How Guitar Compression Can Get Your Vocals to Cut Through

Well hello there dear reader and welcome back!

Ok, after a brief aside last week, let’s get back to the mixing tricks.  This one is a doozy.  Simple by nature, but highly effective and can save you a ton of time instead of automating by hand.  When you’re working with a guitar heavy mix (especially  massive distorted guitars) it can be easy for the vocals to get buried beneath.  LCR mixing can help.  As can getting tricky with sidechain compression.  Like so:

To get lead vocals to cut through a dense distorted guitar mix, use a compressor on the guitars that is keyed off of the vocals.


Short explanation: When the singer is singing, the guitars automatically jump down a few db.

Long explanation:

*Set up an aux send going from you vocal track.  Set this at unity.

Screen shot 2017-05-25 at 3.30.22 PM

Screen shot 2017-05-25 at 3.30.46 PM

*Set up a compressor on your guitar aux channel (or each guitar track if you want to get real tricky).

*Make the sidechain key the same as the aux send you created on the vocal track.

Flip on your compressor’s sidechain key and adjust to taste.

With this particular trick, you’re shooting for subtle.  So take some time and make sure you play around with the attack/release on your compressor to make this something the listener won’t notice; only feel.  I typically aim for getting the compressor to bring down somewhere between 1-3db on the guitars.

Screen shot 2017-05-25 at 3.23.50 PM

Easy.  When the vocal comes in, your guitars jump down a few db.  When the vocal stops, the guitars raise back up to take their place.  Automatic automation and a mix with some built-in dynamics.  Enjoy!



3xJeffro is a recovering gear-aholic who spends somewhere between 2 and 300 hours per week mixing music. Going strong in the studio world since 1999, he loves long walks on the beach, baskets full of puppies, and writing in the 3rd person. Shoot him an e-mail anytime.

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