How to Make Vocals Sound Thick

 
 
  1. Thicken Vocals with Short, High-Density Reverb
  2. Thicken Vocals with Short Delay
  3. Thicken Vocals with Saturation
  4. Thicken Vocals with Opto Compression
  5. Thicken Vocals with Dynamic Equalization
  6. Thicken Vocals with Inverse Equalization
  7. Thicken Vocals with Low-Level Compression

Thicken Vocals with Short, High-Density Reverb

 
 

Thickening vocals with short, high-density reverb has been a strategy of music production and performance for literally thousands of years.  It’s the reason opera houses were designed to be a particular size and shape, and why we sound better when we sing in the shower than in a large room.

When vocals are either recorded or processed using short high-density reverb, the quick and numerous reflections blend in with the original signal making it sound thick and impressive.

Try using a reverb with an ambient, chamber, or room setting, and find an option with a lot of reflections and a short to moderate RT60.

You can even combine a couple and blend the effects together if you’re not super concerned with realism.

Thicken Vocals with Short Delay

 
 

Similar to short reverbs, short delays are really effective at creating a thick and impressive vocal.  This technique was first used in the 50s by using multiple tape heads to create what’s called a slapback delay.

This same concept carries over today and can be created with slapback delays, or in a more modern way with digital delay processors.

Either way, the processing creates multiple voices that we perceive as coming from 1 source so long as the delays are below 130 milliseconds. 

For whatever reason, if the delay is greater than 130 milliseconds, we perceive the signal as coming from 2 or more sources, so keep the effect below 130 milliseconds to create a thick, cohesive vocal.

Thicken Vocals with Saturation

 
 

Saturation is a combination of soft-knee compression and harmonic distortion – it gradually compresses the signal which controls the dynamics while simultaneously adding in harmonics that raise the overall amplitude.  Because of this combo, saturation is a perfect form of processing for thickening a signal.

Just about any saturator will work well for this, but tube-based saturation is arguably one of the better options for saturating vocals.  It creates a strong second-order harmonic that almost doubles the fundamental signal.

This creates a really warm and full sound, with an emphasis on low frequencies.  If you want both warmth and clarity, try tape saturation, or combine a couple of different types.

Thicken Vocals with Opto Compression

 
 

Optical compression is a really interested and unique form of compression – in the hardware, it utilizes a light sensor that determines when compression begins and how long it lasts.  This results in compression that behaves a lot differently than most FET or digital compressors. 

Because of its unique behavior, it’s really great at thickening instruments – it’s most notably used on bass guitar, but it has a similar warming and thickening effect on vocals.   

By releasing the vocal slowly and in a program-dependent way, the dynamics are gently controlled while mild distorts bring the level upward. 

Opto compression may not work out for every vocal, especially ones in which detail is need, but it works well at creating a classic warm vocal sound.

Thicken Vocals with Dynamic Equalization

 
 

Dynamic equalization is a great way at adding some natural-sounding dynamics into your vocal – if used for lower frequencies, it’s really effective at thickening the sound of either a sung or spoken vocal.  I like to amplify and expand 200Hz on a vocal if it needs some power.

If you do choose to use this method, I recommend trying it with the Pro-Q 3.  The main reason is that this plugin offers a low-latency linear phase mode, which I find to be perfect for boosting low frequencies without changing a signal’s phase.

But there are other options, like the Tokyo Dawn Labs NOVA which is a fantastic free option that a lot of people have success with.

Thicken Vocals with Inverse Equalization

 
 

Inverse equalization is the process of matching a signal’s frequency response to another signal via an external side chain, and then reversing the gain changes – it’s a little more involved than other techniques but can be great at indirectly thickening vocals.  Odds are it’ll make your vocal cut through a mix.

One of the best ways to do this is to side-chain your full instrumental mix, and then match your vocal’s EQ to it.  Delete any bands which are below 80Hz, or above 15kHz.

Then highlight all bands and inverse the gain.  Be sure to do this subtly.

Also, use a linear phase mode to avoid excessive phase changes from the multiple bands needed for the technique.

Thicken Vocals with Low-Level Compression

 
Thicken Vocals with Low Level Compression
 
 

Low-level compression is one of my favorite ways to add detail and thicken any instrument – it brings quieter details up, in turn reducing the dynamic range which increasing the amplitude.  This works similar to saturation, but instead of generating harmonics, low-level compression amplifies existing signals.

OTT by Xfer records is a great free plugin for this.  It’s incredibly powerful though so be sure to use it very sparingly.  When I use this plugin I’ll reduce the depth and decrease the amount of downward compression to 0 percent.

Additionally, I’ll drag the bars in the middle to only create upward compression, and amplify the low end slightly to make the vocal sound thick.


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