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How to Use Distortion and Compression for an Aggressive Vocal Sound

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Mixing Vocals with Distortion and Compression
Mixing Vocals with Distortion and Compression - youtube Video
Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here, and I’m going to be talking about distortion, so let’s check out this record.


So, there’s a lot of distortion going on and it’s all being used in somewhat different ways. Some of it’s subtle, some of it’s fairly obvious. I have a lot of plugins going on here, but as I bring them in they’re going to start making more sense. So, let’s just check out the vocal by itself.

The vocal is, you know, it’s not clean because it hasn’t been polished up, but it’s fairly non-aggressive. So, the first thing I’m throwing on here, because I know I already have in my mind that I want this to be an edgy sounding vocal. So, even while I’m just doing my basic high-pass to get out some of the low-end rumble, instead of using a regular high-pass filter, I’m using this vintage filter, this air vintage filter.


It already is adding some degree of slight amount of fuzz and also a little bit of compression from this little fat, I don’t even really know what this thing does, it’s like a little distortion thing going on here. So, that’s my start right off the bat. Then I’m using the air digital distortion here, which is also a stock plugin. All of these are stock plugins here up until the next part. So it just adds a little bit of what I like to call hair. It’s just a little touch of fuzz and as you can see the drive is only about 3 dB, it’s very slight, but its the slight difference that makes the big difference.

You hear it peak out on ‘running’ a little more and I actually have it automated throughout the record so that at certain points it becomes a lot more audible. So, its getting more distorted at key points. Like for example right here. So, I’m using that for effect. Anyway, the reason why these are on first, the first two plugins is I’m basically sort of reinventing the original sound of the vocal. The next plugins that I’m using are the actual processing. So, pulling in at 1176 for compression.

It’s not a pretty-sounding compression, but I don’t want a pretty sounding compression, I want a very in-your-face flat-lining compression and then I’m using RVox after that, mostly for tone. The vocal is already very heavily compressed. So, in a way it almost adds more dynamic to it.

Now I’ve got something that I’m digging, I just need to basically open it up a little bit, so I’m doing a presence boost at 1.7 and then I’m doing a top-end boost. So, the reason it looks like there’s so many plugins on this is because my first two, three plugins here are sort of just reinventing the vocal sound to begin with. What I’m basically trying to do is emulate the idea that it was tracked through a board or through a tape machine too hot and that’s going to give me the vocal sound that I want.


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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