Making a vocal brighter includes affecting the high-frequency range in one way or another including using an EQ, an Airband EQ, an exciter, saturator, or other various techniques. Using certain types of reverb can also create a bright vocal if the reflections are in the high-frequency range.
With an exciter, I’m going to create high-order harmonics - these will brighten the vocal while making the fundamental easier to hear. Then, I can shape these harmonics, and the frequency response, in general, using an EQ - I’ll need to place this EQ after my exciter routing wise.
What I boost will depend on the vocal, harmonics, and more, but as you can imagine, I’ll use a shelf on my highs.
Some reverbs let you isolate the reverb to just the high frequencies - if you have one with an EQ section, or you want to use a parallel send, isolate the reverb to just this frequency range. This way you add high-frequency content to your vocal, without it sounding harsh.
This can have a creative effect too if you decide to make the reverb unnaturally long.
When I’m processing a vocal, I typically have a chain that starts with Soothe 2, then the Weiss De-esser - from there I place whatever processing I want like my saturation, compression, and so on. Then I’ll end the vocal chain with another Weiss de-esser.
Soothe 2 and the first de-esser tame the vocal before adding any additive processing that would make my highs sound harsh. Then the last de-esser further controls any harshness added by my processing. Since the Weiss de-esser is really transparent, this works well for bright vocals without making the effect too noticeable.
An easy way to make bright vocals is to first attenuate sibilance and then boost the air or highest frequency range available. The sibilance will be between 4kHz and 10kHz, while the airband which will be a shelf, can be centered at 12kHz and above.
This way you achieve a bright vocal without amplifying unwanted sibilance.
Use a super quick delay on your vocal, under 200ms, and isolate the reflections to just the high-frequency range. Like the reverb trick we used earlier, this can be blended in with the vocal for a less noticeable effect or can be used more aggressively for a creative one.
Be sure to de-ess before doing something like this, otherwise, you’ll create a harsh sound.
If your vocal chain includes processing that has made you vocal stereo, like a stereo reverb or something similar, insert a Mid-side EQ on the vocal near the end of your chain. Since the processing added signal to the stereo image, we can amplify the side image.
I’ll use a shelf filter on the side image and boost the highs to create a bright and airy vocal. This will keep it from getting harsh since the sibilance is mainly located on the mid-channel.
Using a multi-band dynamics processor I can create a dynamic expansion to my highs while introducing downward compression to my sibilance and low-mids. Boost the highs, and attenuating the low-mids will create a brighter vocal while attenuating sibilance will again ensure it doesn’t sound harsh.
We can also use a dynamic EQ for this, so there are some options for how to accomplish this.
In the 90s, the trick for getting a bright vocal was to use a shelf filter and aggressively amplify the highs and then run the signal into a de-esser. This would create an aggressive sound in which the de-esser would be made to work harder on the now amplified sibilance.
Although this won’t work in every instance, if you’re looking for a 90s vocal sound, try this out and see if it makes your vocal sound closer to that.
From the 2010s to now, the trick for getting a bright vocal was to set up a parallel auxiliary track and isolate the highs with a Linear Phase EQ using a high-pass filter. Then heavily compress with a downward compressor, and blend it in via the channel fader.
This works especially well for rap vocals and is somewhat indicative of more mainstream rap tracks.