How To Set Your Vocal Compressor’s Release Time

When you’re compressing vocals, choosing the right release time is crucial. Here’s my foolproof technique…enjoy!

Note: Registration is now closed for my Vocal Mixing Masterclass. To make sure you don’t miss the next one, click here to join the waiting list.

Hey guys, this is Jason Moss. Today I want to give you a quick tip for setting your compressor’s release time on vocals.So remember, the compressor’s release time is how quickly the compressor recovers after it’s compressed a vocal. So how quickly it lets go of the vocal after it’s compressed.

A lot of people overlook this setting, but the truth is, it’s one of the key settings to get right if you want a vocal that sounds up front in the mix, so that it cuts through the mix, so that you can hear every word.

There are really two approaches to setting this.

Number one is you can set it as fast as possible. Just spin the knob all the way to the right or left, whatever the setting is that’s as fast as possible. This is the approach I would recommend for most modern pop vocals…modern-sounding vocals where you’re really wanting something that’s more aggressive, and you really want something that sits on top of the track. This is what I go to most of the time.

What it does is it brings up a lot of the low-level details of the vocal – tail ends of vocal phrases, breaths and low-level stuff that normally would get lost in a mix. So you end up bringing the vocal forward in the mix. It sits right on top of the track really well.

Approach number two is setting the release time so that it bounces in time with the dynamics and the ebb and flow of the vocal track. This is a little more difficult to do, so I’m going to show you how to do it in a second in my DAW. What you need to know about this technique is it’s going to give you a more natural-sounding vocal. It’s going to give you something that sounds compressed, but doesn’t sound as aggressive as using a fast release time.

This is an approach that I would recommend for a folk track, or an acoustic track, or a jazz track – where you want to compress the vocal, but you don’t want it to sound super aggressive or overly processed.

Let me show you how this is done.

[Video cuts to Pro Tools]

So here I have a vocal in Pro Tools. Let me play you the track dry, so you can get a sense for what it sounds like.

[Vocal track plays]

So as you can hear, this is a more downtempo, slow ballad vocal. This is a great example of a vocal that will probably benefit from a release time that’s bouncing in time with the ebb and flow of the vocal. A fast release time on a vocal like this would probably sound too aggressive. It would probably bring the track forward a little bit too much. It would probably sound a little bit too processed.

So first, I’m going to bring up the free, Pro Tools stock compressor. This is the BF-76, and the reason why I like this compressor is because it has this gain reduction meter here. This makes it really easy to pull off this technique, because we can see exactly what we’re doing.

So first, I’m going to play the track and bring up the input level until we start to see some gain reduction on the meters.

[Vocal track plays]

Okay, so now we’re seeing a little bit of gain reduction. So the compressor’s actually working.

Now I’m going to play around with the release time until I find a time where the meter starts to bounce in time with the vocal in a very musical way. So let me play around with this, and then I’ll explain what I’m doing…

[Vocal track plays]

So that’s starting to look and sound like something that I’m looking for. I’m going to play it one more time. Watch how the gain reduction meter bounces in time with the vocal. It pulls back at the end of the vocal phrases. It gives it kind of a bounce.

[Vocal track plays]

Especially at the end right here, you can see…

[Vocal track plays]

So the gain reduction meter is bouncing back in time with the vocal. This is a great example of how to use gain reduction meters as an aid to set the release time. You don’t want to rely on the meters exclusively. You should always use your ears. But if you want to get a release time that’s bouncing in time with the vocal, this is a great tip to do it.

The last thing I want to mention is that registration is still open for my vocal mixing masterclass. If you’re struggling to mix great-sounding vocals, if you want more tips and tricks like these, this is going to be a five-week-long, deep dive into my vocal mixing workflow. I’m going to show you, through screen sharing exactly like this, my step-by-step process for crafting great-sounding vocals from start to finish. Registration is still open, but it closes this Tuesday, June 28th. If you want to sign up, you’re going to want to do so soon. For more information on the masterclass, click the link below.

Thanks for watching! Happy mixing. Talk to you soon.

Video features the track “All Souls Moon” by James May.