10 Ways To Make Your Vocals Sound Professional - Vocal Processing Secrets
1. High frequency boosts And De-essing
A simple way to make your vocals sound crisp is to boost the high frequencies in the EQ. However, it is important to note that these boosts must be very precise in order to not stick out from the mix. The boost is usually applied to two major frequency ranges;
2-5 kHz and 10 kHz and above. Wide boosts sound more natural than narrow boosts.
The boost in 2-5 KHz range brings out the presence in the vocals and make them sound in your face. Boosting these frequencies can be useful for songs which require aggressive vocals, or even to simply bring them forward in the mix. Make sure you don’t overdo this as vocals tend to become harsh if these frequencies are too pronounced. The boost in the 10 -20 KHz range brings out more air in the voice which makes it sound more 'modern' and 'polished'.
De-Essing: The range around 5-7 KHz usually contains the sibilants (S and Sh Sounds). This can easily get over emphasised so its a good idea to add a De-Esser in case it does, just to keep the vocals in control.
2. EQ carving
A high-pass filter takes away most of the low rumbles captured during the recording. Although you may not hear these frequencies, it is important to remove them so that they don't waste sonic space.
The resonant ,boxy and harsh frequencies in the vocals can be attennuated with precise notches. This helps in shaping the tone of the vocals.
3. Harmonic distortion
An easy way to add presence and grit is to send the vocals to a saturation / exciter unit. Depending on the settings on the saturation unit, it will bring out a lot more harmonics in the vocals and make it sound larger than life.
However, using this technique may make your vocals sit outside the mix, even with very little send amounts. To compensate for this, try sending some of the other instruments of the song to the same saturation unit. This helps in blending the vocals with the rest of the track.
Compression plays a vital role in getting a big sound. There are several ways to compress your vocals. It adds body and weight to the voice. There are two specific kinds of compressors that are often used to achieve a thick vocal tone:
Peak limiters are essentially compressors with a very high ratio (10:1 or more). They compress the signal hard, but only when it crosses a certain threshold. The rest of the signal is left uncompressed.
Leveling amplifiers are compressors with medium ratio (around 5:1) and fixed attack and release times. It usually has a couple of parameters, gain and peak reduction. These units are made to compress the signal continuously, which results in a consistent sound.
These compressors on the vocal bus brings out the full tone of the voice and makes it sound fat. The compressor settings depend highly on the vocal performance and vocal tone, and the wrong settings might just end up making it sound worse than the raw, uncompressed sound.
These compressors can be applied to vocals in two ways:
Serial compression is the process of inserting compressor(s) onto your vocals bus. This is usually done in stages. If one single compressor is made to do all the compression, it may end up sounding unnatural.
Just the way reverb and delays are sent via aux tracks as effects, parallel compression is the process of sending the voice to another compression unit. Since this is a send and not an insert, the compressor can have aggressive settings which may squash the vocals entirely. The right mix balance between the vocal bus and the parallel compression bus brings out the transients from the vocal bus and the fat, compressed sound from the parallel bus.
A combination of inserting compressors on the vocal bus and sending it to the parallel compressor can make almost any vocal performance sound huge. Sending some other instruments to similar effects glues them all together.
5. Multiband Compression:
Multiband compression is a good way to EQ a voice without removing frequencies completely. This technique is useful especially in vocal performances spanning different octaves. This is done by splitting the frequency spectrum into different frequency bands. Each band has a compressor and by tweaking these settings, it is possible to achieve a smooth, consistent vocal tone.
It is used to attenuate frequencies only when they cross the compressor threshold, unlike EQ which attenuates the frequencies throughout the course of the song. Simply put, multiband compression is combination of EQ and compression.
6. Level automation
Using compression alone might not be enough to highlight the voice. Some words and phrases might be too loud or too soft and compressors might not be able to control them properly. Level automation can even them all out and keep all the vocals in one range. This also helps the compressors to control the signal even better and makes the vocals sound even throughout.
One neat trick is to use level automation on the consonants of words. This makes them more prominent and creates an apparent increase in the energy of the vocal performance.
Reverb adds a sense of space and depth to the vocals and blends it into the track (provided other elements also have reverb). Stereo reverbs also add width to the vocals without taking space away from other instruments. Make sure to set the pre-delay time such that the reverb doesn’t drown the vocals, and the transients have enough time to pop through before the reverb kicks in.
To find the right amount of reverb to send to the vocals, first apply some reverb to the other elements of the track, wherever suitable. After that, start sending reverb to the vocals just until the point where it is noticeable, and then dial it down slightly.
Delays can be applied in several ways, including sending the vocals to multiple delay units with different delay timings. A slap-back delay with a subtle stereo effect instantly makes the vocals sound big. Tweaking delay times and feedback amounts to fill up the gaps between vocal phrases also makes the vocals sound big. To avoid the delays from becoming muddy you can add a High Pass Filter on the delay bus.
Vocal harmonies sound best if sung by a real person, but they can also be created using software. First, tune the lead vocals to the right pitch for every note. Then duplicate them and shift them in pitch by 3rds, 5ths, or even octaves. Balance the levels between the harmonies and the lead vocals such that the harmonies stay in the back and only support the lead vocals. Background vocals and double tracking the lead vocals also thickens the vocals and makes it sound big.
10. Chorus effects
Chorus effects come in many different forms, and the end result is making a single vocal performance sound like multiple voices. A simple chorus effect duplicates it and offsets it from the original by a few milliseconds. It is possible to also do this manually by just duplicating the vocal file and positioning it slightly left or right. If the offset is too much, it starts sounding like a delay, and this should be avoided.
To add some more depth to this effect, a unison effect can be created by detuning the duplicated voices from each other by a few cents. Since it is humanly not possible to maintain pitch to the exact cent in every performance, this technique adds a hint of realism to the vocals.