Processing Lead Rock Vocals

A detailed tutorial on how to process lead Rock vocals to sit in a mix.

Dynamic Processors


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So you have recorded your Rock vocals ……….now what?

Corrective processes

Processing Rock vocals is much like any other vocal processing but with a twist: Rock vocals can exhibit a huge dynamic range that can work against you and sometimes we narrow the dynamic range to allow the vocals to sit in a busy mix. But before we can colour the vocals with some lovely processing we need to perform some corrective processes. Corrective processes are processes that help to correct any problematic areas: using gates to remove background noise, using equalisation to remove redundant and problematic frequencies, tuning to correct any tuning errors, using a de esser to remove sibilance and so on…These are the general corrective processes we use to correct and treat vocals.

Using equalisation

Once we are finished with correcting all the errors we need to think about how best to represent the vocals  for the genre they are intended for and the usual weapon of choice is an equaliser. Industry professionals tend to use compensatory equalisation immediately after corrective equalisation to restore and highlight the desired frequencies that might have been compromised with the corrective equalisation process. Eq is a wonderful sculpting tool and it is the first port of call for any vocal processing tasks. It is at this stage that we pronounce certain frequencies, work  the air band (this area sits in the 8 kHz – 20 kHz range) and prepare for the next process. However, sometimes it pays to think outside the box and use something else in place of a traditional eq. This is where a good well designed distortion unit can come in handy. Using subtle harmonic distortion on vocals can highlight the consonants and add a level of thickness and density that an equaliser cannot.

What is harmonic distortion

In an analogue system overdriving is achieved by adding a lot of gain to a part of the circuit path. This form of distortion is more commonly related to overdriving a non linear device. But it doesn’t end there as any form of alteration made to audio being fed into a non linear device is regarded as distortion even though the term is quite a loose one and not too helpful. The idea is to create harmonic distortion.

Harmonic distortion means that additional harmonics are added to the original harmonics of the audio being fed. As all sound carries harmonic content, and this is what defines its timbre, then it makes sense that any additional harmonics will alter the sound quite dramatically. Harmonic distortion is musically related to the original signal being treated and the sum of the added and original harmonics make up the resultant harmonics. The level and relative amounts of the added harmonics give the sound its character and for this we need to look at the two main types of harmonic distortion: odd and even order harmonics.

Harmonics are simply multiples of the fundamental frequency of a sound and the addition of harmonics within a sound define the sound’ timbre and character. Even order harmonics are even multiples of the source frequency (2, 4, 6, 8 etc) and odd order harmonics (3, 5, 7, 9 etc) are multiples of the source frequency (fundamental).

Even order harmonics (2, 4, 6 etc) tend to sound more musical and therefore more natural and pleasing to the ear and higher levels of this can be used as the ear still recognises the ‘musical’ content. Odd order harmonics tend to sound a little grittier, deeper and richer and higher levels of this cannot be used as abundantly as even order harmonics as the ear recognises the non harmonic content and it results in an unpleasant effect. But there are uses for both and depending on how the harmonics are treated some wonderful results can be achieved.

In the video I show you how to use Waves RealTune to tune the Rock vocals, how to use the FabFilter Pro Q3 to perform corrective equalisation to remove redundant and problematic frequencies, how to isolate desired frequencies using the ‘sweep the spectrum’ technique and finish off with a detailed foray into using Soundtoys Decapitator, a wonderful distortion plugin, to pronounce the vocals and get them to cut through a busy mix.

Plugins used in this video:

FabFilter Pro Q3

Soundtoys Decapitator

Waves RealTune

Tpics covered in this video are:

  • Tuning
  • Corrective Equalisation
  • Sweep and Scan
  • Harmonic Distortion
  • Calculating Keys
  • Working the Air Band
  • Colouring Equalisation