The vocal is the centerpiece of a song. They need to draw listeners in and hold their attention all the way through the track. That’s why inventive vocal processing has become an important part of modern vocal production.
Vocal processing means the creative production techniques that transform raw vocals into stylish studio sound design.
In this article, we’ll go through 10 processing types that will give your vocals a unique texture—and even turn them into something completely new.
1. Double tracking
This first vocal technique is one of the oldest production tricks around—but it’s still incredibly effective.
Double tracking vocals just means recording a line two (or more) times. Why would you want to do this?
Multiple takes stacked on top of each other thicken the sound by making a chorusing effect.
You’ll never be able to sing a part the same way twice. The subtle variations between takes create slight inconsistencies and pitch modulation that can really thicken up the sound.
Right when you try it, you’ll start to hear how often double-tracking is used in vocal production.
Hot tip: Several techniques have been developed over the years to simulate the effect of double-tracked vocals. One of the most famous is the ADT (automatic double tracking) effect developed at Abbey Road. There are even plugins that can help you get the classic effect of Abbey Road ADT in your mix.
2. Stereo widening
Stereo widening is the more subtle cousin of manual double-tracking that’s often meant to be felt more than heard.
Vocals are naturally mono since it’s best to record your voice with a single microphone close up.
But in a dense mix with lots of activity at the left and right extremes, a mono vocal track may feel a little too narrow.
Stereo widening effects can help bridge the gap with the rest of the mix and extend the vocal out in the stereo field.
Stereo widening typically works by delaying and modulating a copy of the signal. However, unlike stompbox-style chorus effect dedicated vocal wideners have a more subtle sound that works like glue in a mix.
3. Reverse audio
There will always be something captivating and confusing about audio played backward.
There’s no consensus on why exactly it sounds so alien to us, but the unsettling effect is clear.
It’s especially uncanny to hear spoken words or sung vocals reversed into gibberish. It’s a simple strategy to instantly transform vocals that often gets overlooked.
Luckily, reversing audio is one of the easiest operations to do in your DAW.
Try reversing vocal lines to see the way they can boost your arrangement and draw attention to the vocal sound.
4. Lo-fi Effects
The human voice is instantly recognizable to our ears and brains. We’re getting familiar with it that altering the texture can radically change how we perceive it.
Lo-fi plugins take advantage of this phenomenon to create feelings of space, place, and nostalgia.
Telephone filters, tape effects, or gritty tiled room reverbs can change how you situate the singer’s voice in your mind.
Use lo-fi effects during buildups, breakdowns, or other moments where you need to shift up the context of your vocal.
Speaking of lo-fi, distortion is the ultimate lo-fi effect. The abrupt waveform clipping that occurs with the heavy distortion can make a voice sound completely different.
However, overdrive and distortion can be used musically too. Some of the most iconic vocal sounds ever were recorded using guitar amps cranked to their melting point.
Distortion adds edginess, character, and midrange cut to vocal a track—in heavier genres, it’s a must.
Luckily, you no longer have to redline a Marshall stack to get quality distortion in your DAW.
There are plenty of fantastic saturation plugins that can go anywhere from subtle harmonic enhancement to sheer sonic mayhem.
6. Ambience effects
Delay and reverb are pretty standard vocal effects, but they both fall under the umbrella of ambiance processing—which can get pretty far out if you push the boundaries.
Standard delay and reverb styles like slapback or plate might seem tame, but they can still sound fresh if the context is right.
But reach beyond the basics and ambiance effects can get highly creative.
Today’s reverb plugins are capable of simulating impossibly large spaces with modulation that could never occur in the real world.
And modern multi-tap pitch-shifting delays can create some incredibly lush and ethereal effects.
Sampling might not totally fit the definition of an effect, but you can use it to create amazing new textures with your vocals.
Chopping a vocal phrase into slices and playing them with your MIDI controller will give you a whole new perspective on the sounds you can make with your voice.
Try playing around with the pitch, loop points, and playback direction of each slice in your sampler.
Add synth-style ADSR and filters and you have an incredible sound design sandbox for vocal effects.
8. Aggressive pitch correction
Everyone knows pitch correction plugins like Antares Auto-Tune were designed to patch up pitchy vocal takes.
Building up harmonized lines, shifting the formants, and separating the notes are just a few of the unique techniques you can use with pitch correction.
But they’re famous for the robotic hard tuning effect heard in modern pop and hip-hop.
This basic technique is still a super effective form of vocal processing.
But it’s just the beginning of what’s possible when you dig into the creative potential of pitch correction.
Vocal processing power
Creative vocal processing is the most important in modern production.
Luckily there are plenty of ways to discover your own unique approach to it.
If you’ve made it through this article you’ll have some great ideas for how to start with vocal processing.