How to Make Dark Vocals Published in Mastering

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When making dark vocals you can use a high shelf filter to attenuate high frequencies, or you can use low tape speed emulation to attenuate highs while distorting mids. Another option for making dark vocals is to use reverb and isolate the reflections to the lows of the vocal.

Simplest Way to Make Dark Vocals

The 8 tips I’ll show in this video are in no particular order, so feel free to implement them into your chain in any way you see fit.

The simplest and easiest way to make your vocal sound darker is to use a high shelf filter, and dip 4kHz and up by about 3dB. Just about any equalizer is capable of doing this, so this is also the most accessible way to quickly darken vocals.

Use a little more or a little less of this cut depending on how dark you want them to sound, and the vocal recording.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Low Tape Speed and Degradation

By using a tape emulation plugin and lowering the speed to 7.5IPS or 3.75IPS we can achieve a darker sounding vocal. Additionally, a little tape degradation will attenuate some of the vocal’s high-frequency detail which helps make the vocal sound a little Lo-Fi and dark.

I’m using the free Chow Tape Model plugin, so try this out for yourself.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Dark Valhalla Reverb

Supermassive is a great free reverb plugin with which I can make the vocal sound dark by isolating reflections to my low mids. If you want to copy this effect, I’m using the Capricorn mode, with 45% feedback, 100% density, and I’m isolating the reverb between 10 and about 2kHz.

I’ll blend the effect in, and select a note that works well with the song.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Aggressive De-esser

With a de-esser I’m going to attenuate my vocals sibilance by about 6dB; I’ll use the shelf mode and Split audio so that only the high-frequency band is being attenuated. This way whenever sibilance is present in the vocal, it’ll be reduced, making the vocal sound darker.

This is an easy way to create dark vocals that occur dynamically, as opposed to an EQ shelf which will be constantly attenuated.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Dynamic Microphone Emulation

Although these types of plugins aren’t super common, emulating a dynamic microphone will add a darker tonality to your vocal. I’ll set my source as a Neumann u87 and emulate a Sennheiser 441 - then I’ll increase the input a little, and increase the proximity effect.

In short, what this plugin is doing is boosting my lows, attenuating my highs, compressing the vocal slightly, and introducing some mild distortion, all of which will make the vocal sound darker.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Pitch Shift and Blend

Using Logic Pro’s stock Pitch Shifter plugin, I’ll reduce the vocal pitch by 12 semitones, and then blend the detuned vocal in with the original. I’ll turn on latency compensation as well as manually adjust the timing until the detuned vocal sound is flush with the original.

The detuned vocal will be one full octave lower than the vocal, in turn increasing lower frequencies and making the vocal sound darker. This effect is also stylistic so be more aggressive with it for a creative effect.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Parallel Upward Compress Mids

For this trick I’ll create a bus and send my vocal to an auxiliary track - then I’ll use a linear phase EQ to isolate just the mid and low frequencies of the vocal. Next, I’ll add the Waves plugin MV2 to create upward compression, making these mids and lows prominent.

Lastly, I’ll blend this auxiliary track in with my original to create a balance between the clear original, and this darker parallel signal.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Parallel Saturate Mids

If you don’t have the MV2 or a low-level compression, a saturator will work just as well. I’ll keep all of the settings the same with the parallel one and linear phase EQ, but this time I’ll use Softube’s free saturation knob to distort the parallel signal.

I’ll push the saturation right before the point of noticeable distortion, and then blend this track in with the original like before.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

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