A lead vocal should command attention in your song’s mix. But what do you do if that vocal sounds thin and wimpy?
There are several techniques to fatten or thicken vocals. Some involve changes to your recording process. Others are tweaks you can apply during the mixing process.
In this guide, we’ll look at ways to add beef to a vocal both before and after you hit the record button.
- How Do You Fatten Up A Vocal Track?
- 7 Ways to Fatten Vocals When Recording
- 5 Ways to Fatten Vocals When Mixing
How Do You Fatten Up A Vocal Track?
I’ve got 12 suggestions for doing this, but the most common way to fatten up a lead vocal is to double it (that is, record multiple takes and mix them together). The second most common tactic for fatness is to move closer to the mic.
Of course, these suggestions are generalities and every singer’s voice will have different dominant frequencies. That means no trick in this guide is a one-size-fits-all solution.
That’s why I have compiled 12 tips and tricks you can test out for fattening a vocal. I’ve also included methods to try during the recording process and the mixing process.
Depending on the vocalist, you may need just one of these adjustments or all of them. So experiment with as many of these tips as possible until you find the fix for your voice.
7 Ways to Fatten Vocals When Recording
Let’s first look at changes in your recording process. In an ideal world, any issues you have with your recordings should be fixed during the recording phase. Editing a mix can help, but it can also lead to lower-quality results (distortion, digital artifacts from effects processing, unnatural tone, etc).
If possible, you should attempt to correct the issue at the source. That is, during the actual recording of the vocals.
Here are 7 tips for capturing a fatter vocal sound:
- Record dubs
- Get closer to the mic
- Use a ribbon microphone
- Double track on two different microphones
- Use a preamp
- Change the key (to a lower part of your vocal range)
- Sing a backup vocal in a lower part of your range
1. Record Dubs
In music production, a vocal dub simply means an extra recording of a part. If you have a lead vocal, recording dubs would mean that you record multiple takes of the same vocal part.
There are many reasons to record multiple takes. When it comes to fattening a vocal, having multiple dubs allows you to spread out the stereo image of your lead voice. This will naturally make the vocal sound bigger.
In addition, if your voice sounds thin in the midrange frequencies, you can build up multiple takes to accentuate those midranges. The trick here is to roll off the high end on all the dubs. If you have a very nasally or squeaky voice, you do not want to amplify the high end with all those extra takes.
Here are a few techniques to mix the dubs in a way that will thicken the lead vocal. Feel free to mix-and-match these methods:
- Pan two different dubs (one to the left and one to the right) of the main vocal track
- Layer 1+ dubs underneath the main vocal, with a lower volume
- Add a low-pass filter to the dubs so they only magnify the “fatter” sounding frequencies (those between approximately 250Hz and 2kHz, it depends on the vocalist)
2. Get Closer
Condenser and ribbon microphones both experience the proximity effect. That means the closer you get to the mic, the more bass frequencies will be amplified.
If your voice sounds tinny or thin, then try moving closer to the microphone. This will add some more bass to your voice. In most situations, you don’t want to be right on the mic though.
Just close the gap between your mouth and the mic by a few inches and do a test recording.
Keep in mind this effect does not work on most dynamic microphones.
3. Use a Ribbon Microphone
A ribbon is a specific type of microphone design. The other common types of mics are condensers and dynamics.
Compared to a condenser microphone (the most common kind used for vocals), a ribbon mic will naturally sound darker and warmer. That’s because most ribbon mics have a smooth high-frequency roll-off. Large diaphragm condensers, on the other end, usually boost the high end.
Singers with a high voice type (female sopranos, male tenors) may produce less mids and more high-end frequencies just by nature. It’s a by-product of your body composition and vocal chords.
If you’re recording with a condenser mic, then you may be further amplifying the high end on an already high and tinny voice.
You can counteract this by recording with a ribbon mic that will pickup up less highs and more mids.
Safety Tips for Ribbon Mics
If you do plan on using a ribbon mic, here are a few safety tips to remember:
- Do not turn on phantom power with a passive ribbon mic. Only activate phantom power if you have a preamp between the mic and the interface, and that preamp instructions say to do so.
- Use a preamp. If the signal from your ribbon is too quiet, add a preamp (like a cloudlifter, FEThead, or FETamp) in the signal chain between your mic and your audio interface.
- Don’t blow directly into the ribbon at close range. A strong gust of wind can damage the ribbon element of the microphone. Don’t get right up on the mic and scream; if you’re going to belt, back off from the mic some more or angle your mouth so the air gust doesn’t slam the ribbon head-on.
4. Double Track
We already discussed dubs, but you can also double track a vocal. By that, I mean you simultaneously record the same vocal take with two different microphones.
This method lets you mix and blend the signals from both microphones. It also saves you time (you won’t need as many dubs to get a similar effect while mixing).
To do this, you’ll need an audio interface with two microphone inputs. You’ll also need two mics (duh), preferably with different designs.
