Using Compression in Series to Process Lead Vocals

Understanding how to use compression in series to control the dynamic range of lead vocals.

Compression


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There is nothing more important than the vocals in any song and in any genre. It doesn’t matter if your track is banging or your drums are imploring you to bust some bebop moves, it is the vocals that will tell the story – vocals reign supreme.

So it makes sense to spend time perfecting the vocals and there is no single process more important than ‘audio compression’ in both controlling the dynamics of the vocals and shaping it to sit in the mix.

Compression is truly a weapon in the producer’s arsenal of weapons and it can do so much more than simply control the dynamic range (the difference between the quietest and loudest part of the audio signal) of an audio signal. It is a sculpting tool in that we can use the compressor’s various parameters to shape the audio to taste.

If you are still a little unclear about how a compressor works then watch this FREE video tutorial: Compression – Science and Application

Dual Compressors

Now that we know what a compressor is and how it works we can explore a wonderful industry technique that pro producers use: that of using two compressors in series to achieve amazing vocals!

The idea is quite simple: the first compressor is used to shape the audio, control the dynamic range and level out the volume so the vocal can sit in the mix. The second compressor is used to catch and smooth out any peaks of volume (transient peaks) that get past the first compressor. This allows us to apply some hefty gain changes to the vocals without too much fear of clipping or distorting.

To set up this serial chain all you need is one compressor feeding another compressor. In Cubase, and almost all DAWs, this can be done at the channel insert whereby you place one compressor above the other.

In the video I show you how to set up both the Steinberg stock compressors, explain in detail what settings to use for each compressor and end with examples of how different settings affect how we perceive the vocals. I show you how to use the Gclip clipper plugin to ascertain if any errant spikes have crept through the compression processes.

Plugins used in this video:

GClip Clipper

Steinberg Compressor

Topics covered in the video are:

  • Dynamic Range
  • Peak Transients
  • ISP Control
  • Managing Errant Spikes
  • Setting up Compressors
  • Understanding Gains across Serial Compression
  • Maximising Headroom