There are two schools of thought when it comes to recording with compression:
Yes and No.
If you have a very dynamic singer, you may want to put some gentle compression on the recording chain in order to control some of the more energetic peaks.
However, if you’re going to lay down the vocals with compression on, you need to be confident that everything is set correctly and that this is going to be the sound you want to record.
Once the compression is on, you can’t take it off.
Tricks of the Trade with Compression
One way around this is to split your vocal channel into two, one with and one without compression.
This way you can record a clean vocal and a processed vocal at the same time.
If the vocal peaks your recording input, you can always edit to the compressed vocal for those sections.
Compression As An Effect
Compression can drastically change the sound of a signal.
You can get very creative with the attack and release controls, allowing you to alter the character of the sound.
For example, having a slow attack and a fast release can result in a pumping effect. This is particularly useful when you want a drum kit or bass to start pumping in time with the music.
Fast attacks could modify horns, keyboards and strings, causing them to fade into sounding a little “more”.
Compressing The Mix Bus?
Just as you can compress all individual components of a mix, you can also compress the entire mix.
This can help control certain spikes within the mix and it can also “chunk up” the mix and give it more bounce.
In this instance slow attacks, fast releases and low ratios are recommended.
But, remember: too much of anything is never good. The same goes for compression.
Over-compression can create a claustrophobic mix that may be loud, but it will lack dynamics and movement.
When everything in the mix is loud and full on all the time, the ear will get tired quickly and the listener will probably lose interest in your music quite quickly.
Remember that high compression ratios move into the land of limiting.
Simply put, limiting is extreme compression.
The limiter will come in handy if you need to keep severe signal peaks under control.
Dedicated de-essers are now easily available in hard and software.
However, there may be times where you have to deal with a predominant S (sibilance) and you have no access to a de-esser.
Fear not, you can turn your compressor into a de-esser – just like that.
You may have noticed an extra input on the back of your compressor called Side-Chain or Key.
This input allows you to insert an external EQ to emphasize specific frequencies to trigger the compressor.
Sibilance tends to live somewhere between 5 and 10kHz, depending on whether you are working with male or female vocals.
By accentuating the problem frequency on the EQ you can make the compressor work only on that specific range and that way you can duck those S’s without affecting the rest of the program material.
Use compression tastefully and musically and as usual, less is more.
Keep your music breathing.
Time for you to go and get creative on those controls. Have fun.
Wes Maebe directs his own mix/mastering room in West London and has worked as FOH, studio/location recording, mix or mastering engineer for numerous clients including: Sting, Chaka Khan, Paul Rodgers, Glen Matlock, Yusuf Islam, Deborah Bonham, The Kooks, Elliott Randall – and many others.