How to Make Thick Vocals Published in Mastering

If you want your vocals to be thick, use saturation, upward compression, and/or downward compression to bring quieter details up and to add harmonics. Additionally, introduce time and frequency modulation via reverb, delay, and chorusing, and then amplify the side image to make a thick vocal.

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Using Saturation for Thick Vocals

Saturation is one of the easiest and quickest ways to make your vocal sound thick - simply introduce a saturation plugin, increase it until the vocal sounds full without too much distortion, and then adjust the output gain accordingly. Tube saturation is especially good for a full and thick-sounding vocal.

Let’s listen to tube distortion on a vocal, and notice how the second-order harmonic that is introduced makes the vocal sound thick.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Thick Vocals with Upward Compression

Upward compression is an underrated effect - it captures quieter parts of the vocal, compresses them, and then amplifies them. This makes it a really efficient way to increase quieter details of the vocal, in turn, thickening all aspects of it that would’ve otherwise been masked.

Let’s listen to upward compression, and notice how full the vocal becomes across the full frequency spectrum.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Fast Attack, Make-Up Compression

In addition to controlling dynamics, compression is used to thicken a signal - by reducing the peaks, and then amplifying the signal, we bring quiet details forward. Let’s do this with a quick attack, 100ms release, 2ms lookahead, a softer knee, and with automatic makeup gain enabled.

If the compressor you use has it, select a vocal compression setting. Let’s take a listen to how this brings the vocal upfront and thickens it.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Short Delay - Moderate Pre-Delay

If delay is below 130ms, the original signal and the delayed one will sound like a single bigger signal. Let’s introduce delay and include a little modulation if available - additionally, let’s set a pre-delay of about 20-30ms to let the transient through unaffected.

Since the transient is higher in pitch, the majority of what gets delayed will be lows and mids - adding to the thick sound of the vocal. Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Short Reverb on Mids

Short reverb will act a lot like short delay, but with more complex reflections and a more realistic sound. If we emulate a small room we can thicken the vocal in a realistic way, but we can also make the decay as short as possible and include modulation if available.

Like last chapter, we’ll introduce a little pre-delay for the same reasons. Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Chorus Effect with Modulation or Doubler

A chorus effect is a lot like a vocal doubler - it utilizes short delays and then modulates the timing and pitch to cause variation between the original and the delay taps. These variations cause a thick sound since it fills in gaps in time and the frequency response.

Let’s use Supermassive by Valhalla and try a chorus effect, and notice how much thicker and fuller the vocal sounds.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Amplify Fundamental, Attenuate 2.5kHz.

If you’re looking for a simple way to thicken vocals, or maybe want another form of processing to augment what we’ve discussed so far, use an EQ to attenuate about 2.5kHz by roughly 1 to 2dB. Then amplify the vocal’s fundamental by the same amount.

Let’s listen to this EQ being used in addition to the chorus effect we just used, and notice how it augments the thickness of the vocal.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Upward Compress Side Image

When we delay, reverberate, or double a vocal, we make it stereo with differing left and right signals. This means we can affect our side image since it’ll now be different from the mid - I’ll send the vocal to a parallel track, and use MSED to isolate the side.

Then I’ll use an upward compressor on the side image - this will make the vocal wider, but also bring forward details that make it thicker . Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Distort Side Image of Vocal

While we have our parallel send set up from the last chapter, and the side image isolated, let’s use a saturation plugin to emphasize these side details. Just like how saturation filled out the vocal originally, it’ll do the same to the side image-enhancing our temporal effects and thickening the signal.

Let’s combine this effect with the previously used upward compression and take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Parallel Thick Vocal Pt.1

Let’s keep our parallel send and first insert a linear phase EQ, with which we’ll isolate the lows and mids - then we’ll saturate this signal with a warm tube setting, before using upward compression. By isolating the mids we focus saturation on thickening frequencies, adding harmonics to this region.

Then we amplify these harmonics using the upward compressor. Lastly, we’ll blend the parallel signal in with the original - let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Parallel Thick Vocal Pt.2

Let’s use the same setup as the last chapter, but set up a separate send on which we’ll insert some of the temporal processing we discussed. I’ll use a short delay, and short chorus, and then an upward compression to make their effects thicker and more impressive.

Then I’ll blend this effect, along with the parallel signal we processed last chapter, with the original signal and create a super thick-sounding vocal.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

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