Fattening vocals

fat vocals

There’s nothing worse than thin, brittle vocal tracks. Especially when you’ve followed all the rules, used good gear, and they still don’t sound right. What do you do?

Here are some tips on how to fatten up your vocal tracks:
Sing it twice
Doubling the vocal track by recording it twice doesn’t suit every style of music, but it can work nicely if the vocalist is well rehearsed. Timing the vocal of the second track with the first recording is difficult, especially pronouncing consonants. Keep the second recording low in the mix or it will sound…odd.

Body warmth
Insert a valve or tape simulator plugin to add some body and warmth to your vocal.

Double-decker bus
Bus your vocal recording to a stereo aux track and insert a stereo delay. Set the left side with a delay of around 30ms and the right side with a delay of around 35ms – remember that this is a delay track, so the mix should be 100% wet. You can now blend this delay with the dry vocal recording (which should be panned to the centre).

Sing with a chorus
Bus your vocal track to a stereo chorus and blend the dry and effected tracks (much like with the delay technique).

Ricky Martin
Copy the vocal recording onto two mono tracks. Pan one of the copies hard right, and the other hard left, then pitch shift the right channel by +4 cents and the left channel by -4 cents. Experiment with pitch shifting, but don’t make it too severe on a lead vocal as it will stand out like a Ricky Martin.

Some of these techniques are a bit scary for beginners, so here’s something a little simpler:
  1. On your vocal track, open your usual compression and EQ plugins/inserts (using vocal presets if you are not experienced enough to use them manually yet).
  2. Open a chorus as your third plugin/insert, and using the ‘mix’ control in the plugin, take it from dry to wet until you can just hear the effect thickening the vocal, but not so much that you sound like a monster from Star Trek – subtlety is the name of the game.
  3. Open a reverb as your fourth plugin/insert and choose a preset/setting like club, studio, or medium room – nothing too cavernous. Next, get rid of the early reflections by putting the amount to zero. Finally, using the ‘mix’ dial once again, turn it from dry to wet until you hear a clear vocal with just enough reverb to smooth it out.
You can just use the vocal presets on your reverb plugin, but in my experience they are often over the top and can make your vocal sound unpleasant and uncontrollable.

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