Tame Impala’s psychedelic music is beloved around the world, with his vocal style being the star feature of his original compositions. Kevin Parker’s debut album, Innerspeaker, was certified platinum and gold in 2010. It is also known that Parker writes all of his own music and only performs with a live band.
Today, we are here to dissect some of Parker’s vocal processing techniques and show how to replicate them in your own studio using any DAW and plug-ins. Read on to discover more.
Part One: The Intro Vocal
Parker’s telephone trick is a fan favourite. A full, rich-sounding vocal can be made to sound thin, dull, and lacking in definition by adjusting the EQ and distortion.
To achieve this, start with EQ filters. To thin low frequencies, apply a 30dB/oct high-pass filter at 500 Hz, followed by a 5.5kHz low-pass filter.
After, add reverb once you’ve shaped the tone of the vocal line. Vintage Verb by Valhalla DSP adds space to vocals, meanwhile, Bright Hall mode adjusts it to a three-second decay. Once the reverb is dense enough to produce Parker’s thin tone, adjust the high-frequency damping and high/low-cut filtering.
Part Two: The Phased Vocals
Tame Impala’s vocals make use of phaser and flanger. These effects can give vocals more thickness, stereo width, an artificial feel, and a psychedelic vibe.
Try using a slower speed for one, two, or four bars of phaser modulation. The vocal will sound robotic and processed if the speed is set too fast.
Don’t go overboard. Increase the mix level and resonance during busy song sections to emphasise the phaser effect on a vocal, but restraint can be more striking.
Rather than adjusting the mix and resonance levels by hand, use a MIDI control surface to automate them.
Part Three: The Delay Tails
Psychedelic musical artists, like Parker, use delay tails to emphasise lyrics.
Here, you may duplicate the vocal line word content across two audio channels. This enables you to hardpan each channel left and right before applying a mono delay effect. The stereo delay line would not have been possible with a single stereo or ping-pong delay.
Each mono delay channel should have a unique saturation style and a half-note delay time. We opened the right-sided delay, set “Feel” to “Dragging,” and placed the echoes behind the grid to add a distinct flavour.
Part Four: Vocoders
Tame Impala frequently employs vocoded vocals, a 1990s-style effect. Vocoders use an external input signal (the modulator) to filter the vocal signal (the carrier). It is common to use a synth as the modulator and a vocal line as the carrier.
Try using a synth to create a C chord progression to demonstrate this technique. Use the synth as the input signal and a standard vocoder plug-in on the vocal line. The synth line will then modulate the vocal in the video above.
Enhance normalising the modulation signal, amplifying the internal filterbank’s effect and brightening the vocal.
When the release time is increased to 300ms, the vocoded signal has a longer tail, similar to an ADSR envelope. To achieve a hollow sound, reduce the vocal’s bandwidth to 70%. Experimenting with a wet/dry mix on vocoded vocals can result in a unique sound.
The Final Word
We’ve talked about some of the vocal processing techniques used on Tame Impala’s albums, but there’s a lot more general information out there.
Using a high-quality microphone to record vocals will help you get the desired sound. Kevin Parker’s vocals were recorded with a Sennheiser MD-421 dynamic microphone; a 421 or a Shure SM58 would also work well.
If your raw recordings have too much bass, try backing away from the microphone to reduce the proximity effect.
After you’ve recorded unprocessed vocals into your DAW, you should think about EQ and effects. Tame Impala’s vocals are thin, so use a high pass filter to remove frequencies below 150Hz. Low middle frequencies in the 350 Hz range can help achieve the desired tone.
When using reverb and delay to create space in a song without overwhelming it, think psychedelic. Instead of increasing the decay time, compressing the reverb return will thicken the reverb without drowning out the dry vocal.
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