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Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals

From: Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

Video: Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals

So, did you ever wonder how the lead vocal in your favorite song just sounds larger than life, upfront, full, present, sometimes in your face, but always in control? Let me let you in on a little secret. The proper use of compression is going to be the main component in giving your vocalist the celebrity treatment. So, why does a vocal need compression? Effectively compressing the vocals is generally the difference between something that sounds like a record and something that sounds like a bad night at a karaoke bar.

Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals

So, did you ever wonder how the lead vocal in your favorite song just sounds larger than life, upfront, full, present, sometimes in your face, but always in control? Let me let you in on a little secret. The proper use of compression is going to be the main component in giving your vocalist the celebrity treatment. So, why does a vocal need compression? Effectively compressing the vocals is generally the difference between something that sounds like a record and something that sounds like a bad night at a karaoke bar.

So, you see the voices are wildly dynamic instrument. Some singers are better at controlling it than others, but most all can benefit from the additional support provided by a good compressor. So, if we think about a vocal's place in the mix, we have to understand that in most songs, it's the most important element. Every word needs to be audible and it needs to communicate the lyric and the message of the song effectively. But at the same time, words popping out too far from the rest of the mix can make a vocal sound weird and unpolished, unless that's the sound you are going for.

So, if we take a look at Joshua's vocal and specifically the compression here, let me just play you a before and after example, before compression and after compression. (Music playing) (Male singing: Trouble bound.) (Male singing: We hit the town.) (Male singing: And I'll never forget that sound.) (Music playing) So, I think you could hear some of those phrases died out, like "we hit the town," barely peaked through the middle of the mix.

And the next phrase got way too loud. It kind of, like I said, sounded like a bad night at the karaoke bar. But when we kick in the compressor, everything just evens out and the vocal comes to the front of the mix and he really sounds like a star. (Music playing) (Male singing: Trouble bound.) (Male singing: We hit the town.) (Male singing: And I'll never forget that sound.) (Music playing) So, in this context, what the compressor is doing is it's taming those peaks so when he gets too loud and notes sort of pop out from the rest of the mix.

But the make up gain on the compressor is also pulling out any of those words that are too low. So, it's making sure that every word is audible but it's also in a sense filling out his vocal, making him sound larger and more present. Now, in this case, I chose to use the BF76 compressor and the BF76 is a compressor that comes with Pro Tools and it's an emulation of the 1176 outboard analog compressor. This is a very, very famous compressor and a lot of engineers really like using it because it retains a lot of the presence of the original track.

It doesn't suck away a lot of the high end. And it's also got a really unique character to its Attack and Release components. Now, it is a little bit different than other compressors in that it doesn't have a threshold control and you don't see a makeup gain. However, we do have the Attack and Release, but we are going to talk about those as those are a little bit different. So, whenever you come across a compressor that doesn't have a threshold, that generally means it's working with a fixed threshold. That means the threshold is set some point in the circuitry of the compressor and it's fixed.

And the way you get gain reduction is by driving the input into that fixed threshold. So, here if we are going to pull this down and I'll play this back, I'm going to make sure this is set to gain reduction on the metering, and I'm going to drive the input until I see the gain reduction that I want to get out his vocal. (Male singing: Trouble bound.) (Male singing: We hit the town.) (Male singing: And I'll never forget that sound.) Now, once I have driven the threshold with the input, I'll use the output to match the volumes.

So, generally, what we try to do is match the uncompressed with the compressed sound. What that allows us to do is evaluate the quality of the compression as opposed to just turning it up in the mix. I think a lot of times, people use compressors and they take the makeup gain or the output and they kick them up really hot, and when they punch the compressor on, they are like oh, it instantly sounds better and a lot of times, it's just louder. So, a lot of people associate louder with better. So, what I would like to do with my compressor is make sure that roughly what's going in is coming out level wise.

