Recording Audio, Mics & Vocal Compressors

Recording Vocals pt1
Vocal Recording pt2
Measure Twice & Cut Once
Vocal Compressors
Processing & EQ
Virtual & Software Tools
Pro Mics & Pre-amps
Mastering 101
Music Biz Bundle

Vocal Compression

Another thing to be concerned about when recording vocals is using a compressor. If you find yourself frustrated by trying to record an aggressive vocalist that "hits" the mic pretty hard, then you may need to use a little compression. And with that reality, I think it will be in your best interest, to go out and invest in some type of quality outboard compressor. Even something economical that fits into your budget may be better than using nothing at all. See, without a compressor, it can be just too difficult to find a suitable recording level that works throughout a vocal performance, especially vocals with a lot of dynamics; loud in one spot, soft in another. Of course, you can attempt to "ride the fader" while recording, but this can be very, very hard to do with some vocalists. I record vocals all the time with no compressor in the signal chain, and have gotten great results, but I have been doing pro recording for over 25 years. Also, to be clear, I am not talking about getting a compressor in place after a performance that has already been tracked...which is also an important option in audio production, but with present-day technology, you can use a digital compressor plug-in. What I'm primarily talking about right now is getting an outboard hardware compressor in the signal chain to assist with recording vocals with lots of dynamics, so that overall - the vocals can be controlled a little more as the performance is being captured or recorded.

What is a Compressor?

· Compressor: A compressor is used to control audio levels. Many times it can be very difficult to get audio levels to stay constant, and therefore making the audio performance have volume irregularities. A compressor is primarily designed to help you maintain levels to be more consistent. But, depending on the settings of the compressor (attack, release, decay, threshold, ratio, etc), it can be used to alter the sound in other ways outside of controlling audio variations.

Audio Sigtnal Chain?

· Signal Chain: The signal chain is a term used to describe to path of the audio and the processors in the "chain" or path. Basically the signal processing chain contains various components and signal processors with inputs and outputs and possibly digital and analog converters in a pathway. For example: The Signal Chain below is a Mic going to a Pre-amp, then going to a Compressor, then going to an Audio Recorder's hardware.

Audio Signal Chain

Compressor Settings

Of course, every piece of gear will have it's own characteristics, and there are no absolutes with the "art of recording" as far as using outboard gear compressors or digital plug-ins, but, I do suggest starting with a compression ratio of 2:1 for vocals. And, as far as the attack and release settings; fast as you can get away with, and a release setting that does not modify the sound of things on the vocal too much - then work it from there. Now, this will all take some experimentation for you, but it is very much worth the time it takes to understand how to use your compressor, at least a little...if you are going to be doing the tracking yourself. Also, you will begin to learn the characteristics of the particular compressor.

Tracking Levels

One of the main things that many of you as up-and-coming engineer/producers should remember is that since you are tracking digital, you do NOT have to "hit" zero; you stay under zero! Actually, when I'm tracking, I believe that -2 dB in most digital recorders is plenty for a peak level. Even at the -1 dB level, you're still ok, buy why even risk the chance of clipping.

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DJ Emperor Searcy