Scream vocals are common across metal, punk & hard rock genres, each with stylistic differences. Even within hardcore genres, there are variances between different types of screams from various vocalists depending on the song and sound they’re going for.
With so much variety, it’s safe to say that the range of tones from a great screamer is similar to the range of tones from a singer – and each one requires a unique approach that’s custom-tailored to that vocalist.
Fortunately, as different as these screams can be, the tools you’ll use to process them and get them to sit right in the mix will be the same across the board. Feel free to take your own liberties with creative decisions, but make sure you’ve got these processors ready at your disposal.
EQing Screamed Vocals
EQ is an absolute must for any vocal mix, but it comes in especially handy on screams where resonant frequencies are common. As metal vocalists adjust their mouths and throats to get the right tone, they create resonance pockets that make certain frequencies ring out more than others. These frequencies can be extremely relevant to the sound they’re going for, but when that resonance is captured a bit too well by the microphone, it’s easy for it to become an annoyance.
This is where subtractive EQ comes in clutch. Using your favorite EQ, sweep through the frequency spectrum with a narrow band and a bit of a boost. As you go, you should find certain frequencies that sound harsh and unnatural. Once pinpointed, these frequencies can be cut a few dB to clean up your sound.
Other issues might not be as obvious to treat – like a scream that sounds boxy or muddy. With these, you’re better off creating wider dips instead of cutting them out completely. Consider small, 1- 2 dB adjustments with a wide Q until you’re comfortable with these more transparent adjustments.
Finally, consider spending some time looking for ways to bring out clarity in the vocal against the mix. While the mids are often competing against other instruments, upper mids and even the top end are great places where you can boost the air and clarity of the scream.
Have you ever noticed that high-gain guitar amps often don’t need much compression at all in your mix sessions? There’s a reason for that.
Most of the time, distorted signals are distorting because their signal path already compresses them heavily. This could be a pedal, amp, preamp, or any other type of processor. Another common name for distortion like this is saturation.
Likewise, many screams are significantly saturated naturally. Vocalists intentionally distort their voices by changing how air flows through their vocal cords, creating the sound of a scream. This also creates a ceiling that they’re forcing their vocal up against, which is why screams sound consistently loud.
Unlike a signal through an amp though, vocals are very much an organic process, which makes them inconsistent in practice. You’ve likely heard a screamer’s voice tire out over the course of a set or during a long tracking session, and even with proper technique and training, they’re bound to suffer from some level of fatigue over time.
Because of this, mixers still heavily rely on compression to keep all of the vocals consistently loud and powerful. A great compressor won’t do much to change the overall tone of a vocal, but it will keep it clear and present in the mix.
Just check out this example from Evan Van Dyne using Gain Reduction 2:
Hear how he’s able to bring a stronger presence to his screams using simple compression without a lot of tweaking? Sometimes the best processors are the ones that add just a bit more control to your workflow without having to spend too long dialing them in.
Leveraging Screams In Vocal Production
Screams are a great element to add some variation in any genre, not just the ones we’ve mentioned here. Today, even pop artists are using them as a part of their vocal stacks to bring a new style to their sound.
If you’re interested in taking the next step toward genre-agnostic vocal production, make sure you pick up your copy of The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook. This eBook is jam-packed with tricks and techniques for maximizing your vocal mix in any session!