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Compression - of your sound

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sws1
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Another form of Compression for discussion.

For you experienced singers, tell me your thoughts on trying to make what comes out of your mouth more 'compressed' or 'uniform'.

If you just listen to CDs, it's hard to tell how much the recording process compresses the sound of what is coming out of someone's mouth, vs what it would sound like if you were right in front of them. My sense is that people who sing half-way decently, try to get all the sounds to sound roughly the same volume. Which, if I think about it, means they are not only good at keeping vowels consistent, but minimizing the impact of consonants on the change in volume.

Example: It's very easy to explode the volume when singing words like "WHY", with the pressure that builds up in the mouth. However, if I consciously think about it, I can make the "WH" much more subtle.

It seems that most vocal lessons don't touch on this at all. Rather, they spend 99% talking about vowels.

How much are you focused on this when singing?

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I could be wrong but maybe there are a few definitions of "compression" to be dealt with.

Compression, of course, to mean the pressurizing of something or even what level of pressure is existant in a given substance, whether fluid or solid. For example, support beams in a structure are undergoing a compression. An architect will use Young's Modulus to decide on materials and and process in order to support the calculated load of what he is building.

As opposed to what we think of a sound as compressed. It could be something like how people describe Bruce Dickinson' singing.

As opposed to what is called compressor in recording. The actual function of compressor in recording or a processing effects chain is actually more about elevating low volume sounds and limiting high volume sounds to bring the total volume envelope under control. And I think, amateurishly, albeit, that this has been more important in digital recording and processing than it was in analog. So, in recording, I think, compression is more about volume averaging than it is about actual compression of anything, even though the mental picture is that the voice is being digitally "compressed" into these values that make digital file manipulation less problematic.

Is compression the amount of closed quotient at the folds? Is it how much it "feels like" the note or pitch is any certain place of sympathetic vibration?

As opposed to onsets with plosives or at least fairly restrictive aspirants such as wh, y, l, h, or whatever? And that might depend on what you are trying to accomplish in the song, probably a matter for a style coach, maybe.

I am a fan of transitory and lightly placed consonants. And you sing on the vowel, not the consonant. For example, you don't have 4/4 time full two measures of the english "th" sound. And such consonants when fully formed in regular speaking stop air flow. The opposite of what you need in singing. So, consonants, I think, should be less dominant in singing.

So, I do give some concentration to consonants, if only to make sure they are not impeding the note. A number of sources I have read on singing also do spend some time on this subject, just not the whole book. Most are more concentrated on breath management and resonance. And really, most of the articulation will happen at the back of the tongue, rather than at the lips, though they do play a part.

And, for some people, it can be more difficult to soften the consonants than to sing on the right vowel, mainly because of primary language and accent. For example, people for whom English is not a primary language often have a pronounced 's' sound at the end of a word as opposed to the american accent, for example, where the s sounds more like z (lazy american pronunciation of English.)

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Another form of Compression for discussion.

For you experienced singers, tell me your thoughts on trying to make what comes out of your mouth more 'compressed' or 'uniform'.

If you just listen to CDs, it's hard to tell how much the recording process compresses the sound of what is coming out of someone's mouth, vs what it would sound like if you were right in front of them. My sense is that people who sing half-way decently, try to get all the sounds to sound roughly the same volume. Which, if I think about it, means they are not only good at keeping vowels consistent, but minimizing the impact of consonants on the change in volume.

Example: It's very easy to explode the volume when singing words like "WHY", with the pressure that builds up in the mouth. However, if I consciously think about it, I can make the "WH" much more subtle.

It seems that most vocal lessons don't touch on this at all. Rather, they spend 99% talking about vowels.

How much are you focused on this when singing?

There is some sense in what you are writing but you cant address interpretation in this "unilateral" way.

But there is no reason to go louder than a "call" voice when performing with a mic. And consonants need to be clear, not loud. Avoiding the explosion you mention, where you use a consonant to create pressure and then explode, is a very good way to train since it forces you to use more agility instead of the easy way around.

A good way to a approach recording situations is to just not scream it out, try to set your max level prior, and work your dynamics around a center lower than it. But you absolutely NEED dynamics, exactly because afterwards there will be a lot of compression.

The compression on the mix is what demands the interpretation to be rich, if you dont, you will create a wall of steady boring content. Compression will bring everything to an overall same level, and the dynamics you use during the recording will give the line different textures and qualities that will do the job, instead of the volume.

Live there is usually less compression, so your interpretation can be more steady, you have to use dynamics of course, but pp and p will be almost useless. mf to f is a better idea.

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Let me clarify. I'm not talking about managing the dynamics across an entire song. Rather, i'm talking about the dynamics in a single line of a song that sounds well sung.

In essence, if you zoomed in closely at the sound wave of someone "reading" a single line of lyrics, you would see there is a lot of dynamic range, lots of plosives, S's, sounds which trail off, etc. If you zoom into the same line, but sung by a good singer, there would be less range, and he/she is being smoother with the sound. Choppy vs Smooth

I think when I first started singing, and I hear this from people who can't sing at all, it sounds more like they are simply talking on pitch. I don't do this now, but I am wondering how MUCH I should focus on getting the sounds to be of similar volume (within a given line of notes.)

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Let me clarify. I'm not talking about managing the dynamics across an entire song. Rather, i'm talking about the dynamics in a single line of a song that sounds well sung.

