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Compression Versus Automation When Recording Vocals

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This article is provided by Home Studio Corner.

When you’re working on a mix, how do you make sure the lead vocal stays at a consistent level throughout the song?

One way to even out the level of the vocal is to use compression. Compression can be a great way to make the vocal level more consistent, because it turns down the louder parts and turns up the quieter parts.

I almost always use at least some compression on the lead vocal in my mixes. But sometimes there are sections in the song where the vocal still gets “lost.” What to do?

It’s very easy to reach for the compressor and add more compression. After all, if you compress something heavily enough, it becomes one consistent volume. Problem solved, right?

Eh…not really.

Too much compression on a lead vocal (or any instrument, for that matter) can sound really bad. And nobody cares if your vocal track is a consistent volume if it doesn’t sound good.

The solution? Volume automation. Rather than squashing the life out of the vocal, write some volume automation on the track.

What is volume automation, you ask? It’s really simple actually. You’re simply recording fader movements, so you can bring the vocal up on the chorus, and push it back down for the verse.

Some folks will spend an hour recording fader movements, then tweaking those moves. I’ll do that sometimes, but normally, I’ll just go in and do automation in chunks. I’ll select a section (in automation view) and drag it up or down. So I’m essentially changing the level of the vocal in different sections.

Most DAWs (even Garage Band) have some sort of volume automation. Usually there’s a mode you can switch to that shows you a horizontal line across the track that represents the fader level. Then you just go in and “draw” the various levels you want…right on the track.

Automation can be a MUCH better alternative to compression. Next time you’re mixing, give it a try. It’s a valuable skill to know.

Joe Gilder is a Nashville based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.

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