Now, you are going to hear this signal fill out more. So, it's going to seem louder but keep that in mind when you evaluating the compressor. You want to evaluate what the compressor is doing, not just the fact that it's turning the signal up. Another unique feature of the BF76 are the Attack and Release controls. You can see that they are not measured milliseconds, and this is really confusing for people, as they would imagine that generally, in terms of milliseconds, 1 would be faster than 7. But in fact, this is reversed.

7 or clockwise is faster than 1 or counter- clockwise, and the same is true with the Release. 7 is the fastest setting, 1 is the slowest setting. Now, the 1176 has really unique Attack and Release characteristics, and so it kind of doesn't behave the same way that the DigiRack Dyn 3 compressor behaves. So, you want to play around with this but generally, if you do the 10 and 2, 10 o'clock, 2 o'clock or in this case, it would be 3 and 5.

You are going to be able to get some really great sounds out of it. And if you play around with the Attack and the Release, specifically the Release, you can get some really awesome sustained sounds. So, let's listen if I push this all the way up to 7. (Male singing: Trouble bound.) (Male singing: We hit the town.) (Male singing: And I'll never forget that sound.) And so, I tried pushing this release to 7 on something like a snare drum or something that you really want to bring the sustain out of the tail of the envelop.

That's really, really cool. Now the Release control on the 1176 is much more sensitive than the Attack control. In terms of Attack range, we are talking about a very narrow range in milliseconds but Release is a much wider range. You can go from really fast to really slow, whereas Attack is kind of like, fast to insanely fast. Now, the ratio here is set by buttons, so you have 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1. There's even this mode what's called All Buttons In that you can engage by Shift-clicking.

And what it is, it's not 20+12+8+4. It's still 20:1, but it's sort of changed the characteristics of the transfer curve or the knee sort of how the compressor reacts to really loud signals over the threshold point. And so you can get some unique sounds with that All Buttons In control. So, back to the idea of using compression on vocals. Using compression on vocals is generally a good example of blending compression. We are trying to blend something to sit better in the mix.

So, each word sits nice relative to the other words in the phrase and then sits great against the rest of the mix. So, in terms of how much gain reduction do you need to achieve that, how much compression and what ratio, well it really varies from vocalist to vocalist and especially from genre to genre. So, if it's a jazz singer and you are really trying to retain a lot of the dynamics, you don't want to crush it with 20 dBs of gain reduction. But if it's a rock song, sometimes that hyper-compressed sound really works well.

I find that I have a better time setting up the compression on the vocal, if I do it in the context of the mix. So, what might sound like too much compression in isolation or soloed, usually works okay when it's sitting in the context of the mix. You will be surprised how much compression is happening on some pop or rock songs where there is literally no drift or dynamic in the vocal. And like I said, it varies from genre to genre. So, you want to kind of work towards reference material, listen and see if you can identify if the vocal in one of your favorite mixes has a lot of compression, a little compression, whether they are using a fast Release and getting a lot of sustain and a lot pumping from the compressor or they are using a slower Release, so it sounds like more natural dynamics control.

One thing you do want to be careful of on vocals is setting the Attack to slow so that a lot of the word gets through. It can miss the word and it can cause the compressor to kind of spit and overdrive a little bit, especially if you drive it really hard. You don't want to have the Attack set to fast either because what that can do is rob presence from the vocal. And typically, when I compress a vocal a lot, I'll EQ it after I compress it to regain some of the body and the high end that's robbed by the compressor.

And this depends on what kind of compressor you are using and how much compressing you are using. So, again, the proper use of compression in addition to EQ can really make the vocalist sound like a rock star. The amount you use in the style will vary based on the genre of music. But I would say that I use compression on vocals probably 99% of the time in my mixes. Sometimes it's only a tiny little bit, a few dBs of gain reduction, and sometimes I'm squashing it beyond recognition. Again, use reference material, listen to your favorite music and see if you can identify how much compression they are using on the vocal.

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This video is part of

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Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

77 video lessons · 9284 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
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  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 39s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 24s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 11s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 8s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 15m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 22s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 48s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 22s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye
      32s

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