Great, that's actually awesome news, because it means the problem is with me and I can still get some results without draining $ away for now. (it makes me curious if the same is true for reverb). As far as the vocal leveling, I'm going to try to do that with the fader ride option as you said, because I think that would be more natural and a better place to start from. I just figured out how to do that actually on my DAW, but when you're configuring the dynamics, I've found you really need to start with a fresh set of ears or else the result will be as warped as your sense of perception was at the time. Louds and softs will seem different depending on how sensitive you are to the various frequencies at that time.
Anyways, once I get the dynamics leveled off that way I'll give it another go with the compressor. That's also a good question about what effect I'm trying to go for. The problem is I don't know other than getting it to sound a bit more like the great commercial recordings of the past 50 years. I'm still not sure exactly what that entails. And also I will definitely take your advice on the a/b testing, considering probably 99/100 settings I try will make it sound worse since I'm on the learning curve.