i don't understand compression, dammit

general questions, comments and ideas about recording, audio, music, etc.
benton netty
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i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by benton netty » Thu Jan 20, 2005 9:01 pm

i'm doing some recording, and i've got this alesis nanocompressor. it's cheap, yeah, but i figure it must be somewhat helpful. i put it on some vocals i was doing, and i was kinda disheartened to find that not much was done to the signal. i guess i was trying to get the vocal tracks perfectly flat, somehow, but i wonder if that's just not realistic? when you folks compress a vocal, how do you like to do it? what works for you all?

should i not be trying to flatten my vocal tracks?

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surf's up
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by surf's up » Thu Jan 20, 2005 9:06 pm

I am by no means an expert, but in my experience it does take some practice or at least some experimentation to find out how to best use compression. If your vocal take has extreme dynamic range, sometimes compression alone wont do the job. Make sure you or your singer isnt moving far away from the mic during quite passages or getting too loud on louder sections. Other than that Id suggest you try out different compressors if possible and mess around with them until you find something you like for specific applications.

benton netty
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by benton netty » Thu Jan 20, 2005 9:16 pm

yeah, it's me singing. the thing is, some of the songs i'm doing go from whisper to full-bore belting -- this is the problem i'm trying to deal with, essentially. i do back away from the mic when getting louder, usually.

i'm having trouble with this because i'm usually doing full-bore heavy rock music, but this stuff is very quiet and acoustic-based, so the recording tricks i've picked up seem to be useless. i can't just scream, set a level, and have that work for the whole song anymore...!

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surf's up
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by surf's up » Thu Jan 20, 2005 9:30 pm

Mic technique is somewhat important. Apparently there are singers who are so good with it they need little or no compression on takes, but you can get by just keeping things reasonably consistent during tracking then process it later. Mic technique may not be your problem though. Ive never used that compressor, but often there is a reason a piece of gear is cheap. Maybe try really thick compression, so much so that it sounds overcompressed and you can hear "pumping". Then scale it back until the pumping goes away and see if that suits your preferences.

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TheStevens
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by TheStevens » Thu Jan 20, 2005 9:55 pm

are you also riding the fader? if you have extreme changes in volume, it's usually best to manually turn the volume up and down for certain parts of the song.
Compression is best at smoothing out short peaks within a given volume range.

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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by syrupcore » Thu Jan 20, 2005 10:19 pm

as a 'learn on' compressor, the alesis nano compressor is sure to give you heartburn. It was my first compressor as well and my stomach still hurts.

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Jeremy Garber
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by Jeremy Garber » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:07 pm

Maybe you would benefit from recording two channels of vocals. One would be for your quiet stuff, and the other for your loud screaming bits. Just punch in and out.

I'm a soft singer myself. I like to keep the attack on my compression a little quick to catch any bumps, but I like the release on my vocals to be slow. My vocals aren't very dynamic though, and I have a down tempo style so this helps sustain my vox. I usually keep the ratio between 4:1 and 8:1, just depending on how much sustain I want and how well the vocal was recorded. I put the threshold just low enough to round it all off. I only use deep thresholds on my ambient tracks and some drum tracks when I want a crazy effect.

I think David Bowie used a trick once where they set up 3 mics. Each of them were different distances apart from him. The far mics had gates on them. When he would sing quietly, the first mic would pick him up. Then if he got a little louder, the second. At the loudest, the third mic farthest from him would open up. It gave a nice natural reverb they said.

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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by Piotr » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:14 pm

Use a minimal amount of compression when you are printing basic tracks. Any compression you add in the recording stage is stuck there for good. Use the inserts on your system to use more compression when mixing.