In essence, if you zoomed in closely at the sound wave of someone "reading" a single line of lyrics, you would see there is a lot of dynamic range, lots of plosives, S's, sounds which trail off, etc. If you zoom into the same line, but sung by a good singer, there would be less range, and he/she is being smoother with the sound. Choppy vs Smooth

I think when I first started singing, and I hear this from people who can't sing at all, it sounds more like they are simply talking on pitch. I don't do this now, but I am wondering how MUCH I should focus on getting the sounds to be of similar volume (within a given line of notes.)

I think I understand you better, now. And yes, possibly a number of untrained singers are bringing in their speach habits to song. To the question, how much concentration to give to maintaining a constant volume in a melodic line in a song covering however many measures and lyrics? That may depend on the song and the interpretation you want to give. It is said that Ronnie James Dio sang only a little bit "louder" than his speaking voice. But that did not mean that all notes were the same volume. Although, that could also be a matter of perception. Without a dB meter actively registering it, did it "sound" similar? And if he is changing mic proximity, that could also play hob with trying to gauge if it was all actually the same volume.

I think Felipe was saying to not try to sing at the maximum volume your voice is capable of and I think you are asking if you should have the whole phrase at the same actual volume level from start to finish. If it is the latter, I don't think that is necessarily something to worry too much about. As I have said, does the line contain "relevant" volume for where it is? Does this part mean more or convey the desired effect if it is louder, or softer?

I don't sing all parts at the same volume. And I can make up for it, acoustically, with mic placement. Such as I did with "Silent Lucidity." The rest, of course, was other parts of legerdemain achievable with my use of Audacity.

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It's really not desirable to try to be your own compressor in such a microscopic way. For instance if I sing an ee vowel then an ah vowel with the same intensity the ah will show up louder. That visual difference is natural and has to do with differing frequency content, and in reality, our ears generally won't perceive certain vowels as offensively louder than others unless the intensity behind their production varies. So that's why we don't try to self-manipulate the vowel volumes in our voice to be even, and instead let the technology of a compressor help us out a bit in that more microscopic compression aspect.

Now, regarding consonants, well it's a choice. You can dig into them or barely tap them or anywhere in between, depending on what you want for the interpretation and/or what helps you with your technique.

As for going for an even volume between consonants and vowels, that's just ridiculous. The consonants will almost always be quieter, or if anything, different. Another thing that looks weird on the waveform, but the ear won't actually perceive it as a huge volume difference. Awareness of vowel/consonant volume ratio, that's different, and again, it's tied in with interpretation and technique.

Basically what I'm saying is obsessing over studio waveforms will just give singers a bunch of information they will undoubtedly misinterpret. But what I think you are really talking about and view from a different perspective is exactly what Felipe said, legato. But it's something you formulate by ear, not by technical volume level, you need to understand that. The objective is merely the auditory perception of smoothness.

I think the reason why legato isn't focused on too much in contemporary training is because it's of less importance to those styles and because many singers pick up on it naturally from listening to other singers. It's pretty simple when that smoothness within a phrase is drilled into your head within all the music you listened to, it becomes a subconscious imitation. But there are definitely a rare few who instead, definitely just speak on pitch. Even some pros. Sometimes that lack of legato is desirable, because it makes the articulation more clear, delivering the lyrical message more clearly.

So in contemporary music there is a bit of a choice, but legato is still the norm. But again, very simple to imitate, it's not something that takes years to master. Unless it's the kind of legato ideal held in operatic singing, that's a whole different art that I don't really know about.

Personally, as for how much I focus on it when singing, pretty much not at all. In covers, most of the time I just copy the level of legato the original singer used. In my original music, I'll decide whether something is legato or not, what notes held out for how long etc. very early on, almost connected within the process of lyric writing. It's a quick thing that is decided first, it becomes a habit, then I never really think about it again.

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Another form of Compression for discussion.

For you experienced singers, tell me your thoughts on trying to make what comes out of your mouth more 'compressed' or 'uniform'.

If you just listen to CDs, it's hard to tell how much the recording process compresses the sound of what is coming out of someone's mouth, vs what it would sound like if you were right in front of them. My sense is that people who sing half-way decently, try to get all the sounds to sound roughly the same volume. Which, if I think about it, means they are not only good at keeping vowels consistent, but minimizing the impact of consonants on the change in volume.

Example: It's very easy to explode the volume when singing words like "WHY", with the pressure that builds up in the mouth. However, if I consciously think about it, I can make the "WH" much more subtle.

It seems that most vocal lessons don't touch on this at all. Rather, they spend 99% talking about vowels.

How much are you focused on this when singing?

sws1: In classical singing vocal lessons, the relative volume of consonants and vowels is an important topic. I cannot think of any teachers I have had who did not include clarity of diction (that is balanced in volume with the surrounding vowels) in my studies.

As to the amount of time required: that depends on the extent of the student's issues that may be present with this aspect of singing.

I hope this is helpful.

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I agree that this is mostly legato, which mostly comes from efficient support (co-ordination between the breathing muscles and the vocal folds).

It's not really about pushing or leaning in or anything like that, it's about how you can deliver the right amount of breath pressure to your folds for whatever vocal mode, volume, and pitch you are trying to achieve. Easier said than done though, am I right?

I think it's important to keep in mind that most good contemporary singing is actually not that loud. It is loud in a way, because it is EXTREMELY impactful and noticeable and compelling, and anyone nearby will have no choice but to listen to you... but the actual sound pressure level is not really that high. Dio is a good example of a singer who clearly sang at the same level mostly.

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