5 Creative Music Production Tips for Vocals
As vocals are one of the most important facets in modern music, it is imperative to keep them as a prominent part of the mix. Keeping vocals front and center is a no brainer, but there are other ways to keep the voice of your track as the focal point of the song , especially to accentuate important moments. Not only will the message of the song translate more effectively, but it could also be transformed into a new instrument. Following are 5 creative music production tips for vocals using various effects and EQ.
- Octave Pitch Shift
Nothing says “listen to me!” quite like a voice transformed into a lower or higher octave. Evident in cartoons like Alvin & the Chipmunks and Warner Brothers Productions, pitch shifting creates an ear catching transfiguration that can be applied to music. Most recording software comes with a built-in pitch shift plugin, such as Pro Tools Time Shift, Time and Pitch Machine in Logic, or Frequency Shifter in Abelton. It can add an unconventional color to your tune. Artists such as Burial and Vampire Weekend have effectively used this technique in their tracks.
- Pitch Correction
Related to pitch shifting, pitch correction is a technique that changes intonation of the tone from the audio input. Originally conceived as a corrective tool, it has now established itself in the industry almost as an autonomous instrument. The recognizable quality can enhance and innovate your production. Some DAWs come with pitch alteration software, such as Logic’s Pitch Correction, or separate plugins such as the now infamous AutoTune or Melodyne. First heard in Cher’s “Believe” T-Pain has immortalized this sound. Many producers use this creative music production tip for vocals, either subtly or blatantly to change tone.
The Telephone effect is a classic way to highlight an area of the song, such as a breakdown, bridge, or repeated verse. It sounds like, obviously, as if the vocal is coming through a telephone. It is simply accomplished with a broadband EQ. Some EQs have these settings built in, but the easiest way to accomplish the Telephone is to create a sharp low shelf starting at 500Hz, and a high shelf at 3000Hz. You would then boost around 2000Hz. Experiment with the dB level; from +3 to 5dB should work. Also experiment with frequencies: the narrower the peak, the thinner the sound. The striking effect of the telephone will cause your vocal to cut through and above most instruments.
One way to strengthen a vocal lead is to either artificially or naturally double it. Started in the 1960s as a way to accentuate the lead vocal, it has carried over today to characterize the main singer. Vocalists may sing directly over a previous take, or the engineer will duplicate the track. If duplicated, you could delay the double by a 70 or so milliseconds, and even pan both takes as a cool way to expand the sound of the vocal. Another great way to simulate a larger image would be to combine doubling and pitch shifting: double the vocal, pan hard left and hard right, and make one vocal slightly sharp and one slightly flat. You don’t have to stop with two vocal tracks either, some producers add many vocal duplicates together. The result is a nicely layered, multi-textured sound, which will richly thicken your vocal production. A much-used creative production technique for vocals.
Using a bit of distortion in combination with clean vocal takes can really make the voice pop in your mix. You may want to try using an amp modeler plugin, such as Sans Amp, and make the vocal distorted with a high pass filter. If this signal is mixed in extremely low and very subtly with the clean vocal take or doubled vocal takes, this will add extra harmonics and impact to the original vocal without revealing any distortion. Be careful not to mix the distorted signal in too strong, for this may impair clarity.
Vocals can easily be the main focus of the mix with tried and true techniques, but using creative production tools is a great way to feature them not only as the voice of the song, but as another instrument. Whatever type of music you’re producing, enhancing the vocal with any of the above effects could add character and sonic ear candy to your production. It is good to start with the above parameters, and then deviate according to your song, ear, and taste. Combining two or more will also make for some interesting results, especially at different parts of the song.
We hope you get something out of our 5 creative music production tips for vocals in your next mix. We go in on vocal production on our short DAW music production courses, especially our Logic Pro X course, but we really go to town on our music production diplomas.