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Compression's relationship with Panning
Old 9th September 2019
  #1
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Compression's relationship with Panning

I have a lead vocal, a vocal double, and vocal triple and two harmony vocals. I want the vocal double right under the lead vocal in the verse. In the chorus I want to pan the vocal double to the left and the vocal triple to the right with the harmony vocals on either side. Should I get a level of these vocals together in the center first with the rest of the mix, compress them and then pan them post compression and how do I pan them afterwards without readjusting everything?

Basically, should I compress vocals, no matter whether they are a lead, double or harmony, after I get a good static mix with them in the center before panning?

Thanks for your help and guidance...
Old 9th September 2019
  #2
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Sigma's Avatar
yes
Old 10th September 2019
  #3
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Its great you do have a plan on where you want to go with things but as far as others being able to advising you, how can that be done without a sample.
Its like somebody asking a blind man, see what I got in my hands? Sure he might guess what you have but how can he possibly give you details on something eh cant hear?

If you're looking for general information on how you can mix things, I can dish that out for hours but whether I'd hit the correct mark on not is very good. All I can do is generalize.

As far as compression goes, you first have to ask what is compression and is it needed. In the most basic description its a form of volume automation. Instead of riding a volume control to maintain the dB levels, its done with a tool that can respond much faster. What you have to determine is if it actually needs compression or not. That relates strictly to the abilities of the singers performance and gear used to record. I know professional singers who don't need any compression when recording and I know beginners who have vocals skills so lame they need to use compression as a crutch. Typically people who have enough skill singing live don't need much compression. PA's don't normally need it either because it tends to cause feedback.

As far as spacing the parts within a stereo field, I suggest you focus on separation by frequency first in a mono mix before you worry about stereo separation.
All you do by panning first is mask the problems and make them more difficult to fix. This is where taking time to listen to commercial recordings can help allot. some of my favorite recordings for figuring out how to properly mix vocals were the early Beatles stuff, specifically the first couple of albums mixed in stereo. Some of those songs you can mute one channel and have nothing but the vocal parts solo so you can clearly hear how the EQ and harmonies allow such wide separation is mono.

Again, this is where hearing the tracks is so important. I have no idea if your tracks are vocal harmonies or multiple takes of the same melody. You have to first hear what you got to work with before deciding if they can even be manipulated to specific results or even if that manipulation is warranted. Engineers work with their ears and you're not giving them the clues they need to do that.
Old 10th September 2019
  #4
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1st response is one word. The second is an essay.

My question is a very general and generic query on whether you should compress vocals in mono before panning or whether you should pan vocals where you want them first to get the right levels to then go into the compressor?

Could both responders and any future responders go into more detail on the subject please?
Old 11th September 2019
  #5
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Owen L T's Avatar
Panning happens post-insert, so panning won't change how much gain reduction you're getting out of your compressor. In terms of where you have your vocal doubles panned *while* you're adjusting your compression settings ... There's no right or wrong, because it won't make much difference. Practically speaking, if you cranked the vocal doubles way up in the mix, you'd likely settle on slightly different compression settings than if you had them buried in the mix while adjusting your compressor. And, equally, you might make slightly different choices if you compressed with the double panned hard left/right while doing it, but only because that panning will affect how you hear it relative to the mix. But those will be slight differences, with neither a rignt nor a wrong answer, except ... a good guiding principle of mixing is to make EQ and other adjustments to tracks while listening to them in the mix. So, all things being equal, you may as well pan them as you intend, and then compress. But it'll likely make next to no difference, either way, and it's totally normal to compress something and adjust the pan later without having to revisit your compression settings.

All bets are off, though, if you're compressing a stereo vocal group, as panning things around in the group will affect the compression for both L&R, which could in turn shift the balance of the track if one side has a big peak.
Old 11th September 2019
  #6
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If I was certain of where I wanted them in the panning, I would adjust my settings for EQ, compression etc with them already panned. Like they are going to be. If they are all panned center and they are all doubles and triples, I might have a hard time even knowing which "one" I am adjusting. Then I might be surprised when I split them left and right.

The instrumentation of the music track may be different left-to-right, which may also have an effect on vocal decisions on 'that side' of the mix. If you are going to pan them anyway, and possibly end up tweaking them anyway, what's so "special" about starting them off in mono? I would say mix it the way it's going to be mixed.

