How to Compress Vocals With Confidence

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how to compress vocals

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I want you to learn how to compress  vocals with confidence, so I put together this article and video on the ways I typically go about compressing vocals in my home recordings.

As always I’m not the Zar of audio, but I do know some things that will help you get the results you are looking for.
This is not the only way to compress vocals, but this is how I like to approach my vocal tracks and my clients seem to be happy with the results. THAT’s what matters right!?
Today I want to discuss 3 different approaches on setting up compression on a vocal.
  1. One Compressor
  2. Two compressors
  3. Parallel compression
Before I go any further I want to state that when you first start using compression it can be hard to hear compression working. Your ears are not trained yet. You just need to practice and try different things. Over time you will be better at hearing the effect.
Of course, learn the fundamentals of a compressor so you have an understanding of what you’re doing .
You can learn more about how a compressor works here.
I put a video together at the end of this article to show you exactly how I go about setting up each step I outline in this article. 
Now lets dive into the good stuff!

One Compressor (The one hitter quitter!)

Some people like to slap on 3 compressors, 3 EQs, and all kinds of plugins to shape a vocal the way they want, and thats cool, but damn that can get complicated real fast. If you’re just starting out, it can get real confusing and you start second guessing if the moves you’re doing are actually helping your vocal sound. I’ve been there.
Most of the time in mixing I like to keep it simple. I believe if you have to put 10 plugins on any track to get it to sound good, then maybe the recording is not up to par.
Get it right at the source (during the recording) and you shouldn’t have to work so hard in the mixing stage to get a quality sound.
That said, if you have a good vocal recording, using one compressor should be just fine in putting some finishing touches on it in the mix.
If you need help getting a good vocal recording go watch this video I put together by clicking here.
Any stock compressor in your DAW of choice is good enough to get the job done.
how to compress

photo by RevAndy.org

We all need a friend ( 2 compressors)

Now instead of using just 1 compressor to do all the work, you can call up your compressors buddy down the street to come over and lend a helping hand. Maybe shoot the shit a little bit over a cold beer. Actually guys and gals, I promote safe audio practices.  Please don’t drink and compress. Things can get ugly real fast. If you insist on catching a buzz, please call a friend to drive the compressor home.
Using two compressors can take the load off the 1st compressor and make for a more natural, not overly compressed vocal sound. Using 2 comps doesn’t mean you are trying to compress twice as much, but rather splitting up the gain reduction and desired effect over compressors.
For example, one compressor could be just catching the peaks, and the other could be smoothing out the tail or sustain of the vocal. Using 2 different brands of compressors can actually add different tones to the vocal as well. A lot of times people use a certain compressor solely for the tone that it applies to the audio source.
After you learn the fundamentals on how to compress vocals, you will then naturally develop a taste, and develop your own style of using compression. Thats awesome! Just keep practicing and good things will happen.
how to compress Vocals

photo by Parallel Gallery and Journal

Parallel Compression (say what!?)

A really cool way to add some meat to a vocal and get away with compression the crap out of it, is to use a method called parallel compression. What this allows you to do is keep the natural dynamic performance of the original vocal, and then blend in a super compressed performance of the same vocal along side the original.
You can either duplicate the vocal track, or “Send” a copy of of the vocal track to another blank track. The result is the same. I show you in the video below how I set this up.
You can also get away with adding cool effects to the super compressed track that you wouldn’t normally put on the original. I compress the crap out of the second track and also add some distortion, and sometimes other effects. I just play around.
By itself, the parallel track will sound pretty nasty, but the listener will never hear this by itself. The key is to blend lightly into the original vocal, resulting in a thicker, more energetic performance. You can really play around and create some cool sounding results using this method.

DE-esser

The last thing I want to talk about is a not so sexy use of compressing. It’s not what people write whole articles around, but is essential sometimes to putting the final touches on a vocal.
When talking about how to compress vocals, a lot of people overlook De-essing, or getting rid of the super sibilant sounds when singing words that begin with the letter “S”. It helps with any sounds with that high frequency harshness as well.
After adding EQ and a compressor or 2, you are likely to be left with some sibilant problems. A De-esser is a targeted compressor that simply dips down the volume of just those sibilant frequencies ,and only when they occur. It’s not constantly working on every word.
In the video I also show you a way to handle these sibilant areas without a plugin. It just takes some extra elbow grease and time.
If you want to learn more about how to EQ vocals you can click here.
I’ve hoped you learned something today, and don’t forget to watch the video below for further explanation and to see it all in action. Please share this article if you found it helpful, and comment below if you have a cool way of compressing vocals you would like to share. Im forever and always a student of audio! 

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