How to make your vocals sound fuller.
The first and most commonly used approach I have seen to make vocals sound fuller is probably the use of pitch-shifting systems. Back in the era of tape, this was accomplished with a technique called flanging.
Flanging was a trick that was accomplished by routing the vocal track through a 2 track tape machine and then applying a small amount of pressure to one of the tape reels in an on and off fashion to slow the reel down in an inconsistent manner. This would be done manually with pressure from a finger or thumb.
The change in the speed of the signal from the 2 track tape machine would create a modulation of the pitch with the original signal and a blend of the 2 signals would create a thickening of the sound and slight harmoniousness of the combined tracks giving the illusion of depth and thickness to the overall combination.
Later on, as technological advances allowed, stand-alone machines that would recreate this effect with the tweaking of dials would make the implementation of this effect much easier, albeit fairly costly since these devices were very highly-priced when they first came on the scene.
One of the first of these effects was the Eventide Harmonizer. It became widely used and was a classic sound that has since been copied in the digital realm and is available in many digital formats under different brand names today.
Enough of the history lesson.
How to Make Vocals Thicker
In the digital era, we are very spoiled to have almost too many choices as to the variety of these types of effects available. Most of these types of effects come stock in one form or another with our DAW.
There are many third-party versions available as plugins that have some more advanced tweaking options at the helm but if you are on a small budget you will find that the stick versions that come with your DAW get the job done OK. A little goes a long way with these effects on vocals and when over-used these effects can sound very artificial so pay attention when applying them.
Another common technique, which is free other than the time and skill it takes to implement, is double-tracking or multi-tracking. This is achieved by having the vocalist sing the track a number of times on different tracks and then playing the tracks back altogether at the same time. The slight variations in tone, pitch, and timing of each vocal take create a massive boost in depth and thickness compared to the original track.
This method has an Achilles heel though. It can sound very fake and obnoxious when overused. This especially evident in songs with a very open sound with minimal instrumentation. It becomes even more obvious and fake when, for example, you record 3 track of the main vocal and pan 2 of them hard left and hard right.
The stereo dimension of all these vocal tracks at the same level can sound very spacial and odd. It can be an interesting effect but isn’t necessarily going to act as a mainstay in your bag of tricks for thickening vocals.
Unless you apply a little ingenuity. Let’s say we don’t make all these 3 tracks at the same volume? And let’s also say that we don’t pan them all the way left and right. maybe we just pan them 15L and 15R and one dead center. What if we also turn the left and right tracks down until they are just barely audible?
What if we also dial out a little top and roll off the high and low frequencies at say 4K and say 500 hertz?
How to Make Vocals Sound Better
Hmmm….now we are getting somewhere.
Actually, this is now my go-to method for vocal track and if you listen closely, I think you will find that this is a very common method today. With the availability of nearly unlimited track available in the digital world, you have no reason to be conservative when it comes to applying this method. I really like using this idea to the extreme when doing backup vocals in busy mixes. It is easy for backups to sound thin in a busy track so I like to go all out.
My favorite way to do “gang” vocals when it is just me and I have no crowd to sing the part is to just sing it over and over again sitting at my desk with a Beta 58 and the monitors at a modest volume. No headphones….nothing. With a low volume mix and no headphones to mess with your relative pitch. You can get a shitload of takes done in a very short period of time.
This trick works like gangbusters and the final product rarely requires any EQ other than maybe rolling off some bottom end at 100.
If you want to save screen real estate you can zip all the track up in a folder and close it or you can print the tracks to stereo and dump all the originals to save space and track management. It’s up to you.
Reverb is another way to thicken vocals. Historically this has probably been the most used tactic. When plate reverb was the only game in town you can hear heavy use of reverb in older tracks. Chamber reverb was also a biggy for the more elaborate studios. They would make underground concrete chambers and put a microphone in the chamber. They could then route the signal into the chamber and record that signal as a separate track and blend the 2 together in the mix stage.
Today, reverb, like all other effects are stock options on all DAW’s. There are also many 3rd party options available as well. As plugins go, 3rd party reverbs are often far better in quality than their stock counterparts. More so than other effects like EQ and modulation effects 3rd party reverb options are very nice and of excellent quality.
Again though, if you are on a tight budget then the onboard reverb in your DAW will do a fine job when used properly. The Reverence Reverb that comes stock in Cubase is an excellent system and I use it as much as I di 3rd party reverbs I have purchased.
Try rolling off some top and bottom end from the reverb signal and you will find it sounds far more authentic. Vocals especially sound odd when the sibilance goes trailing off in the reverb in a shower of “whissshhhhhhh” as the reverb decays. Rolling off some top end will put a stop to that. Unless you really like the mid 80’s vocal sounds.
So there are my main tricks for making vocals sound fuller. Give them and try and come back and comment on your progress.