That's just me, however. My guess is that you will end up in more or less the same place, whichever order you use. There's no right or wrong way to do this type of stuff. In some cases, you might not pan the doubles at all, but mix them "under" or "within" the lead. That would be a more subtle use of doubling. Not as an obvious check out this double, but more like just a "thickening" of the lead.
Old 11th September 2019
  #7
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You guys make great points. That has been my problem: trying to mix the vocal lead, double, triple and harmonies in mono with the rest of the mix is hard to do.

What are your thoughts on EQing everything in mono first, panning the vocals where I'd like them and then compressing them where I can hear the compression I'd like for them better? (even though the order might not make much difference, this order seems to make sense to me, but I could be wrong).
Old 11th September 2019
  #8
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Owen L T's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ctate View Post
You guys make great points. That has been my problem: trying to mix the vocal lead, double, triple and harmonies in mono with the rest of the mix is hard to do.

What are your thoughts on EQing everything in mono first, panning the vocals where I'd like them and then compressing them where I can hear the compression I'd like for them better? (even though the order might not make much difference, this order seems to make sense to me, but I could be wrong).
Joe's point about EQ was, I think, partly that your instruments will have different pan positions, so you might EQ a vocal panned right, alongside a panned-right guitar, differently than panned left under a panned-left organ. Most EQ is contextual (though some muddy or boxy frequencies are likely to be addressed regardless) so do it *in context*, which inclides "panned right, along with the distorted guitar".

There really is no reason you should EQ them in mono and then pan - though it can be a useful hack for some things. Panning something out of the way gives good separation, even if there is EQ masking happening. But popping the mix into mono will make that masking more obvious, and you could choose to EQ your way to even better separation ... if you want. But don't get hung up on the idea that panning is done last; it's not. In fact, it's often done first, while doing a rough static mix.
Old 11th September 2019
  #9
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ok, great!
Thank you to everybody who responded. That really helps me get around overthinking this.
Old 11th September 2019
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ctate View Post
You guys make great points. That has been my problem: trying to mix the vocal lead, double, triple and harmonies in mono with the rest of the mix is hard to do.

What are your thoughts on EQing everything in mono first,
What's with the whole "mono" thing?

Quote:
panning the vocals where I'd like them and then compressing them where I can hear the compression I'd like for them better? (even though the order might not make much difference, this order seems to make sense to me, but I could be wrong).
In my own work, I find the 'order' is not that critical, because I usually go back and forth tweaking. So if I did the compression "first", I might still come back and readjust the compression after I hear what the EQ did to the sound. If you know what you are doing - or at least know what you want, you should be able to arrive at more or less the same destination by many different "paths".

The only "order" thing I usually stick to is doing Automation Last. I like to do it last, because as I tweak sounds, it affects the balance, and if I have automation, then I have to trim it. It's just a PITA to me. I try to get as happy as possible with my static mix and then add the automation. No doubt a holdover from my analog console days when the "automation" was me (and sometimes a band member or three) manually turning the knobs in real time.

OTOH, I have a friend who does a lot of his automation near the very beginning. It works for him.
Old 12th September 2019
  #11
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This is kind of a lumped up post.

You can compress at many points

1. each track
2. Sub groups
3. Master buss
4. FX returns

How compression effects stereo imaging is also important. A good stereo mix is amazing and almost mystical to me. I've listened to a fair amount of local studio stuff and am not impressed, mostly because of the stereo balance or the mix.

And getting a good vocal blend in mono first sounds like a great idea. You will learn a lot by getting a good mono mix.
and yes, I would only start out in Mono for EQ, tone, harmonics, and dynamics, then spread out and do you delays, reverbs and stuff like that in stereo.
Old 13th September 2019
  #12
Quote:
Should I get a level of these vocals together in the center first with the rest of the mix, compress them and then pan them post compression and how do I pan them afterwards without readjusting everything?
Sure, you should and see if you like the sound that way. If you do not, then try another way. That is what is great about DAW's, you can try limitless things to see if they work and never loose anything. I cannot know if it will work, as i would need to hear it with all the other tracks in the mix and my preferences are different from yours also. I may like it less than you or more than you.

