Saturday, November 7, 2009


Austin Keyes Multimedia

You’d be surprised, or maybe not, but you should be prepared.  Quite often now as I deal with more production/creative guys at radio, I hear this statement…”I just really don’t know much about compression/EQ/limiting etc.  How do you get that crisp punch and presence while keeping it natural sounding and not over processed?”   The short and simple is experimentation with your voice and gear.  There are three parts to achieving great audio landscaping.  #1 writing (a strong message), #2 proper interpretation (acting ability), #3 clean and strong audio processing (so it cuts through and sonically delivers the message).  In this episode we will focus on post audio techniques to build vocal strength (the sound of the voice tracks in your imaging/production), along with clarity and style.  My buddy in VO Ben Blankenship has years of experience capturing and manipulating audio from many different voices (station DJ’s), outside voice-guys, and clients.  Ben is Creative Director for Saga in Jonesboro AR.

Ben Blankenship

Today I want to talk about compression.  When we receive VO from our station imaging voices or after we’ve recorded someone in our studios for a promo or commercial, we generally still need to make some changes to the compression.

In some cases your imaging voice guy/gal may have just sound you’re looking for, in other cases they need LOTS of help.

Even though I run everyone recorded in my studio through a great channel strip it still needs some “beefing up”.  

The trick is to learn when to use just a little (for that pro sound), or when to use a lot of compression for effect on an imaging piece.

Let’s attack simple “pro sounding” compression first…

You know that sound the agencies get on their pro level, national ads?  It’s usually a mix of good EQ and simple compression. So keep it simple. I like to run the raw audio through a limiter first.  That is, after I’ve completed putting it together and dubbing it down to a master track of just vocals.  The reason for the limiting is to bring it all up to the same volume level so it stays consistent throughout the ad or promo.  For this you can use any Limiter Plug-In you have access to on your DAW.   I’ll tell you that I always record everything I do on Stereo tracks.  They sound better that way when adding effects.  The channel strip I use for recording is generally set for a 4:1 compression ratio.  Some VO guys/gals set them at 2:1 or use none at all.  For the Limiting try these settings, but remember you’ll have to experiment to achieve the right levels for your system.

Limiter Simple Settings…
Input at 0.0, Threshold at –7.0, Out Ceiling at –2.5, and Release at –10.0.
That should be a very light, but leveling, setting.

Now open your Compression plug-in and use these settings for Simple compression…

Threshold at –10, Ratio 2:1, Attack at 2.0, Release at 50ms, and you can use the Makeup Gain if you like to add some loudness to it.  Just make sure you don’t peg the meters.

For heavier compression geared towards pumpin’ promos or imaging…

Threshold at:  –24, Ratio at:  4:1, Attack at:  2.0, and Release at:  50 ms.

When going after that “Pro Sound” on commercial production, keep it simple.  Less is more.  Most of the time your radio station has post processing on the signal before it goes to “air” anyway, and you must keep that in mind.

Now, if you want that really funky, distorted, imaging sound for sweepers and promos here’s what a good friend turned me on to…

First use a 1 band EQ set at about 400 Hz and process the region.  Then on to the Limiter…set it with Threshold at –25 and Out Ceiling at 0.0, leaving the Input volume alone, process the region again.  Then to your general Compressor Plug-in…because after you use that limiter, the audio piece will be extremely loud.  Set the Compressor with Makeup Gain at 6.0, Threshold at – 9.0, Ratio at 4:1, Attack at 0.15,  Release at 15ms, AND the Output at –5.   Process the region once again, and there you are, or should be. Many systems allow you to make an “automation” of these settings in this order to save you time.

As always, most programs come with pre-sets.  You should always try these, but make sure to notice or write down the settings so you can play with them and “tweak” them.  Have fun, but try not to over- do your compression in normal ads and promos.  The vocals can get lost in the final “on air” mix.

Reach out if you have any questions specifically about this article.

Ben Blankenship

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