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How to Use Frequency Focused Compression on Vocals

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How to Use Frequency Focused Compression on Vocals
How to Use Frequency Focused Compression on Vocals - youtube Video
Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here — In this video, I’m going to be showing you how to EQ the sidechain of your compressor’s detector in order to get an EQ type of effect.

Now, this is a very specific idea, it’s really useful, but if you want to get into bigger compression ideas and get really in depth into the large range of compression topics that are out there, I do have some really great tutorials that cover that, you can find a link to those in the description below, but let’s get to this specific idea.

This is going to be something that I demonstrate on vocals, but it will apply to really anything in the mix, anything that seems to have some kind of a tilt in its frequency content, whether that be an upright bass, acoustic guitar, a vocal, or whatever have you.

Alright, let’s check out this vocal and go from there.


So off the bat, you might think to yourself, “Well, this vocal doesn’t sound like it has anything that’s too dominant in one frequency,” but we can also say that overall, the vocal feels like it’s a little bit dull. If I start to brighten it up, you’ll start to notice that the upper-mid range tones start to become a little bit heavy, specifically those nose tones that exist around maybe 1-2kHz.

So let’s start by doing that, we’re just going to grab good old FabFilter here. Never fails. Let’s just brighten up the sound a little bit.

[mix, EQing vocals]

And just to make this easier, I’m also going to throw on a de-esser, because it’s going to make it a little easier to listen to things overall. I’ve got a whole bunch of sibilance here.

Now this is actually an example of a sidechain EQ compressor. What we’re doing is filtering out all of the low end and getting just the top end, and the top end is going to trigger the compression. That’s what a de-esser is.

So let’s do that real quick.


Okay, cool. Now we’ve got something that we can work with that isn’t going to be too distracting.

So let’s give the vocal one more listen, and just listen to the overall rise and fall of things, we’re going to hear that this could really benefit from a little bit of compression, as there are just some words that are really spiking out, and overall, the sound could be just a little bit denser.


Alright. Let’s grab a compressor. Let’s take off the auto gain here, and I’m going to start with my basic vocal settings, which are usually a 20 millisecond attack, I usually like to go down to a 50 millisecond release, which is pretty fast, 4-to-1 ratio is pretty good, we’re going to make this a harder knee, because this is rap vocals, I find that those are just generally better. I know I’m glossing over a whole bunch of ideas really fast, but it’s because this is not the core of what I’m trying to demonstrate in this video.

But anyways, let’s find the place where we can set this threshold that’s going to sound right.

[mix, adjusting vocal compressor threshold]

I’m actually going to make the knee a little bit harder.


So now that’s starting to feel pretty consistent to me, I feel we’ve got a good basic sort of hack-and-slash compression setting going here.

Now that upper-mid, that “eh” type of tone that’s showing up in the nose, I would normally want to get rid of that with something like EQ. So if I grab another EQ and I find it…


Right, that’s the tone that I’m talking about. It’s at about 1.6, 1.7kHz, and we’re going to take some of that out so that it’s no longer so in your face.


No, I don’t love that, I feel like it’s dulling the vocal a little bit. We could definitely boost some treble over here, which I think it could benefit from anyway, and that might bring a bit of life back to it…


But to be honest, I feel like I’m losing some of the personality of the vocal, I’m losing a little bit of the energy and the impact, and so maybe this is not the best way to do it, and I certainly could get good results by just being really thoughtful about my EQ choices, and that’s not the wrong way to go, but I want to show you another approach that can work.

So here in the FabFilter, we have an EQ that we can tap into that’s already in the sidechain, and if I audition this, I can actually start messing with these, and you’ll hear what they do.


So what I’m going to do with this EQ is I’m going to exaggerate the stuff that I kind of want to tame down. In other words, I’m going to take out some of the warmer tones, get rid of some of the lows, and then I’m going to boost some of the mids right in that same place, that like, 1.6, 1.5, 1.7 kind of zone, and I’m going to add about 10dB here to the sidechain.


