Throwing in an effect on a vocal track takes you just a couple of clicks of the mouse these days, but the history behind those effects stretches back many years. Let’s go way back to 1972 with Annette Peacock’s Pony.
In what birthed a production masterclass, Peacock flaunted her vocal and instrumental talents – using a mix of acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizers, and the electric vibraphone. The track blends jazz, rock, blues, and electronic elements perfectly, but it’s her vocals that take centrestage.
Peacock uses the Moog synthesizer as a vocal effect, so what you hear is the resonance of the Moog filter forming as Peacock tinkers with the volume of her voice. The result? An enchanting blend between a human and instrumental voice forming as they modulate each other.
Vocal effects today are the bread and butter of any production, be it a record or just a TV commercial. Each effect makes its own impression, and we’re gonna give you a rundown of some of these effects available on BandLab:
For your reference, here’s the dry sample of the track we’re going to mess about with and manipulate with vocal effects:
Vocal Chorus FX
A “chorus” effect provides added layers and usually gives an increased perception of width to an otherwise completely dry signal.
Because of this enhanced clarity, chorus effects on vocals are often used for the accenting of certain syllables or phrases. If you compare the dry vocal and the sample with the effects, you’ll notice that the Chorus Fx actually makes the “Bae-” (of the “Baby”) sample sound slightly more nasal and therefore pronounced. In terms of tone, the sample with the effect also sounds “thinner”, and therefore clearer.
An example of this type of effect can be found on Mr Mister’s Track, Kyrie – the backing vocals in the chorus have the effect applied.
Classic Chamber FX
Reverb is traditionally used to push something back spatially in a piece of music. It is also often used to add a layer of “wetness” to a particular signal. More reverb = wet. Less reverb = dry.
Reverb can also be used to smoothen out certain frequencies that might otherwise appear harsher than necessary. This varies with the kind of reverb you use, how much of it is applied and the number of reflections bouncing back and forth. Try playing around with different settings to find the sweet spot – usually the point at which you can hear it without being too over-effected.
When The Children Cry by White Lion uses a mix of Chorus, Delay and Reverb effects.
Phase Doubler FX
The “phaser” or “phase-shifter” effect creates a “swirling” sound as opposed to a flanger that provides more of a “swishing” sound or a little like an airplane taking off. The phaser adds a sparkly shimmer similar to that of the chorus, but more swirly. This swishing effect results in an extraterrestrial or otherworldly tone that when mixed with vocals, creates a wavy robotic voice – there are many different kinds of phasers available and they all have different tonal qualities.
Here’s an interesting example of how a phaser can be used on vocals in a studio recording session.
BandLab’s High Vox effect adds a punchy layer of compression that sweetens up vocals. The compression emphasises the relevant plosives and syllables in a very musical and pleasant way, while still retaining the vibe of the original vocal recording.
The “High Vox” effect uses a tri-band equaliser after the compressor. This is used to reshape the overall sound of the original recording after the compression has kicked in to subtly amplify the bolder elements.
This is a good example of how compression can enhance a rap vocal.
The Echo Doubler uses a delay effect to generate space and width in a mix. When applied to vocals, this effect pushes one party of the vocal back.
This a great technique often used in rap music because rap vocals are often sharp and in the forefront. Adding a delay effect rounds off the unwanted parts of the vocal but retains the impact and strength of the vocal recording.
A delay can also be used to “fatten” or thicken a vocal take. Try playing with delay times to give your vocal a little more flavour.
Moneybag by Jarren Benton & Kato has delay effects creatively applied to the background vocals and ad-libs.
Now you know of some of these effects, why not have a go on some of your vocal tracks? Dabble with effects on BandLab’s Mix Editor here, and share the amazing creations you come up with!