For any music producer, a vocal compression is a quintessential tool when trying to make something new specifically because it helps them to even out the dynamic range of a vocal performance which polishes the sound and allows the music producer to make it more professional and elegant.
Albeit the significance of vocal compression, not many know the correct Vocal Compressor settings, and hence getting the right output becomes a challenge, especially for those music producers who are just starting. This is why we have written this blog, where we will explore everything you need to know about vocal compressor settings.
Understanding the basic controls of a compressor is one of the most critical building blocks for a music producer. If you are a beginner, we suggest you thoroughly read the section. If not, you can skip to the next section, “Advanced Vocal Compression Settings”
The threshold limit is the level at which the compressor begins to reduce the signal volume. We’ve told this in compression for acoustic guitar, and it works differently in both cases.
The ratio set in a compressor will tell it how much of the signal will be attenuated when the level goes above the threshold. For example, if you set the ratio at 2:1, the compressor will reduce the signal volume above the threshold by half.
If you want your compressor to start working quickly, a fast attack time will cause the compressor to kick in almost immediately. On the contrary, a slower attack time will allow more of the initial signal to pass through without any compression.
The release setting is exactly the opposite of attack, a faster release time will cause the compressor to stop working more quickly, and a slower release time will simply allow more of the compressed signal to pass through even after the signal has fallen below the threshold.
If you have used compression before, you must know that there is some volume loss due to the process. Makeup gain, as the name suggests, is important to compensate for the lost volume.
Now that you know the best terminology behind the compression process in music production, let us take you through a step-by-step guide on the process of Vocal compression.
The first step is to set the threshold. Choosing a threshold that captures most of the performance is important, but also keep in mind that it should allow some dynamic range.
Vocal Compressor Settings for a ratio can be around 2:1 or 3:1 if you don’t have any specific needs in mind.
We suggest keeping a moderately fast attack time as it helps capture the initial signal of the vocals. Also, a 100 ms vocal compressor setting is a good release time.
Makeup Gain is one of the most underrated vocal compressor settings as it allows you to make the mixing easier and ensures that the vocal remains audible.
Taking things a notch higher, let us dig deeper and go to some advanced vocal compression settings that will help you polish your vocals even better and enhance the overall feel of your music.
Multiband compression is a complex technique that allows a music producer to divide the audio signal into several frequency bands and then apply different compression settings to each band individually.
By now, you must have already understood its value and how it can help a music producer. These vocal compression settings are widely put in use for vocals, as it allows more compression to certain frequencies and, at the same time, leave other frequencies unaffected. This gives great freedom of control to technicians.
As the name suggests, parallel compression allows us to blend a compressed signal with an uncompressed signal which is often used in vocal compression settings when there is a need to achieve a more aggressive and upfront sound without sacrificing the natural dynamics of the track.
De-essing is a popular technique that involves reducing the level of sibilant sounds. Sibilant sounds are sounds such as "s" and "sh" in any vocal performance.
De-essing is achieved by using special plugins or a multiband compressor to reduce the volume of the frequencies of sibilant sounds selectively. Vocal compressor settings like these are particularly used for vocals that were recorded with a lot of sibilances or in a room with a lot of high-frequency reflections, which can make the track sound a little irritating to the ear.
Although most of you might have heard of Saturation, let us tell you that it is one of the vocal compressor settings that is not easy to master. Saturation involves adding harmonic distortion to an audio signal which in turn allows the track to sound warmer and more analogue-sounding.
Saturation allows the music producer to add character and color to a digital recording. It can be applied with other vocal compressor settings to create the desired effect.
By now, you have learned about the simple and advanced Vocal compressor settings, but this section will take you ahead from all the theories. With years of practical use of these techniques, we have curated a list of common mistakes you must avoid while compressing vocals.
This might feel unwarranted, but one of music producers' most common mistakes is overcompressing the vocals. Overcompressing often results in a lifeless sound that feels artificial and too digital.
Overcompression can be a result of incorrect vocal compressor settings. Ratio, if set too high or when the attack and release settings are too fast, vocals tend to be over-compressed. Overcompression can be simply avoided by using a moderate compression ratio and adjusting the attack and release settings to suit the vocal performance.
Another thing that can destroy the feeling of a natural sound is inconsistent gain. If a music producer applies too much gain reduction to certain parts of the vocal, it will result in inconsistency. This mostly happens with incorrect vocal compressor settings around the vocals, which can trigger the compressor with sudden spikes in volume.
Albeit the problem, this issue can simply be avoided by using a fast attack time to catch these transients and adjusting the release time to allow the vocal to breathe naturally.
Keeping in mind only the vocal compressor settings to balance the dynamics of vocal performance, people often target the vocals are just one part of the mix. Ignoring the final mix in mind often results in a vocal being too loud or too quiet, which will not sound too great. A good audio compressor plays a big role in ensuring Mix is well-balanced.
Again, this can also be avoided by keeping in mind the context of the track's final mix and adjusting vocal compressor settings according to the mix.
A high-pass filter is used as vocals often contain low-end frequencies that can cause muddiness in the mix, and a high-pass filter will remove these unwanted frequencies, and hence the recorded sound will be much cleaner.
Rookies often ignore a high-pass filter to save some budget, but any music producer worth their salt would never make this mistake.
Beginner-level music producers often sit back and rest after applying vocal compressor settings for the entire vocal at once, irrespective of the dynamics or intensity of the entire performance.
When a music producer does that, the outcoming sound will either be too compressed or inadequately compressed, which can be avoided by adjusting the vocal compressor settings for different vocal parts, such as verses and choruses as bridges.
Music producers forget that they are humans first and technicians after. They often forget that the most important thing to remember when compressing vocals is to use their ears.
All the guidelines, techniques, and rules are only created to guide you. Still, at the end of the day, it is your instinct that makes you different from the rest of the eight billion people on the planet. Using your ears to adjust vocal compressor settings is and will be the best way to create the sound that you have visioned and desired.
We can fairly conclude that vocal compression settings are extremely critical for music producers working with vocals. We hope that this blog has given you a brief understanding of the basic of vocal compressor settings along with advanced techniques, including the likes of multiband compression, parallel compression, de-essing, and saturation.
In the end, we would like to stress that though these vocal compressor settings are here to help you produce great music, you have to decide what works well for you and your taste!