Compressing Vocals Part 2 (Ducking)

The other 3 parts in this compression series:

PART 1: Compressing Vocals PART 1 (Sand Paper Theory)
PART 3: Compressing Vocals PART 3 (Limiting)
PART 4: Compressing Vocals PART 4 (Parallel Compression)

In Compressing Vocals PART 1 (Sand Paper Theory).  We discussed how to use the compressor as if it were sand paper, helping those peaks become a bit smoother.  In PART 2 I’m going to discuss another theory I like to call “Ducking”.  However, you should not get confused with side-chain compression in which the term “ducking” was invented.  I called it ducking because it was really the only way I could describe it in words.  You could also think of it like tucking one sound behind another sound.

When to Use It??

It’s important to remember that just like any other mixing tool, its just that, a tool.  Just because you learn something or know something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it.  This is a case by case technique in where you need to push some of those transients back so the vocal and any other important instrument can breath.  Now this technique I don’t normally use on vocals except for maybe background vocals.  The reason why I would use it on background vocals and not leads is because there are times when you need the backgrounds to sound more lush and soft where the leads almost always have to have an edge to them.  Its also useful when the backgrounds are stacked harmonies.  It really helps to blend all the parts together to form one cohesive Harmony.

How to use it?

Attack and Release

I start with an extremely fast attack set to 0-2ms with a fast to medium release of about 50-200ms.  The reason I use a fast attack is because I am really trying to cut out the transients, which give a sound an impression of being up front.  The less transients in a sound, the further from the listener it sounds, thus getting out of the way of the important parts (ie Vocals).  I use a fast to medium release because for the most part I’m compressing fairly hard and if I was to  set a really slow release it would ultimately squish the sound into oblivion.  The purpose of the fast to medium release is to knock out the transients quickly but recovery fast enough that the rest of the sound has some room to breath.  So if you want a visual it would be like a whack-a-mole arcade game but in reverse.   The whack-a-mole normally pops up for a split second and then retracts. Well with this technique it would be like the whack-a-mole staying in the up position and then retracting for a split second.  Anyway, not a conventional way of looking at it, I know, but I felt it was a good visual explanation.

Threshold and Ratio

I tend to go for a higher ratio, usually about 4-10.  The threshold is  normally set until I feel like it doesnt sound overly compressed but compressed enough that it now sits behind the vocal.  Again like in PART 1 The threshold is the last thing I worry about because its usually the easiest to figure out.   Also similar to PART 1 I like a higher ratio because I want the compressor to really work once the sound crosses the threshold.

In conclusion the tracks that I normally use this technique on are things like strings, pads, ARPS, background vocals and anything else where the transients are of less importance than say the drums and vocals.  They are normally background sounds and sounds that almost always have to live behind the “stars” of the mix.  So give it a try and see if you can incorporate it into your set up.

YouTube Video Source: How to Compress Vocals (Ducking) [2/4]