Cracking The Code On Chorus Vocals

Chorus vocals are the moneymakers for a lot of music – not just in pop. When you listen to a song that grows and grows through an intro & verse before hitting its peak in the chorus, it has a therapeutic “release”.

And as the listener gets closer to the chorus, the higher their anticipation gets as well. When that chorus vocal hits, the peak of your production skills should shine.

Unfortunately, for those that don’t know some of the tricks of the trade, a mix might come across as boring by not delivering on the vocal spectacles the listener has come to expect. When that happens, your mix will fall flat, even if the song is great musically.

So what can you do to set your vocals apart from the novices?

Create A Unique Space for Your Vocal

Treat your vocals like the unique element of your mix that they are. Give them their own room to breathe and space to occupy. Your vocals will have a much better shot at shining through the mix when they’re not competing with the rest of the instruments for space.

Time-based effects like reverb and delay are a great way to get your vocals to cut through.

Have a close up, intimate performance? Maybe use a short delay and small room reverb.

Maybe your vocal will sound better in an arena? Adding a bit more time to that delay and a long hall or cathedral reverb would be better suited for it.

To bring your vocals to the front of the mix, I almost always find myself reaching for a slapback or multi-head tape delay used in combination with whatever other reverbs or delays I might need to situate my mix where I want it.

There’s no wrong way to create space for a vocal – experiment and do what sounds best to you. Trust your instincts.

Widen Your Lead Vocal

Sometimes you’re stuck with what you get from the tracking engineer and you have to make it work. While I’d love to say every session I mix came with professionally recorded vocals with alternate takes, harmonies & more – it’s not realistic.

In the real world, sometimes you’ll get one vocal track, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it sound enticing and huge.

One of our favorite ways to get there is by using a mono-compatible spatial widener like SideWidener to get the job done. By acting on the track in a mono-compatible way, you’re able to hold on to your center image unlike traditional wideners, which can lose a ton of your original sound when played back in mono.

See how Fluff uses subtle widening to create a clear change when going from verse to chorus:

Think Outside of The Box

When your goal is to create something compelling for your listener, try getting a bit more extreme with your processing for some truly inspirational sounds.

Some of the best vocals make use of distortion, flangers & phasers to catch a listener’s attention. Best of all, they’re not used in an obvious overpowering way. Most of us wouldn’t even know they were there if we weren’t actively listening for them.

Parallel processing can work wonders for a vocal track. Get extreme with your effects. Crush your vocal through a compressor. Make it sound unnatural, and then fold it into the mix underneath your original vocal track.

Vocal Aerobics

Have you run your vocals through their paces in a certain session? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve tried on them (and did it make it into the final mix)?

We love hearing battle stories of crazy new ideas being put to use in the studio. Come share your best ones with thousands of like-minded engineers and producers in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum.