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Compressing Vocals: Tips from the Easy Home Recording Blueprint method
Well before I even consider compressing vocals, the first thing I do is to use volume/mix automation to adjust each unnatural sounding volume spike (also areas that are too quiet) throughout the whole vocal track.
** Something to think about: I believe people get into trouble when they immediately plug in a compressor to level the average volume of a performance on the recorded track. Just because you have a compressor doesn’t mean you should use it. (Sometimes old-school, simpler methods are the first place you should look for solutions.)
Remember compression added during the course of a recording session adds up quickly. You see, after compressing vocals to “level out” the performance, folks will often add more vocal compression as the mix is taking shape and/or more tracks are added.
Then they put compression on the whole stereo mix, and then the mastering guy compresses the whole thing again. Whew. That’s where all these squashed mixes that don’t breathe are coming from out there in Home Recording Land.
As I said, I try to hold off the vocal compression until I exhaust simpler means of getting the mix sounding close.
Here are the steps or priorities I generally observe when compressing vocals:
- Level the track’s performance initially using volume automation (automated mixing tools are available on most recording software)
- Use EQ as a mix tool for a track. (As people using the Easy Home Recording Blueprint know, you can bring a track forward or push it back in the mix, as well as give it more (or less) punch, using strategic and very simple EQ tweaks which often can take care of many issues that people are too quick to use compression for.)
- Much later in the process, when the tracks are pretty much sitting well together, I’ll end up compressing vocals lightly to simply “enhance” the sound and give it a solid sound or tone.
** Something to think about: I try very hard NOT to use compression to “rescue” a track, but instead I save compression and use it as enhancement on a track that’s already sounding pretty good.
When I approach compressing vocals this way, I find that a little goes much further – i.e. I can use much lighter, less severe settings and they pack more punch than if I was adding it all through the project to solve every little thing.