Experiment with attack and release times. With vox you will want a slower attack and a moderately fast release time, i.e. between 50 milliseconds and 500 milliseconds attack and under 50 milliseconds release time. These are by no means hard and fast rules, just assumptions I make when I have to work fast. Tweak, tweak, tweak!!!
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bellulah
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by bellulah » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:32 pm

i had similar questions a long time ago, and i got similar advice. i'm gonna tell you one thing noone told me then, and i don't think anyone has said it here yet... do the knob-dicking-experiment thing, but do it with your vocal track solo'd. so you just hear the vocal, and not trying to hear it in the mix.

i know, it seems common sense, but in the learning stages sometimes you can lose track of stuff like that because you are up to your neck in everything else. but once i sat for an hour on like two conescutive days with a solo'd vox track and turning knobs, i got it.

hope that helps a little - and sorry if someone already mentioned the soloing thing and i missed it...

good luck, but more importantly have fun! this kind of learning isn't like school, it's real honest to god fun.

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workshed
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by workshed » Thu Jan 20, 2005 11:37 pm

benton netty wrote:yeah, it's me singing. the thing is, some of the songs i'm doing go from whisper to full-bore belting -- this is the problem i'm trying to deal with, essentially. i do back away from the mic when getting louder, usually.
For what it's worth, I was told by a very good engineer, whose opinion I value a lot, that you should not back off from the mic as a means of volume control when recording. I know this because I tried it while tracking my own vocals during a session he was running and he had to set me straight. :-) A good technique for live performance, but not for recording.

If you have that large of a difference between levels in parts of the song, then I agree with previous posts that you could try riding the fader or recording two different tracks for each type of vocal (unless that would totally screw with the flow of the vocals, which is quite possible).

Also, what is the rest of your chain? What mic and preamp are you using? I'm no expert either, but I would tend to think that those could effect how the sounds -- as well as the peaks -- are getting processed as well.

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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by bigtoe » Fri Jan 21, 2005 4:53 am

"For what it's worth, I was told by a very good engineer, whose opinion I value a lot, that you should not back off from the mic as a means of volume control when recording. I know this because I tried it while tracking my own vocals during a session he was running and he had to set me straight. A good technique for live performance, but not for recording."

mic technique is mic technique...recording or live.

i suppose it's taste...but i love off-mic stuff...like when someone 'messes' their mic technique up...Otis Redding does this in "Tramp" with Carla Thomas. Kick ass.

Mike

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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by Rigsby » Fri Jan 21, 2005 6:22 am

bigtoe wrote:mic technique is mic technique...recording or live.
I'd largely agree, though i record one guy who's voice is so incredibly loud when he bellows that he'd have to almost run out into the hallway to keep the volume the same as his whisper. Really, you have no idea. This guy has some serious volume, and it's not even screaming.
i suppose it's taste...but i love off-mic stuff...like when someone 'messes' their mic technique up...Otis Redding does this in "Tramp" with Carla Thomas. Kick ass.
Yeah, me too, i like the detail aspect of it, adds to the live feeling in many cases which is definately to my taste.
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by jeddypoo » Fri Jan 21, 2005 6:27 am

bigtoe wrote:"For what it's worth, I was told by a very good engineer, whose opinion I value a lot, that you should not back off from the mic as a means of volume control when recording. I know this because I tried it while tracking my own vocals during a session he was running and he had to set me straight. A good technique for live performance, but not for recording."

mic technique is mic technique...recording or live.

i suppose it's taste...but i love off-mic stuff...like when someone 'messes' their mic technique up...Otis Redding does this in "Tramp" with Carla Thomas. Kick ass.

Mike

Yeah, totally. I mean I've recorded enough vocals to know that people with shitty mic technique onstage bring it to recordings and make it A LOT harder to get a good vocal take with. The thing is, the basics of mic technique are incredibly simple and even intuitive, and people don't realize how much it helps how people hear your voice in a pleasant light.
I find adherence to fantasy troubling and unreasonable.

bigtoe
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by bigtoe » Fri Jan 21, 2005 6:55 am

man slightly OT: there's a coltrane tune on the heavyweight box where he goes off mic...i mean like way off...sounds like he's strolling and i love it.

i think the more perfect recordings become the more i like the "flaws"...just not mine! hahaa.

Peace,

MIke

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Slider
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Re: i don't understand compression, dammit

Post by Slider » Fri Jan 21, 2005 6:55 am

Those nano compressors are pretty bad.
Did you put it on the peak (not RMS) setting?
Set the release to a faster setting to hear it more.
Those things will flatten out the signal if you set them right.

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