How to Make Powerful Vocals Published in Mastering

When making a powerful vocal, start with finding and amplifying the fundamental, then introduce saturation and compression, followed by more saturation, short reverb, and 1/16th note delay. On a vocal bus use upward compression, parallel compression on the highs, and then collectively equalize the signal.

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First, Find the Fundamental

The chapters in this video are going to be shown as a chain, but use them individually or combine a few - whatever works best for your session.

Finding the vocal’s fundamental is relatively easy - using an EQ with a frequency analyzer, we’ll notice a larger spike lower in amplitude. This lowest note, and often more powerful note, is the vocals fundamental, which we’ll definitely want to keep intact when we introduce a high-pass filter.

Additionally, we should center a band on the fundamental and increase its amplitude. The high-pass filter will reduce phase cancellation on the fundamental, and amplifying it makes the vocal more powerful.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Saturate Into Compression

Saturation creates harmonics, compresses, and affects transients - let’s introduce some tube saturation to create lower ordered harmonics which will fill the sound and amplify low frequencies. If we place this saturator before compression, the compressor will be triggered by a denser vocal, causing a powerful sound after make-up gain.

Let’s first listen to saturation, and in the next chapter, we’ll cover the compression settings to use.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Compress with Soft-Knee & High Ratio

As we discussed in the last chapter, compression after saturation creates a powerful sound - let’s use a softer knee, a higher ratio of 6:1, an attack of 5ms, and a release of 250ms. Then we’ll enable automatic makeup gain, but if your plugin doesn’t have this, increase the makeup gain dial.

Also, if your plugin has lookahead, we should add a couple of milliseconds of that as well.

Let’s listen to how this compressor, with these settings and make-up gain, creates a powerful vocal.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Saturate After Compression

Now that we have a thick and powerful vocal, let’s add more saturation, but this time use a different type or hardware emulation to vary the harmonics that we’re introducing. This saturator is going to add harmonics using the saturated and compressed track as its trigger.

In other words, the differing input causes the saturator to react differently - which when combined with the previously compressed and saturated signal causes a very powerful sound.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Layer with Tuned and Spread Vocals

Next, I’m going to duplicate the lead - on one I’ll use the plugin vocal bender to fix its note to an in-key note, but use any tuner you want for this. One another, I can use a formant shifter and a sample delay plugin to spread the stereo image.

Then blend them in with the original until they support the lead, but aren’t too noticeable.

Let’s take a listen to the effect.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Introduce Short, Dense Reverb

Back to the lead vocal, I’m going to introduce a reverb plugin and shorten the decay and reflections to less than one second - while introducing modulation if it’s available. Additionally, I’ll introduce a moderate pre-delay to make the vocal sound like it’s in a real space.

With this reverb blended in, the vocal sounds a lot thicker and more powerful - let’s listen to the effect.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Introduce 1/16th, and dotted 1/16th Delay

I like to add 1/8th and dotted 1/8th note delay on vocals, but if the goal is a powerful vocal, a shorter delay will work better. I’ll use stereo delay then, and on the left channel use 1/16th, and on the right use dotted 1/16th.

Then I’ll introduce mild feedback, a small amount of crosstalk, and blend the effect in.

Let’s take a listen, first with more aggressive settings, and the blended-in.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Create and Maximize Bus

Next, I’m going to send my lead and the duplicates I created to a vocal bus by changing their stereo output to a bus. Collectively, I’ll process them with an upward compressor or maximizer that increases lower-level detail, like the MV2, Inflator, or Weiss maximizer.

Although all 3 will make the vocal more powerful, each one is going to affect the signal a little differently,so let’s switch between them, and observe how they change the sound of the vocal.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Powerful Highs with Parallel Compression

Having present, but nonabrasive high frequencies is important when creating a powerful vocal - so first, I’m going to place a de-esser on my vocal bus to control sibilance, but then, I’ll send the bus to a parallel auxiliary track. On the track, I’ll first a linear-phase EQ.

Then with a high-pass filter, I’ll isolate the highs.

Next, I’ll heavily compress the signal using smooth settings, similar to the ones we used in chapter 3.

Lastly, I’ll blend this parallel compressed signal with the original. This will create a powerful and dense high-frequency range, but one that is easily controllable and isn’t unpleasant.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Collectively Compress Vocals by 1dB

We’ve already compressed out the vocal with downward compression, 2 layers of saturation, and some upward compression, but let’s add very subtle downward RMS compression. I’m going to only compress 0.5dB-1dB on the vocal bus to create a collective sound, and use a slightly non-linear knee to add character.

Since we’re using this compression on the bus, it’ll have a big impact on the sound, so let’s try some various settings like feedback, feedforward, and mild saturation.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Collectively Equalize Vocals

Last up, let’s shape the vocals with a Pultec emulation and bring a little more of the low end forward, and round out the mids. Like the compression, we’ll be shaping both the original and the tuned and stereo-spread vocals, helping create a cohesive sound.

The plugin will also add subtle harmonic content to the vocals.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

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