If you are currently making modern rap music chances are you’ve heard of vocal presets.
For those of you who don’t know, vocal presets are pre-established audio channel strip settings designed to make your vocal sound like an intended reference.
What this basically means is that if you want to sound like Juice Wrld, a Juice Wrld vocal preset will give you the channel strip required to replicate the effects Juice Wrld uses on his voice.
This is especially popular in rap music but is applicable to all types of music. You could download a Justin Bieber vocal preset to sound similar to Justin Bieber, you could even download a rock vocal preset to sound like a rock vocalist.
Downloading vocal presets created by talented engineers is great but you can actually make them yourself too.
That brings us to our next step. How to make your own vocal preset.
Making your own vocal preset is all about taste. The act of creating and saving a new vocal preset is the easy part. Every DAW is different but you essentially click on the channel strip once you are ready to save it and then “save as”.
The nuanced aspect is creating the vocal preset itself.
When creating a vocal preset you want to be sure to include some standard elements. Be sure to include EQ, Compression, Reverb, Delay and Saturation.
You can use all or none of these effects. You can also choose to use more than the ones I listed if you would like. I like to use these effects for a starting point when creating my new vocal preset.
Prior to creating the preset I also like to start with a pre-recorded vocal. This is important so that you can hear the changes you are making to the plugin effects in real-time while you’re making the changes. This ensures accuracy.
So let’s start with EQ. Typically the first thing I like to do with the EQ is cut out some of the low end in the vocal. Often the low end in a vocal is almost unheard, just adds clutter to the mix and conflicts with your bass sounds. I cut out as much as I can stomach. Usually around 150hz. I also like to add a little EQ dip around 200hz-250hz. This allows the EQ cut we did in the previous step to ease in. After I make these cuts I will typically boost a couple db wide band around 10khz and 12khz. This helps bring out some brightness in the vocal.
The next plugin I like to use in the chain is the compressor. When I add a compressor in a vocal preset it is to level out the vocal. I want to make sure the compressor is smoothing out the audio signal so that there aren’t any crazy peaks or troughs throwing off the consistency of the vocal. In order to do this I will bring down the threshold to where it is starting to touch the average volume of the audio signal. I will turn the ratio on half to ¾ of the way up. I will then set a medium attack so that the vocal can retain its initial transients. Lastly I will set the release to be somewhat slow so that the compressor makes the vocal as consistent as possible. Applying these techniques effectively will give you a consistent volume on your vocal.
The next thing I like to do is add a little saturation. By a little I mean a dab. A drip. A super small amount. Maybe .5db-1db. We’re not trying to make our vocal distorted here. We’re just looking to add some grit to it so that it cuts through our mix. Small doses will get you far with this. A saturator on a low setting will essentially just bring out additional harmonics in your vocal.
After some saturation I like to apply a little reverb. Sometimes a lot. Depends on the song and the vibe I’m going for. On the reverb, feel free to apply any setting you like. Just make sure when using reverb on your main audio channel strip that you turn the reverb wet/dry/mix knob down so that the wet signal is sitting in the back of your dry signal. This will ensure that your vocal is still clear and stands out to your listener. If your reverb has an EQ or some type of high cut functionality, use it. Cut out 7khz-10khz and up if you have the ability. This will take the brightness out of your reverb and help it sit in the back more. Super useful.
The last plugin I like to add to my vocal preset is a delay plugin. I like to set the delay in the back. Turn the dry/wet/mix knob down so that the delay is quieter than the vocal. Also if your delay has an EQ function, use it. Cut out 7khz-10khz and up. This will help take the brightness out of the delay and help it sound like it’s behind your vocal. When choosing delay setting I typically like to use a ⅛ or a ¼ setting. I typically keep it stereo. When adding delay the goal is to have it fill in space. We’re just looking to add a little depth and texture with this plugin, nothing extreme.
After we have all of our effects down just how we like them, we should save the channel strip. Every DAW comes with the ability to save your audio channel strip.
Once you save the audio channel strip, call it something you will remember and store it somewhere for easy access. Most DAWs automatically save vocal presets in their preferred location, that’s a great place as well.
Once you save your new vocal preset you can recall it instantly whenever you want to record. Having great vocal presets always on hand is a great resource, especially when looking for instant inspiration.