Now let’s take off the audition.


And you hear that when his tone goes into his nose more, the compressor actually kicks in a little bit harder. There’s a specific word where you can really hear it.


So listen to “bottom” and “problems.” I’m going to take off the compressor for a second.


Now I’m going to make a couple more adjustments because right now the compression is a little bit too heavy. We’ve boosted into the settings that we felt were appropriate without this extra push of energy, so I’m going to make just a couple little tweaks here. I’m going to back the threshold off a bit, and let’s keep the attack the same. This actually should probably do it just with the threshold.


Now when I do my EQing, I can be a lot more selective about what I want to get rid of. To me, I hear just the slightest amount of pinch that’s still happening around 2kHz.



I’m just going to take, like, 1dB off, and I think that’s all it’s going to really need. Then I can do this little subtle treble boost right here. Get a little bit of that shine back.

Now let me take off those two little effects here. Let’s take off the compression, let’s take off that little bit of EQ.


Put them back on.


We get a much bigger sound, we get a much fuller sound, we get a much more even sound, both tonally speaking and dynamically speaking, and we do very little to actually create artifacts in the process of doing that so it’s a good way to sort of compliment your EQ choices, and a good way to kind of reign things in without necessarily making things crazy.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself at this point, “Well, why not use multiband compression to get some of those nose tones to chill out a little bit?” And I would say, you certainly can. That’s also another technique that can and will work. There are pros and cons to all of these techniques.

If we’re using multiband, we are going to get all of the artifacts of using multiband compression, which means all of the changes of attenuation and boost that happen, they create moving phase distortion, and while it’s pretty inaudible, it’s not anything that’s going to necessarily bother the end listener, it’s just maybe not the absolute smoothest way to do it.

Sometimes, multiband is really useful though, and I’m going to show you that real quick. Again, it’s not the focus of this video, but I just kind of want to go over it for a quick moment, how we can use multiband in a different context, and why we might do that.

So let’s listen to the vocal here at the beginning real quick.


Now let’s pick it up from where we were just working.


Off the top — right from the bat, you should hear a difference in the body of the vocal between where it starts versus where we were working. So listen to like, the low end of the vocal, the low-mid presence of the vocal where all of that body is when I play it from where the vocal first comes in.


And now listen to it here, which is about halfway through the verse.


What I’m hearing is a pretty clear contrast in terms of how the low mids are sitting, so this is a good place to use multiband so that we can get consistency and tone, so what I’m going to do is grab a multiband compressor, and I’m going to just focus in on those body tones that are maybe around 150Hz to maybe 400Hz? Something like that.

[filtered vocal]

Yeah, that’s about right.

So what I’m going to do, maybe let’s pull in a little bit more of the lows. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to do some very gentle compression.

[mix, filtered vocal]

I kind of like these default settings for vocals, especially because there’s some spikiness that’s going on with the tones. If there’s no spikiness, we probably want to slow the attack down, but there’s definitely some bursts of energy down there, so let’s keep the attack pretty fast. We don’t need quite that soft of a knee.

[song, filtered vocal]

So we’re doing maybe about 3dB of reduction, let’s give a boost of maybe about 2. That should be about right.

Let’s see here.


Yeah, and let’s make the knee harder, because I really want it to not affect this section, this earlier section as much as it’s affecting this section here.


There we go. Now, let’s listen to the beginning of the verse.


And let’s listen to halfway through.


Now it’s still not exactly the same, but it’s definitely a lot closer than it was before.

One more time, without.

And now with.


We might need a little automation just to tighten those differences up but you definitely hear that increase in body in the entrance of the vocal, right at the top of the verse.

Alright guys, if you dig what I’m doing on this channel, hit that like button, hit that subscribe button with the bell so that you get the notifications. Yeah, I almost said that right. Yeah. Bell, subscribe, notifications, you know what I mean, and don’t forget to check the description below to links for full length tutorials.

Alright guys, until next time.


Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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