reader Vena Obukowo recently asked how to emulate the kinds of extrovert vocal
effects that are all over tracks like this Dev single, so I thought it might be helpful to
make some suggestions here, albeit without any insider knowledge of what gear or
techniques were actually used.
The song is peppered with rhythmic
stutter‑editing, which is very easy to do using a DAW’s cut and paste tools, as long
as you use very short fades at the edit points. A millisecond or so should be enough to
avoid unwelcome clicks, while still retaining the juddering rhythmic flavour. The exact
timing of the edits relative to that of the part itself will be critical, though. In this
song, the vocals are all locked to the beat, so grid‑based edits sound fine, but in
other productions with looser vocals (or ones that are slightly pushed/pulled relative to
the beat), that may not be the case.
For the main “bass down low” hook,
I’d try an amp simulator with a cabinet resonance around 270Hz, and I’d almost
certainly run this in parallel to the undistorted vocal channel to give more control over
the fuzz levels and lyric intelligibility. If the parallel amp‑simulation channel causes
phase cancellation when mixed in, put a sub‑millisecond delay or some kind of
phase‑matching device into the distortion return.
I’d mult the main Dev
verse vocal (0:26‑0:44 and 1:26‑1:44) to a separate track, to give it its own heavy
compression (leave a few milliseconds of attack time, so a few of those spitty transients
get through), de‑essing, and a good few decibels of ‘air’ boost at 15kHz or so. The
stereo widening effect sounds like a phaser, with the modulation waveforms of its left and
right channels out of phase with each other. Judging by the comb‑filtering on the
sibilants (such as that on ‘sip’ at 1:32), I’d probably start off with something
like a 5Hz modulation rate, a low modulation depth, and just a touch of feedback level.
This track would probably also serve for “it’s The Cataracs” at 0:08 (with an
automation ride of the phaser level) and the double‑track on ‘down low’ at 0:24.
Speaking of double‑tracks, you’d certainly need at least one pretty crispily
EQ’d channel pair with opposed L/R panning for the double tracks in the second section
of each verse and also for the “drop it to the floor” section, which arrives at 1:08.
If fading those up close to the lead vocal in the verses doesn’t provide enough stereo
smoothness, I’d try stereo chorusing and/or a short, low pre-delay, early‑reflections
treatment. Double‑tracking would also be part of the recipe for the Cataracs rap at 0:43
and 1:43, although it sounds like there’s some light flanging going on too, and at 0:51
you’d have to match the double‑track very closely to the lead in terms of level,
timing, and tuning to make the “boom boom pow” line that phasey‑sounding.
There’s plenty of pitch‑corrector abuse, and I’d dedicate at least one track to
hyper‑fast correction to generate the “one, two, three” backing vocals at 0:27,
“thirstay” at 1:33, and the Black Eyed Peas references in the Cataracs rap. Assuming I
were working with Antares Auto‑Tune, I’d use the automatic correction mode with the
‘Target Notes Via MIDI’ mode enabled, Keyboard Mode on Momentary, Tracking at 100
(‘Relaxed’), and Retune Speed at 0 (‘Fast’). After that I’d faff around on a
MIDI keyboard during playback until I chanced on something that seemed to work, as
there’s no substitute for trial and error with unstable effects like this. Firm
pitch‑correction would also be important to give the “drop it to the floor” vocals
that glassy sheen, albeit with more moderate settings to avoid obvious glitchiness. For
the synth‑like effects of ‘bass down low’ at 0:16 and ‘I’ll make you shout’ at
0:46, I’d use a vocoder. For the former phrase I’d vocode a synth chord, and for the
latter a single note in unison with the force‑tuned ‘robot’ lead vocal. In both
cases, rich saw or pulse waveforms would be my first call for the vocoder’s synth input,
and even then I might emphasise the HF of the signal feeding the vocoder’s voice input
to get maximum sizzle out of the filter bank. As with amp simulation, vocoding may be more
controllable and intelligible when mixed in alongside the clean track.
are all over this production. Some are occasional ‘spins’ like on “going home” at
0:35 (a crusty, eighth‑note patch with medium feedback and heavy filtering) and on the
phrase‑endings of the Cataracs rap (a clearer, quarter‑note single‑tap panned to the
right). Others form more of a general section backdrop, as in the case of the
thin‑sounding ducked quarter‑note on “question for you...” (2:42), and the more
high‑feedback reverberant quarter‑note on the double‑tracked “la la la...”
(2:51). Further spot effects that caught my ear were the simulated tape/vinyl‑stop on
the “drop it to the floor” vocals at 1:12, the static, medium‑resonance, low‑pass
filter on “fly” at 2:47, and what sounds like a vinyl sample of the word “bass”
from 2:25 onwards. You could simulate the last of these using Izotope’s freeware Vinyl
plug‑in, but the scratching effects might require more specialised tools like Serato’s
Scratch, or a hardware DJ turntable.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it
should: I wouldn’t be surprised to find that considerably more time was spent on
recording, comping, processing and mixing the vocals on this record than on all the other
aspects put together. That’s the name of the game if you want to compete on these terms.
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