How To Use Multiband Compression on Vocals (Like A Pro)

Today I’ll be talking about the most underused processing tool when it comes to mixing music. It is usually recommended for mastering or group channels.

Yep, I’m talking about the multiband compressor and in this blog post I want to show you how to use multiband compression on vocals to help them sit well in a mix.

Unlike other processing tools, anything that is multiband needs to be treated with care because it can easily change the character and timbre of a sound. One thing you don’t want is to end up with a weird sounding vocal that sounds unnatural and over-processed.

So, be very careful and avoid being too aggressive when you use a multiband compressor and make sure that you’re not messing up the timbre.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that not all vocals will require multiband compression, just because I’m showing you how to use it in this tutorial doesn’t mean you have to use it all the time.

Use it, but don’t do things by default, always have a valid reason before using it.I’m saying this because this tutorial is inspired by the number of requests I get from people who’re always asking me to show them how to use a multiband compressor on vocals, as if it’s the ULTIMATE way to mix vocals.

With that said, let’s get into it.

How to use Multiband Compression on Vocals

Fixing Problem Frequencies

The most common use for a multiband compressor is to remove problem frequencies.

If your vocals are too harsh, muddy, nasal or too edgy in some parts of the vocal performance and not the entire song then a multiband will be the best option over a static EQ.

Sometimes when you apply a static EQ to remove harshness on a vocal it can sound dull in other parts of the song.

When that happens, use a multiband compressor to remove that problem frequency only when the vocals get too harsh and leave it unaffected when there’s no harshness.

Basically, the vocals will only be affected whenever they reach a certain threshold. That way, you avoid making your vocals to sound dull at the same time keep them clean and professional.

However, this doesn’t mean you should just replace a static EQ with a multiband compressor in all your mixes. In most cases, static EQ is usually the best choice.

Removing Sibilance on a Vocal

In some cases, a multiband comp will be a better option to use for removing sibilance on a vocal instead of using a de-esser.

Some de-essers have a fixed bandwidth while others have limited features. It’s always a good choice to have multiple de-esser plugins in your tools for every occasion.

But if that’s not possible then a multiband compressor will be the best choice.

Instead using a de-esser that makes the vocals sound dull or causes the vocalist to sound as if they have a lisp. Then a multiband comp will do a better job because it’s versatile and flexible.

You have to keep in mind that de-essers are not designed or built the same and they’re not one-size-fits-all.

Another reason you would use a multiband compressor instead of a de-esser is if you want to reduce sibilance on a group channel such as the vocal harmonies or background vocals.

This is if you don’t want to add a de-esser on every individual channel, a multiband will handle the job better for a stack of vocals as compared to a de-esser.

Unless if you’re using FabFilter Pro-DS which has an option for de-essing both single vocal or a group of vocals. But most de-essing tools don’t have this option that’s why a multiband compressor will mostly (if not always) be the best option.

So, in most cases, a multiband compressor is the best choice for dealing with sibilance because it gives you much more control and flexibility.

Sidechain Multiband Compression

This is a trick I use in almost every mix. Sidechain multiband compression works well if you have 2 sounds that are fighting for the same space in the frequency spectrum. So, to avoid making one sound dull in the mix, you will sidechain it so that it ducks when the other sound is playing.

For instance, if you have a guitar that is fighting for the same space with the vocal in the 1.5kHz – 2.5kHz range.

You’ll sidechain the guitar to the vocal so that the guitar will duck whenever the vocalist is singing and when the vocalist stops singing the guitar will not be compressed.

With a multiband compressor, you only compress the problem frequency and leave the rest of the frequencies unaffected.

This is a great trick I use on the kick and bass as well so that the bass can become punchy and fill up the low-end when the kick drum is not playing. If you don’t do this then your mix will sound thin when the kick is not playing.

You can use this trick on multiple occasions, whenever you have two sounds that are fighting for the same space in the frequency spectrum.

Multiband Compression on Time-Based Effects

Another great way to use multiband compression for your vocals is to insert a multiband on Fx Channels for time-based effects. These are effects such as reverb, delay, chorus, flanger and phaser.

Use a multiband compressor to make sure that the affected signal doesn’t over-power the dry signal or add muddy frequencies. This is a great way to keep your effects in control to make sure they don’t poke in some parts of the arrangement.

Time-based plugins can also increase the sibilance of a vocal, so that’s why it’s important to keep them in control.

Always test the compression before the time-based effect and after, to hear where it will sound better. In some cases, inserting the compressor before a reverb works best.

While in some cases, using a multiband comp after a delay will make it dull and moody. So, it’s always a good idea test.

And that’s it for today. I trust that you found value in this tutorial and these tricks will help you improve your mixing skills.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below or if you just want to add something. I would really love to hear from you and have a great discussion about the topic.