How to Compress Vocals in Any Genre

Julian Worden

Julian Worden

Don't forget that there's a video on this topic on this page too! Scroll down!

I think vocal compression is probably the most critical part of vocal production. You could have the most ideal EQ settings for the vocal that you’re working on and the performance could be top notch, but if its dynamics are all over the place then it will definitely sound pretty off. That’s why I pay so much attention to compression and why you should too.

If you’d like to hear this 2 compressor process discussed in detail, then scroll down and watch the video! It will cover the same information, and it’ll give you audible examples so you can better understand the concepts.

Compressor 1

The first compressor in my insert chain set the same way for pretty much every vocal I work on. I’m usually using an SSL channel strip plugin of some kind, but you could probably do this with any compressor you have at your disposal.

On this compressor, I usually use a 3:1 ratio, the fastest attack possible, and a pretty long release. The reasoning behind the fast attack and long release settings is simple. I want this compressor to be responsible for holding my vocal in place and making sure that it sounds like it’s staying consistent. As such, it’s usually 10-14dB of gain reduction whenever the vocalist is singing at all.

Of course, don’t take any of these numbers as exact values that you have to match, this is just what works for me most of the time.

Compressor 2

Next up is what I like to call my “movement” compressor. Usually, I’m using the Waves CLA-76 as the second compressor in my insert chain, but, like I said before, you could use whatever you have at your disposal. The settings on this compressor are as follows: a 4:1 ratio, the fastest release, about 10-14dB of gain reduction, and a medium attack.

The reason I set my attack and release settings this way is because I want the compressor to make the start of each word the vocalist is singing pop out just a little bit harder. The medium attack lets a portion of the start of different words through, the fast release brings the volume back up quickly thereafter, and sort of a pumping effect that makes it sound like the singer is singing more aggressively than they really are is produced.

I do not use this compressor on every mix. For example, using this compressor for vocals on a metal song almost always works for me because of the additional aggression it adds. On the other hand, using it on an acoustic song or any genre that’s more laid back could produce unwanted artifacts. If you start to hear weird mouth noises and breaths at the same volume as singing, then you’ve probably gone too far.

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