Mixing Vocals 101: How to Mix Vocals Perfectly

by Ilan Adar, NoiseWorks CEO  15.08.2023
Mixing Vocals 101 - NoiseWorks
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Effective Vocal Compression

Ensure you level out your vocals before applying a compressor. By using a vocal rider, such as GainAim, or manual automation, you can ensure a more consistent signal. This makes it easier to dial in the desired settings for your vocals. With a more consistent input, the compressor won’t have to deal with a broad dynamic range and can process the signal more evenly.

Instead of using a single compressor on vocals, we’ll distribute the desired compression across two compressors with different settings. This technique is known as serial compression and helps prevent unwanted pumping and other artifacts.

Example for overcompressed signal

One crucial note: There’s no universal tutorial for always setting a compressor correctly. I can only explain the function of each parameter, as your vocal track will differ from others. With the strategies outlined in the upcoming sections, you will learn the basics, but it’s up to you to discover the sound you prefer and how to reproduce it.

Step 1. Control the dynamic range

Thanks to YouTube for that awesome thumbnail 😀

This Compressor operates quickly and rigorously. It’s the component that subdues high-volume peaks in your signal.

  1. Load your chosen compressor onto your track.

  2. Begin with a ratio of 10:1 (10dB input = 1dB output).

  3. Adjust the ratio to respond only to individual volume peaks.

  4. If possible, set the knee to ‘hard.’

  5. Position the attack between 4ms and 10ms. The lower the attack, the more “aggressive” your sound will be. This setting determines how fast the compressor responds when a signal exceeds the threshold.

  6. Using the release, you can push your signal further back or bring it to the fore. The lower the release, the more forward your vocals will be. Start with 20ms and listen to the vocal in context with your song to allow it to breathe. To make an informed decision, refer to your reference track.

  7. You can now decrease the ratio to somewhere between 4:1 and 2:1 until the gain reduction reaches 2-4 dB.

  8. With the Output gain, you can restore the signal to its pre-compression volume. To do this, switch on bypass and then switch back to check for any gain differences. Alternatively, use GainAim in leveler mode, which adjusts the gain for you automatically.

Without dynamic range compression

With dynamic range compression

With dynamic range compression whole clip

Step 2. Tonal Compression

This compressor will modify the tonality of your vocal. If possible, choose a compressor that adds some character to your vocals, such as the LA2A, although it’s not mandatory.

  1. Load the compressor onto your track and start with extreme values. Choose a high ratio (10:1) and a low threshold, making it easier to hear the impact of your adjustments.
  2. Begin with a slower attack (10 – 20 ms). The slower the attack, the more aggressive your sound will be. A faster attack results in a thicker sound. Little note: The LA2A has an average attack of 20 ms.
  3. Set the release somewhere between 40ms – 60ms. The higher the value, the more audible the effect of compression.
  4. Now you can reduce the ratio back down to 2:1 – 4:1, depending on your genre.
  5. Lastly, adjust the threshold to achieve a gain reduction of 3-5 dB.

Congratulations, we’ve successfully compressed our vocal signal!

Without tonal compression

With tonal compression

With tonal compression whole clip

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