Also, when i place tracks behind other tracks, i use a series of short delays to help place it behind certain things. so it sounds like a 3D mix and not 2D

Quote:
how do I pan them afterwards without readjusting everything?
You can make separate tracks for that section. This way you do not need re-adjust or you can use automation on the same tracks
Old 13th September 2019
  #13
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Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
The only "order" thing I usually stick to is doing Automation Last.
Once I discovered clip gain automation I started doing automation that way first to get a smoother signal going to the compressor.........mostly for my vocal and acoustic guitar tracks will still get pretty spiky.

.....then, yeah, volume automation last.

Old 13th September 2019
  #14
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Sigma's Avatar
each LEAD vocal is a performance ..i put in a compressor on each then pan then ride the levels

on bkgs i stack them then compress them..unless someone massively sucks on dynamics then i compress each a little ...sum to a bus and compress the bus return..lol longer than 1 word ..shorter than an essay
Old 13th September 2019
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unclenny View Post
Once I discovered clip gain automation I started doing automation that way first to get a smoother signal going to the compressor.........mostly for my vocal and acoustic guitar tracks will still get pretty spiky.

.....then, yeah, volume automation last.

I tend to think of clip gain as more like "editing" than "mixing" - and I will use it for doing "larger" things like, for example, making a punch better match the main track. When it comes to the clip gain line, I get a little intimidated when I see those waveforms actually getting bigger and smaller!
Old 13th September 2019
  #16
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Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
When it comes to the clip gain line, I get a little intimidated when I see those waveforms actually getting bigger and smaller!
I definitely agree....but for me it has become a powerful tool. With very careful editing (I like that perspective) like that I have been getting some very smooth acoustic guitar and vocal tracks with much less compression.

I take my time and make sure it sounds natural.

It's really my finger picked guitar that benefits from this most as I have a kind of percussive style that can get spiky. If I was a better player.........

I get my panning roughed in right from the start and I'm fine tuning right to the end. I never have equated panning with compression.
Old 14th September 2019
  #17
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I definitely agree on the clip gain automation -early on as needed.
I'm glad though it doesn't cause a resize -or redraw of the wave form in the DAW I use.
In addition to static gain changes often I'll use slopes -on leading edges, or fades within a track for example. And often enough find reason to make make further refinements. I wouldn't want to lose the reference of the original track.
Old 14th September 2019
  #18
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I know we're drifting, but anyway;

my preference is to keep clip gain fairly 'flat'. I recently had to pick up a project by another engineer and he had treated clip gain more as automation that I then had to redo. But rather than using the regular automation tools I now had to go in and pick at the clip gain lines which was time consuming and annoying. So I really think there's something to be said for treating it somewhat differently than actual automation.

And that leads to pre-/post-levels and compression: In DAWs such as Cubase/Nuendo you actually have at least two inserts that are post-fader, and so it's possible to do coarse leveling using clip gain and then do finer leveling using regular fader level automation, all before compression. In other DAWs we can of course achieve the same goal by routing the automated track's output to a group/bus/aux and place the compression there instead. A bit more cumbersome but possible.

Lastly, I prefer seeing the level changes reflected in the resizing of the waveform. It gives me quick visual feedback of what I'm doing.
Old 14th September 2019
  #19
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Owen L T's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
I tend to think of clip gain as more like "editing" than "mixing" - and I will use it for doing "larger" things like, for example, making a punch better match the main track. When it comes to the clip gain line, I get a little intimidated when I see those waveforms actually getting bigger and smaller!
I know doing anything by eye is frowned upon in mixing, but I think of clip-gain as the one exception. If you use it regularly, you can eyeball a dynamic track - vocal or sax - immediately spot areas that will either slam the compressor, or just get buried, clip gain down to the less monstrous peaks, or up to the more normal quiet phases, and ... done. I saw someone do that with a movie cue once, for which I was recording sax. The engineer listened back to it once, did some clip gaining, and sent of the mix for notes, without bothering to listen to it again!

That might be editing, Or "mix prep". But it's so easy, and super useful.
Old 14th September 2019
  #20
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12ax7's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ctate View Post
Should I get a level of these vocals together in the center first with the rest of the mix, compress them and then pan them post compression and how do I pan them afterwards without readjusting everything?

Basically, should I compress vocals, no matter whether they are a lead, double or harmony, after I get a good static mix with them in the center before panning?
Listen to the results of these courses of action, and then decide which of them you think will work best for the piece at hand.

That's part of your job!
.
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