3 Ways Momentary Effects Make Your Vocals Standout

In most modern pop productions, vocals are the centerpiece.

For any vocal take, the goal is to not only make them sound polished, but also engaging all the way through.

That’s why vocals always take a lot of work to get them to the finish line especially when it comes to songs with busy arrangements.

To make your vocals stand out the creative use of vocal effects is crucial.

What are vocal effects?

The term “vocal effect” refers to any audio effect that’s used in vocal production.

The most standard vocal effect tools are EQ, compressor, de-esser, reverb, delay and saturation. These audio effects are essential mixing tools that come in handy in any genre.

What are momentary effects?

Momentary effects are effects that are only used during a short burst during a song.

Momentarily using effects like delay or tremolo can add drama and dimension to specific moments in a song.

The occasional touch of distortion or filter can help make some vocal productions more dynamic.

The occasional touch of distortion or filter can help make some vocal productions more dynamic.

Here’s three momentary and creative vocal effect techniques that stand out to me.

1. Vocal effect automation

Unless you’re working on an a cappella project, your instrumentals will influence the way you approach your vocal mix.

Once you get your general mix to a good starting point, it’s time to consider the finer details of your arrangement.

Are there parts where the instrumental cuts out or dies down? Should you increase the amount or time of reverb in the chorus?

If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that in modern vocal productions, there’s a continuous play between wet and dry treatment of vocals—this is done with automation.

It’s the best way to control momentary effects that help different vocal parts stand out in the mix.

Take Selena Gomez’s single “Boyfriend”, for example. Can you hear the momentary reverb effects and the low-pass filtered delay throws on her vocals?

Delicately automating effects parameters like filter sweeps, delay and reverb carefully and precisely takes time—but it’s what will make your tracks stand out.



2. Re-purpose pitch correction tools for sound design purposes.

Most people use pitch correction software to fix pitch issues in vocals.

While some use pitch correction to define their entire sound, many trap artists love the heavy use of Autotune in their tracks.

But between those two extremes, there’s plenty of creative avenues to be explored.

Many vocal VSTs offer incredibly powerful vocal processing that extends the voice into new levels of experimentation.

Ultimately you’re in charge of how much pitch correction effects your tracks use

Take a look at the way experimental pop artist Sevdaliza approaches her vocals in her song, “Human Nature”.

At certain points, her voice almost transforms into a flute-like instrument, thanks to her creative application of Autotune.



3. Experiment with formant shift effects to create unique vocal textures.

A formant is a property of human vocalization that helps create the quality of vowel sounds when spoken or sung. Each formant has a concentration of energy in a different frequency area that produces a different vocal-like sound.

Altering the formants can radically change how you perceive the voice. Formant shifters are often used for gender-bending or age shifting effects.

With a formant shift control plugin, you can alter the way the vowels are pronounced in a recording.

Turn it all the way up, and the singer will sound like a caricature of a mosquito. Turn it all the way down, and you’ll get a muffled but rich and thick vocal sound.

Formant shift as a creative effect has become more popular in recent years.

Formant shift as a creative effect has become more popular in recent years.

Many producers use it hand in hand with pitch alteration and harmonizer effects.

Some people shift the formant to achieve a better blend between background vocal parts.

Others use it to generate artificial layers from the lead vocal performance. It comes in handy for those who want to add color to a few ad-lib vocal parts in a different way, too.

Alec King & Danrell’s “Bad Dreams” exhibits a very active and creative use of formant shift as a vocal effect.

The vocals continuously bend and alter, but still melt into the instrumental production.

They make us question what parts represent “bad dreams”, in a way. The connection between the vocal effects and lyrics is astounding.



Effects are a useful tool in your creative palette

Sure, not every mix demands vocal effects.

Sometimes a pop ballad with minimal instrumentation requires a simple approach. If you’re a folk singer, you might want to protect the raw quality of your vocals.

But no matter what kind of music you make there’s always room to experiment.

No matter what kind of music you make there’s always room to experiment.

Next time you mix vocals, set some time aside to play with audio effects you don’t usually play with.

Sometimes something as simple as running an ad-lib vocal part through a wah-wah pedal might add the playful touch you’re looking for.

Think about the moments where you need to add more sparkle and sheen to the vocals.

Imagine what might happen if you inserted a bit crusher right before a shimmer reverb in your effects chain.

The key is to treat each vocal part with the same consideration and care as your instrumental productions.

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