Gritty vocals are nearly synonymous with rock music. The best rock bands of all time have at least a little grit in their vocals, whether naturally because of the singer’s voice or due to some post-processing (sometimes even to the point of distortion).
While grit is not exclusive to rock music, it’s where we expect to find it. Some of the most legendary vocalists in the genre have created a name for themselves by their ability to control the grit or rasp in their voice. They keep their listeners on the edge of their seats as they push their voices right to the cusp of breakup.
If you’re looking to command this same level of attention from your listeners, make sure you read on.
Grit Starts With The Singer
As you probably already know, grit starts with the singer. A great singer doesn’t need a microphone or gear to push their voice into the crisp grittiness they desire; they just do it.
But even for those who don’t have this natural control over their voice, there are techniques that can be used to start adding grit naturally. Vocal coaches train singers to add power to their vocals through proper breathing and support. A trained singer knows to breathe with their diaphragm and sing from their stomach (not their head) to really push their vocals forward.
Many singers think grit comes from tightening their vocal cords or tensing up to get that aggressive edge, but doing so actually does more harm than good. Grit should come from pushing more air through your vocal cords with varying intensity. Great, gritty vocals come from confidence and power, not strain.
Once you’ve mastered this as a singer, the rest becomes easy.
Studio Gear Can Help Emphasize Grit
Even the slightest amounts of grit can be accentuated in the signal chain that follows a voice. Modern microphones are great at capturing the nuances of a voice with options like the Shure SM7B working great to get a detailed representation of a gritty vocal. As a dynamic mic, it’s also a great option for the high SPLs that come with a powerful, loud vocal.
Other popular microphones for capturing grit include tube mics due to their natural saturation and ribbon mics for their transparency and natural frequency response.
Downstream of the microphone, everything from the preamp to EQ to compressor can introduce new colors and harmonic distortions that emphasize and enhance that grit – bringing it out of any vocal performance.
Mixing Is Where You Should Really Drive It Home
By the time you get to the mix, you should’ve had plenty of options for adding grit or cleaning up your source. The mix is where you can really dial it in right and drive the point home.
In a mix, it’s easy to lose things like vocal grit. You’ve got distorted guitars and sizzly overheads interacting with your lead vocal and possibly masking some of the subtler characteristics. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to bring grit forward, and it all starts with compression.
Check out how James Monas is using Gain Reduction 2 to bring the grit out of his vocals in this hard rock track:
As you can see, the amount of compression is important, but there are other elements like Warmth and Breath that contribute to how the grittiness of the vocal presents itself too.
Grit’s Role In Your Vocal Mix
Having a gritty lead vocal is really just the start of your vocal mix – it’s got to be paired with other background vocals and harmonies for contrast.
If you want to experiment with professional vocal production, make sure you reference our guide, The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook. This guide has everything you need to make sure your vocal mixes are full and polished to compete alongside any other modern mix.