- Tune Vocal with EQ
- Saturate Fundamental and Overtones
- Use Dynamic EQ for Clarity
- Use Dynamic EQ for Warmth
- Generate Harmonies with Plugins
- Generate Doubles with Plugins
- Parallel Sibilance Trick
- Routing Delay Ducking
- M/S Compress After Reverb
- Achieve Vintage Crisp Sound
Tune Vocal with EQ
The tips in this video are in no particular order and aren’t combined with one another in any of the demos.
This first tip is subtle and a little usual, but it helps a vocal sound more in tune with a tuner. First, I need to know the key of the song, in this case, G# minor, then I’ll find and amplify in-key frequencies or notes.
Although there are 7 in-key notes in each key, I found that only 4 notes were sung in the melody, so I found and amplified those at multiple octaves.
Let’s listen to these frequencies being amplified, and note that it subtly increases in-key and in-tune aspects of the vocal.
Saturate Fundamental and Overtones
With a saturator that offers frequency-specific processing, I’ll find the fundamental of my vocal – in this case, G# at 207Hz. and D# at 2489Hz, using this PSP saturator’s low and high bands. Then I’ll increase the amount of saturation on each band, emphasizing in-key elements.
Like the last chapter, this makes the vocal sound more in-key, but to my ear just makes it sound a little more musical.
Let’s take a listen.
Use Dynamic EQ for Clarity
With this Shade EQ by UVI, I’m going to create 2 bands – one over 250Hz, and another over roughly 3kHz. Then I’ll create 2 envelope followers, and link one to the gain of my 250Hz. band and another to the gain of my 3kHz band.
Next, I’ll use a negative range for the 250Hz. band, and a positive one for the 3kHz band, meaning that when the envelopes’ threshold is crossed, these bands will be attenuated and amplified respectively.
Lastly, I’ll set the 3kHz band as the trigger for the envelope attached to my 250Hz band, and vice versa. This means that whenever 3kHz is present, 250Hz will be attenuated, and whenever 250Hz is present, 3kHz will be amplified.
Although complex, it dynamically reduces phase cancellation to higher, clarifying frequencies. By using envelope followers, and triggering the bands the way we did, we ensured that the effect is program-dependent.
Let’s listen and notice how the vocal’s clarity increases.
Use Dynamic EQ for Warmth
I’m going to use the same settings and processing that I used last chapter, but this time, I’m going to use a positive value on 250Hz’s gain, and a negative value on 3kHz’s gain. This will amplify lower frequencies while attenuating higher ones, resulting in more high-frequency masking.
I’m keeping all other settings the same, so please check out last chapter for a more in-depth look at setting this up.
Let’s listen to how the vocal becomes warmer.
Generate Harmonies with Plugins
If we know the key of the song, we can use harmony generators or pitch-shifting plugins to create some background harmonies for the lead. I’m going to use this plugin to snap the vocal to G# as various octaves, as well as C# and E.
Let’s listen to how this could be used creatively, or for a subtle thickening effect.
Generate Doubles with Plugins
Using a parallel send and this Lifeline Expanse plugin by Excite Audio, I’m going to recreate a double for my lead. Some unique saturation helps differentiate the 2 signals, but what creates the doubled sound is subtle pitch shifting or detuning – a plate reverb reduces phase cancellation between the original and this parallel signal.
On the parallel track, I also used a sample delay to further widen the vocal, before blending it in with the aux track channel fader.
Let’s listen to how saturation, detuning, some reverb, and sample delay help create a convincing double.
Parallel Sibilance Trick
If you want your vocals highs to sound present but lack harshness, try sending the vocal to a parallel track, on which you can insert a linear phase EQ and isolate the highs. Then use smooth compression, like optical compression, to reduce dynamics and introduce make-up gain.
Lastly, insert a plate reverb plugin to give the vocal’s high frequencies and sibilance a longer, billowy sound.
Let’s take a listen.
Routing Delay Ducking
Delay ducking is kind of like pre-delay on a reverb – it lets some of the dry signal pass before starting the effect. This is really useful on vocals, but not many delay plugins offer it – to create send the vocal to a parallel track and insert a delay plugin.
Once you have the settings you want, insert a compressor and side-chain the original vocal. Be sure to turn off any auto-make-up gain setting. The compressor will attenuate the delay whenever the dry vocal is present, causing the same effect as delay-ducking, but now with more control over the timing and timbre.
Let’s take a listen.
M/S Compress After Reverb
Reverb will add content both to the mid and side image – making a mono vocal more complex. To augment this, use a mid/side compressor after inserting reverb on your vocal – it’ll compress the mid more often, causing the side image to be louder by comparison.
This cause’s the reverb’s width to respond dynamically to the vocal’s level. Let’s take a listen.
Achieve Vintage Crisp Sound
If you want a vocal that cuts through a mix, but still has a distinctly vintage sound try emulating this old studio trick. In order to reduce noise, tape machines often came with an emphasis, de-emphasis unit that boosted highs before the signal hit the tape, and balanced them after.
Some engineers would use just the emphasis function to create an incredibly crisp and bright vocal. If you have a tape machine or tape emulation that offers this, try it out in combination with tape saturation to get a distinctly vintage vocal sound.
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