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Vocal compression explained in 4 easy steps

Last week's blog was about vocal mixing. However, we haven't talked about compressing vocals yet.


Here is a full guide on how to use a compressor to get the absolute best out of your vocals! We'll talk about how to set your attack, release, threshold and knee.


If you want to learn more about compression in general, here is a full blog all about compression.


Vocal compression explained in 4 easy steps.


Anyways, let's get started!


With the compressor, we try to get the vocal to fit into the mix better and we try to make it sound as clear as possible. Another thing to mention is that you should apply manual gain automation before the compressor to achieve the best results. Applying manual automation before will result in a more natural-sounding vocal. For more information about that check out our post about vocal mixing


The compressor will add the final touch of dynamic control to the vocal and give it shape.


Table of Contents:

4. Knee



Attack Time


Attack time in vocal compression.

The attack time will affect the consonants of your vocal.


If you want a less aggressive vocal, you have to go for a faster attack time. However, a fast attack time might push the vocal in the back of the mix. In most genres, this is not what you want. But for some mixes, this is the way to go.


A slow attack time will bring the consonants more to the front. This will make the performance sound more clear. It will make the vocalist sound more upfront. A slow attack time will work the best for genres like pop, EDM, rap, and rock. It basically works for all genres where clarity is needed in a vocal.


To get the best result for your track, you can start with a moderate setting around 5 ms. Close your eyes and decide if you want more clarity for the consonants or less. If you want more, slow down the attack. If you want less, speed it up!



Release Time


The compressor's release time controls the shape of the end of your words.


A fast release will bring out details that maybe you couldn't hear before. This can be good and bad. On one side, you might hear words better, which is good. But on the other hand, it could bring up stuff like breaths that sometimes sit a bit more in the back. Anyways, a fast release works best in genres like pop, EDM, and all other mainstream genres.


If you're working in softer genres like jazz, a timed release will work the best. To get the best results, use the digital display that most compressors have nowadays. Try to get it natural and not too aggressively working.


Release time in vocal compression.


Threshold


The threshold determines how much compression will be applied.


To get the best results it's useful to combine threshold and ratio.


First, set a moderate ratio, for example 4:1. In the second step listen to the whole mix and focus on the vocal. While doing that, pull down the threshold. Listen carefully and notice when the compressor starts working. If you lose volume, you can bring up the makeup gain. Play around with the threshold till you can hear everything clearly, but make sure you don't lose too much dynamics.


When you think the compressor is too aggressive you can also bring down the ratio. On the other hand, you can bring up the ratio if words aren't clear enough.



Threshold in vocal compression.


Knee


Some compressors have a setting called knee.

If you think that your vocal starts to sound unnatural, you can use the knee parameter to smooth the compressor out a bit. This is kinda hard to explain, but it's like if you add round edges to a rectangle.


So a soft knee will make the transitions from compression and no compression softer.


A hard knee will make the transition sharper.


If you think the compressors work too sharp, add a soft knee to get a more natural feel.



Hard and soft knee in vocal compression.


Perfect Solution?


Compression can help you but it can also destroy the sound.


You might have noticed that we haven't given you any specific numbers to use. That's because there is no formula to get the best results.


But with a guide like this, you will understand how vocal compression works and get the best results for all your vocals.



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