Top 9 Vocal Processing Hacks

Top 9 Vocal Processing Hacks
  1. Combine Ambience and Room Reverb
  2. Use a Subtle Harmonizer
  3. De-ess and Subtractive EQ First
  4. Use a Limiter for Cleaner Attenuation
  5. Combine Upward and Downward Compression
  6. Keep Reverb as Sends
  7. Attenuate 2kHz on Side Image
  8. Accent Vowels
  9. Remove Nasal

Combine Ambience and Room Reverb

Reverb is typically thought of as a stylistic effect, but it can be used to create a sense of realism – if you’re recording vocals in a dry room, try combining ambience and room reverb types to create a full vocal.  I’ll combine studio emulation with general ambience.

Liquid Sonics Seventh Heaven is a good option for this, but use whatever reverb plugin you liked and offer these styles of reverb.

Use a Subtle Harmonizer

Like reverb, harmonizers can be great for creative effects, but they can also serve a very practical purpose – by setting up a send, harmonizing your main vocal, and subtly blending it in, your vocal will become full without the harmonies be consciously perceivable.  It’ll make your vocal sound naturally full.

I typically use full octave harmonies, but if you find ones that work with your song’s key, feel free to use those too. 

De-ess and Subtractive EQ First

It’s understandable to want to start with fun processing right away, but before you go too far you need to de-ess and use subtractive EQ.  This way, you attenuate any aspect of the vocal that shouldn’t be amplified, resulting in a more balanced vocal down the line.

If you use these processors later in your chain, you’ll be fighting against your other forms of processing, so it’s best to use them first.

Use a Limiter for Cleaner Attenuation

If you’re finding that your compressor is causing too much of a shift to your vocal’s timbre, try a limiter and increase the gain and lower the ceiling simultaneously.  Limiters are often better at handling the full frequency spectrum without making noticeable changes, so they work well for this purpose.

Since the voice is the most recognizable instrument, changes to its timbre are easy to hear, so find a super transparent limiter for the job.

Combine Upward and Downward Compression

Upward compression will increase the volume of your vocal from the floor up, and downward from the peaks down – by combining the 2, you can find the right balance between dynamic control and increasing your vocal’s detail.  You can also make this process frequency-specific with a multi-band compressor.

I’ll combine the oxford inflator with the FabFilter Pro-C 2 for an example.

Keep Reverb as Sends

Although most processing will go directly in the vocal chain, there are some good reasons to keep your reverb as sends – mainly it separates the processing, and gives you greater control.  I’m often shifting the balance between my reverbs, so it’s much easier to simply adjust a channel strip.

Additionally, it makes automating your reverb easier, since you can automate the channels fader, instead of a function of the reverb.

Attenuate 2kHz on Side Image

When you’re processing a vocal bus, or maybe even just the stereo reverb used on your vocals, it can help to use a mid-side EQ, and attenuate some of the vocal range around 2kHz.  This way, the mid image of the vocal can cut through a little more.

Doing this can alleviate masking in the range, so just listen intently to the side image to find the best part to cut.

Accent Vowels

Although this won’t always be the case, sometimes a vocalist doesn’t enunciate as much as needed, making the lyrics or general vocal indiscernible.  To remedy this, a small bump at 500Hz can help to make the vowels cut through, making the vocal easier to understand.

Just be careful not to amplify much for 300Hz or 700Hz, since this can have a negative effect on your vocal.

Remove Nasal

A nasally vocalist is pretty common, and some of the best vocalists still can’t help but have a slightly nasally sound.  Fortunately, this is pretty easy to remedy – if you want to get rid of a nasally tone, slightly attenuate around 700Hz, and listen to find the exact center frequency.

This will vary from vocalist to vocalist, so be sure not to always stick with 700Hz, but use it as a starting point.

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