What is vocal compression?

What is vocal compression?

Photo by Josh Williams / CC BY

Struggling to understand the concept of vocal compression is common for many music lovers which is why we made this ridiculously simple explanation for you.

Vocal compression is more specifically termed as dynamic range compression. If you are not sure what dynamic range means, picture a ladder. The top of the ladder represents how loud your vocals or vocal tracks can be without altering any settings. The loud sound is toward the top of the ladder.

The bottom of the ladder is how quiet the vocals can be while retaining the same settings on the vocal gear. When the vocal track is much relaxed with no struggle for sound, yeah, that’s towards the bottom of the visual ladder. The vocals can be either loud or quiet depending on how you produce them. You can be at the top or bottom on the ladder. Vocal compression (dynamic range compression in that sense) changes all this.

Vocal compression is now when you control your vocals to be on a specific step on the ladder.No matter how loud or quiet the vocal tracks you produce are, they will always come out at the same tone and volume. Almost like remaining at the same step on the ladder. Why do we need to do this?

Consistent Vocals.

Compression works by making the volume of the vocals more coherent and consistent overall. In fact, it was known as automatic level control in the good old days. Thus, if you are rapping or singing some sounds much louder than others, there will be a less drastic difference in tone and volume of the quiet and loud parts. The lyrics are now made easier to understand with the words not being drowned out due to different tones and volumes.

How it Really Works.

Compression is achieved using a compressor that is set to a certain level of volume. This level is the threshold setting which is the cutoff point between loud and quiet sounds. When the compressor hears a sound above the threshold, it automatically lowers it to the threshold for that moment. The compressed vocal track becomes quieter than the original track which creates some lost volume. To make up this lost volume, compression also involves a makeup gain phenomena that allows for the quiet parts to be raised. This is not always the case as often the quiet parts remain untouched if they are close enough to the threshold to retain the original vocals as much as possible.

Attack and Release

Compressors had only a single knob, for more or less compression, until the concept of making lyrics more understandable came up. Various flavors of compression came about using the release and attack settings. You can make the words punchier using longer release and attack times or more energetic with shorter times. Varying the set of times separately creates infinite vocals while overcoming the extremes of each setting.

At the End of the Day

Compression enables you to create even and smooth vocals for your audience.

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