Getting that amazing vocal is extremely important in almost every genre of recorded music today. It requires a great starting point (aka an awesome vocalist), but there are plenty of techniques, tips, and tricks that you can use during and after the recording session to make your vocal track stand out.
With this list, we’ll be looking at ways to add depth to your vocals. Try these out on your next session and let us know which ideas you like best!
1. Choosing the “Right” Mic
This tip is nothing new. But when it comes to vocals, there is a very specific thing to listen to when choosing a mic. And that is the low-mids.
When you’re listening to how a mic sounds on a particular vocal, try to listen to the low-mids. If they’re pleasant without having to do much EQ, then you’ve probably got a great mic for the job. If they’re boxy or hollow sounding, then you might want to try a different mic.
2. The “Pleasant EQ” Trick
Let’s say you didn’t have a great mic to start with. Or if you’re mixing a track that someone else tracked and you have a very flat, unpleasant vocal. Corrective EQ is probably the first place to start.
When you’re doing this, think about what I like to call the “Pleasant EQ” curve. This curve has a solid low end (<100 Hz), a bit of a dip in the low-mid frequencies (250 Hz), a smooth brightness in the mids and a crispy top end (10 kHz+). Add this corrective and subtractive EQ first to level the playing field and make your vocal deeper.
3. iZotope Neutrino
Although this plug-in doesn’t drastically change the sound of any track, it does subtly add some nice depth – especially on vocals. Just a touch of this plug-in can take a good sounding vocal and make it great!
4. Delay + Reverb
Of course spatial processing adds depth! But there’s a few controls that are really useful with this combo to add depth to vocals.
On delay, adjust the low pass filter to only allow the low frequencies through on the delayed signal. Some plug-ins, like Replika XT (found in Native Instruments Komplete 11) have this function built in. Or, you can simply use an EQ on your Aux track return.
For reverb, play around with the pre-delay. Sometimes adding a small amount of pre-delay can put your vocal in a larger space, creating a sense of depth. Try anywhere from 30 – 100 ms of pre-delay to start.
5. Parallel Processing
This is a great way to beef up a thin sounding vocal. Duplicate the track and roll off everything above 1 kHz on the duplicated track. Then, use a compressor with some character to smash the duplicated track. It probably won’t sound very good at all solo’d out, but then slowly mix it in with the original vocal to add some nice beef to a thin track.
6. Analog Plug-ins
It’s hard to say that just throwing a plug-in on a track will automatically make it sound better. But sometimes, it just works.
Try analog plug-ins such as Slate Virtual Tape Machine to add some analog warmth to a track. This can be a subtle but effective way to create a great sounding vocal.
7. Volume Automation – NOT Compression
When you need to tame the dynamics of a vocal, don’t just reach for a compressor. This can really squash the sound and take the life out of it.
Start with a proper vocal ride using automation to bring everything in line before using a compressor. This will keep the dynamic integrity of the performance in tact while also making sure that nothing gets lost in the mix.
About the Author
Dean Palya Jr is an LA-based producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist and the Director of Digital Media at Westlake Pro. He works with artists of all genres and loves taking a creative vision and turning into reality. When he isn’t producing music or videos about pro audio, he enjoys exploring new places and binge watching Netflix shows. Check out his website here.