Compression (tone)

We can use compression for multiple reasons. It can either be used for compressing dynamics, but also because of the tone/character of a specific compressor. Why do we use compression for tone before compression for dynamics? This is because we also want to control the tone/character that we add, which eventually will result in a more balanced mix.

When compressing for tone, I like to be subtle, especially when mixing vocals, since we are trying to enhance the sound and not just make it louder. I’m a huge fan of parallel compression when it comes to compressing for tone. What is parallel compression? Parallel compression, also known as New York compression, is a dynamic range compression technique used in sound recording and mixing. Parallel compression, a form of upward compression, is achieved by mixing an unprocessed ‘dry’, or lightly compressed signal with a heavily compressed version of the same signal. Rather than lowering the highest peaks for the purpose of dynamic range reduction, it decreases the dynamic range by raising up the softest sounds, adding audible detail. So how do we achieve this effect?

1. Create a send for the main vocal.

How to do this will depend on the DAW you are using. Below you can find a tutorial of how to create a send for the most common DAW’s:

  • FL Studio
  • Ableton
  • Logic
  • Cubase
  • Pro Tools

2. Add an EQ with a high pass filter/low cut around 4kHz as the first insert.

Example1. EQ with low cut up to 4khz

By having this EQ setting as the first insert, only the frequency range between 4kHz and 20kHz will be affected by the parallel compression. So what is the benefit of this? Eventually when you blend the send in, you will not have the muddy/boomy frequencies. This will result in crisp vocals that cut through the mix.

3. Add a compressor to your liking as the second insert on the send.

Example2. CLA-2A compressor

For this instance, I have chosen the CLA-2A compressor from Waves. This compressor really shines on vocals because of its smooth tone. In addition to this, it is an easy compressor to work with, since you don’t have to dial in the attack, release or ratio.

First make sure that the analog mode is switched of, as this only adds details like crackling, which is something that the analog version of this plug-in would add, but since we are going for clean vocals we don’t want any of this. After this, make sure that the knob next to HiFREQ is turned 100% to flat. By decreasing this amount, the compressor will respond less to lower frequencies, which in essence is the same thing we did by adding the EQ first. However, by adding the EQ first, we have more control over the parallel compression. Next up, we have to dial in the peak reduction. For this, we are aiming to hit a maximum of -10 of peak reduction during the loudest parts. And finally, the gain can be adjusted to taste, as this provides the character of this compressor. But be careful, don’t overdo it, mixing is all about making small but meaningful adjustments.

A free alternative to the CLA-2A compressor from Waves is MCompressor. The following settings can be used for the technique mentioned above:

Example 3. MCompressor

4. Blend the send in with the channel fader.

This step speaks for itself, select the fader of the send, and blend this in with the main vocal to your own liking. There are no written rules here, listen carefully to what your mix needs from this effect.

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