Last night I was listening to a song off of my latest album. (I know, I know…who listens to his own music?)

Anyway, I was listening to the final song on the album, which was a slower, intimate tune. The instrumentation is just piano, a little acoustic guitar, and some background vocals.

Then there’s the lead vocal.

The lead vocal on this track stands out from every other track on the album, so much so that my mastering engineer asked what I did on that song to make it sound so good.

Here’s the skinny…

I’ve got some connections with Universal Audio, and at the time I was recording vocals for that particular song, I was able to borrow one of their LA-610 channel strips. It’s got a fantastic tube preamp on board, along with a smooth optical compressor.

For the other 9 songs on the record I had used a $300 preamp. For this last song I used the LA-610, which costs over 5 times that.

And the results were noticeable.

The vocal sounded much bigger and fuller. The vocal is extremely loud in the mix, and it still sounds nice and smooth.

Now, what’s this got to do with you?

I used two very different preamps on that album. Does the fact that I was able to use a really nice pre on the last song make me regret using a less expensive pre on the first nine?

Not at all.

I’m proud of every song on that record. It just so happens that the last song got a little something extra on it.

The lesson here is this. As much as I harp on you to not fall victim to Gear Acquisition Syndrome, I’m NOT anti-gear. Great gear can produce phenomenal-sounding recording. But if you wait around for years and years, putting off working on any serious projects, just so you can amass the perfect collection of gear, you’re missing out.

That story ends with you owning a bunch of cool gear and not really knowing how to get great recordings with it.

Use the gear you have TODAY to start working on something awesome.

Use that $100 mic to get a great recording.

Then when it comes time to mix, you’ll need to know how to use compression to get the most out of that recording.

Compression used well can make a track sound glorious.

Compression used poorly can make a track sound like poo.

Get a handle on compression here:

Joe Gilder