The Ultimate Guide to Thicker Lead Vocals

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Lead vocals deserve thick and present in just about any major music production. Sometimes, that requires you to record layer after layer of vocals making them harmonically dense and filling out the frequency spectrum. Other times, all it requires is a single, well-recorded voice with some post-processing that helps take that vocal to new heights.

The method you use to “enhance” your vocal is just as important as the reason you’re doing it. Too many people seem to think that by making the vocal louder, you’re making it thicker, but you’re really just detaching that vocal further and further from the mix. You want something that works well within the context of the song - taking up it’s rightful space without overpowering everything else.

A thick vocal is about control. It’s about how you morph a great voice into something that filled with raw power but balanced enough to sit right alongside everything else in your production.

So - how do you make that happen?

Using EQ to Thicken Up a Voice

EQs are some of the most flexible tools we have in our toolbox when it comes to working with the frequency spectrum. Using the Q functionality on each frequency band, you can set a wide or narrow bandwidth depending on what you’re doing. For thicker vocals, we’re going to work in broad strokes in the lows and low-mids.

The low-mids of your vocal performance is where a lot of the body and chest voice come into play. In heavier genres, singers and screamers know that this is where the power of their voice comes from and they naturally push this range a bit harder when they want to convey a thicker sound on their own. With EQ, we can help them get there.

Consider finding the center of the lower-mid frequencies of your vocal performance and boost a few dB with the EQ, but with a wide bandwidth. This will help bring the range forward in the mix without impacting the breathiness or clarity of the higher frequencies. For an even more noticeable effect, consider making a narrow cut just above the range that you’re boosting.

As you work with your EQ, constantly A/B test your results. Bypass your EQ to hear what it’s doing to your vocal and always work within the context of your mix. It’s okay to solo the track to check something, but remember - it’s got to sound good in the final mix.

As we’ve covered in the past, make sure you’re rolling off the extreme lows of your vocal with a high-pass filter. Doing this will clean up much of the unintelligible content in a vocal recording and preps your track for the next step of thickening: compression.

Thicker Vocals with Compression

Compression is by far one of the easiest tools to use when it comes to thicker lead vocals. Because a compressor is able to squash down on the peaks of a performance, you’re able to push the overall volume of the track up - showcasing the less present low-mids that you’ve boosted with EQ. Even a vocalist with a higher register can achieve a thicker sounding vocal with the right compression settings.

To set your vocal compressor, you want a fast attack and a slow release. It should be acting quickly to close down on the peaks and hold onto the heavier gain reduction setting to draw out the body of the performance. A slow release means that your 3-4 dB of compression from that initial note is held just a little longer. It’s subtle, but extremely effective.

Depending on the type of song, the ratio of your compressor can vary widely. While a softer vocal might only need a 2:1 to 4:1 ratio to achieve a thicker sound, more aggressive vocals can go as far as limiting to get an effect that’s thick and coarse-sounding. Trust your ears to dial your compressor in just right.

If you’re just starting out with compression, there are several vocal-focused compressors available that skip the ratio/attack/release terminology and go right to the descriptive terms we use when describing our vocal compression goals. Gain Reduction Deluxe gives you a Body slider right in the middle of the plugin to add more or less without having to dial in multiple parameters. It’s a great shortcut to thicker vocals that frees me up to focus on more creative elements of my mixes.

Now That You’ve Got Thicker Vocals - What Do You Do With Them?

Thickening up a vocal isn’t rocket science - it’s all about dynamic control and frequency manipulation. These are the two main concepts that drive EQ and compression decisions not just on vocals, but on every track in your mix.

Once you’ve got a thick, powerful lead vocal, do you know how to get it to sit right with the rest of your mix? How are you addressing multiple vocals - giving them their own space while maintaining a consistent sound?

If you don’t know how to answer these questions - let me help you. JST VIP members get direct access to all of my guides, tutorials, and more. Let me show you how to get the mixes you’ve always wanted with professional examples that have helped my mixes get onto the rock and metal charts. As you follow along, submit your mixes for critiques where I’ll give you direct and honest feedback about your work. What are you waiting for?

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