Tops Tips on Using Vocal Effects for Singers

Kevin Alexander shares his tips on terminology and turn-offs for vocal effects.


Sound Engineer | Technologist | Co-founder of Singdaptive

This week’s Tips from the Team are all about vocal effects! Today, we hear from sound engineer, technologist and Singdaptive co-founder, Kevin Alexander on some vocal effect terminology and turn-offs.

Vocal Effect Turn-Offs – When FX Don’t Sound Good

Tips from the Team Transcript: Do you want to turn me off as a listener, or as a sound engineer, when it comes to your voice and the use of effects? There’s some common things that can happen with vocal effects that don’t sit well with me, and here they are: It isn’t the effect that you’re using, it’s often when you’re using it that’s the problem. So take vocal harmony processes for example. I think they’re really great, especially to have in a live performance. They actually can work great in the studio too. Even if you have background singers, actually adding an extra harmony part with the harmony processors can sound good. My biggest criticism of these harmony processes is people who leave them on for the whole song and the whole verse, the whole chorus. It’s nicer to have it come on and then go away, rather than using it the whole time. So often an issue I have is, “why are we using this all the time?”

Another vocal effect turn-off for me is effects that can make the voice unintelligible. I always have a preference of wanting to hear the words that somebody is singing because the instrument of the voice is able to convey meaning through language. And if you add effects that make it difficult to understand what’s being said, then I lose that aspect of it. Now maybe that’s being done on purpose because maybe you don’t need somebody to understand the lyrics at that point in the song and they don’t matter, but you need to watch out for that because I don’t necessarily know that as a listener.

So as a listener, if I’m kind of thinking, “I think I need to understand those words right now and I can’t,” I might get a bit frustrated. So it’s almost that in between. What I mean is, if somebody goes too far with effects to the point of oblivion – I can’t hear anything that’s being said – I’ll just make the assumption, “Well, that was the goal in the end, because there’s no possible way somebody thought I would understand this.” But it’s almost like if you don’t go extreme enough, I will get just frustrated as a listener. and I will be like, “I can’t … I don’t understand what they’re saying.” Did you really think you knew the lyrics really well maybe and that’s why you understood it? And that can kind of create a frustration for me.

So I think those two things, overuse or not being extreme enough in making me ignore intelligibility are maybe the two things that come up.

What is Your Biggest Vocal Effect Turn-off?

What are The Different Types of Reverb

Tips from The Team Transcript: Okay. So I’ve started to use reverb. Hypothetically, this is what you’re saying to me or somebody saying, “I’m using reverb and there’s all these different reverb things and I don’t know what they are. There’s springs and plates and halls and I don’t know what they are.” Well, the thing about reverb is some of what those things are, are so cool, or should I say were so cool, because reverbs today are digital reverbs: they’re all recreations of things from the past. A plate reverb was, at its basic component, an electrical signal that was sent through a suspended plate that would move and vibrate and change the electrical signal somehow beyond my scope of intelligence. It was literally a plate of metal that was involved. A spring was a reverb that literally was sending current through a spring and that made the springy springy sound of a reverb.

But the thing is, we don’t do that anymore. That’s expensive and it breaks easily, but we can now replicate those sounds in a reverb processor. And generally, if the reverb name has the name of a room, like a hall or a chamber, these are somebody’s subjective representation of what a hall or chamber might sound like. And in reality, what they’re doing is they’re tuning all these number of little, little, little tiny delays together with some filtering to make it sound like that room. So in general, if you see hall, chamber, try to not think about it being an actual hall, because it’s just what the people who created that reverb process believed a hall sounds like.

But if you see something that’s called a modeled reverb, or let’s say it’s a reverb generated from an impulse response, this means that somebody’s actually taken microphones to a space and captured the reflective patterns and delays of an actual room and built a response to that room into reverb. That’s a modeled reverb and actually does sound like a more faithful recreation of that space. So those are the different types of reverbs you’ll come across and all of them are fine to experiment with and all of them can produce really cool results.

What Do All The Different Reverb Terms Mean?

Kevin Alexander

Kevin Alexander is CEO and co-founder of Singdaptive, bringing his past experience as CEO of the singing technology company TC-Helicon, as well as live sound, recording and love of music. Recently, he has been a university instructor in Multimedia Learning and is helping to envision an exciting future with technology at the research firm