This is where thew second compressor comes in.. read on!






Why Two Is Better Than One

The first compressor in the chain is perfect to catching and taming those spikes in gain.  That's why compressor number 2 comes in!! 

By using a slower, gentler compressor after the quick one we're able to control the vocal and smooth things out even more.  A compressor like the LA-2A is perfect for this due to it's slower attack times and gentler approach to compression.  


Fancy leanring some more?!  Check out our top Vocal Mixing Tips