The best mic combinations for double-tracking vocals include:
- A large diaphragm condenser (LDC) + a ribbon mic
- A LDC + a dynamic mic (like an SM57, but you’ll probably need a preamp on the dynamic)
- A LDC + a small diaphragm condenser (SDC)
- 2 different LDCs
5. Use A Preamp
A preamp is a device that boosts the signal of the microphone before it reaches your audio interface. Adding a preamp to a ribbon or dynamic microphone will give you a louder clean signal to start with. That will make it easier for you to boost the mids in your voice (and thus plump up the sound).
Audio is a subtractive process: you can remove unwanted frequencies, but you cannot add frequencies that were not present in the voice recording to begin with.
Furthermore, trying to boost a very quiet signal will cause distortion and amplify nasty background noise. Both of these are bad for getting a fat and clear vocal.
It’s far better to boost a vocal with a clean preamp and roll off the high end than to boost (and bust) the midranges on a weak signal.
6. Change the Key
Are you trying to sing too high in your vocal range? Doing so can lead to a very thin and weak sound.
Fat vocals have plenty of presence in the midrange frequencies. Yet singing too far up your range will naturally produce less mids and more highs.
If previous tips have failed to correct the issue, then consider changing the key.
Try dropping the key of your song so that you’re singing lower notes. For most voices, the lower end of your range will sound bassier.
7. Record a Lower Dub
You can also record some backup vocals in a lower register.
Sing a dub one octave below the lead vocal part (if you have the range for it). Another trick would be singing the lead part but on a harmony of the melody. It depends on the actual melody, but try one of these harmony parts:
- Thirds. Singing the third of each note based on the key of the song. So, let’s say your song is in the Key of C and your lead uses the notes C, E, G. The relative thirds for those notes would be E, G, and B (respectively)
- Fifths. Singing the fifth of each note in your melody. If your melody uses the notes C, E, G in the key of C, then your fifth notes would be: G, B, and D (respectively).
This lower dub should (in theory) possess more low-end frequencies. It could then be mixed beneath the lead to add depth.
5 Ways to Fatten Vocals When Mixing
- Boost the midrange
- Cut the high end
- Cut the midranges on other instruments that may clash with the vocals
- Add some delay
- Pan the backups
1. Boost the Midrange
The “warmth” and “fatness” of a vocal track usually lies in the mid frequencies. A vocal lacking this low end will sound thin.
By midrange, we mean frequencies between 500 Hz and 2 kHz. But your boosting may take you as far down as 250 Hz (which would constitute the low mids).
Boosting the midrange should make a vocal track sound thicker, fatter, and bigger in the mix. You can boost in a number of ways:
- Add a bell curve in your EQ plugin and search out the warm mid spot of your vocal take
- Apply a saturation or compressor effect that has frequency range controls. An example of this would be a plugin like OTT (which is free).
2. Cut the High End
You can also emphasize the mids by reducing the volume of the highs. And you don’t have to remove the high end completely with a roll-off either. Just reducing the volume of the top frequencies will provide breathing room for the rest of the vocal.
To do this, try adding a high shelf to your EQ and reduce the gain. The mid-highs start around 2 kHz and the highs are anywhere from 6 kHz and up.
3. Cut Competing Frequencies
If too many other instruments are taking up sonic real estate in your song, then boosting the vocal mids alone will just cause the mix to sound muddy.
So, in tandem with boosts and high-end reduction, I recommend that you soften the midrange of any other instruments that may be stealing frequency space from the vocals. Usually culprits include guitars and synth lines.
By “soften the midrange”, I mean using a bell curve in an EQ plugin to reduce the volume between 500 Hz and 2 kHz.
Again, these numbers are a general guideline on where to look for problem frequencies; the exact area to cut or soften depends on your mix.
4. Add Delay
Sometimes a stereo delay can help beef up a vocal. It’s not the first trick to try, but it will complement previous tips.
Apply a delay plugin to your vocal that has some kind of stereo width control. Some like the Voxengo Tempo Delay (free plugin) have dedicated left and right effect features. Another option is the Valhalla Super Massive (also free) that has a width knob for spreading out the stereo field of the effect.
Lastly, panning around extra dubs of your vocals can fatten the tone of the voice section overall. I mention this at the end because I already touched on the concept when talking about dubs. Also, you’ll need some extra vocal takes in order to do this.
Here’s how to widen and thicken a vocal using at least two extra dubs:
- Pan each of your two dubs: one to the left and one to the right. The wider your panning goes, the more the vocals may turn into a choir effect. Keep them tighter to center if you want the vocals to sound blended but beefy.
- Roll off the high end of the dub tracks. Use a low-pass filter; the goal is to accentuate the midrange of the extra takes. Also, don’t forget to high-pass the low-mids out of the dubs so they don’t build up excess boominess.
If you only have one lead vocal and one dub, you can try a similar technique:
- Apply a stereo imager plugin to the dub. A free one I recommend is Ozone Imager by Izotope.
- Spread out the midrange frequencies using your plugin
- Roll off the dub’s high end like I mentioned previously
The lead vocal is the most important element of most songs. So it’s in your best interest to draw as much depth and power from your vocals as possible. Hopefully, a combination of these tips will help your voice to sound fatter and fuller.
Thank you for stopping by my site. If you found this guide helpful, then here are a few more to consider reading: