How to create drowsy Lana Del Rey-style vocals
23rd Feb 2012 | 12:53
Lana Del Rey’s songs have burst onto the pop scene in recent months, and she’s quickly building up a loyal fanbase.
This is no surprise: her vocal style and the supporting productions have quickly developed an instant-recognition factor, with the rich pianos and string lines in her tracks echoing film soundtracks, and her vocal delivery having a slightly slurred, almost drowsy quality to it.
Pleasingly, Del Rey’s tracks are remarkably free of the over-tuned quality of so much modern pop, and as she dramatically bends from one note to another, her bluesy tuning brings a wonderfully natural quality to her tracks.
If you want to record and process vocals in this way, do bear in mind that automatic pitch correction software simply won’t work on vocals recorded with the same qualities. Any automatic tuner will try to tune the notes as they bend from one pitch to another, so the portamento sound will be lost.
If you do need to tune the vocal you’ve recorded, use an application like Melodyne or the graphic editor within Auto-Tune, both of which allow you to ignore notes to leave them un-tuned. Take care too to avoid the temptation to tune the notes that you do correct to perfect pitch, as Del Rey’s style is to sing slightly flat, which helps create her trademark melancholy sound. Instead, it’s best to push the notes to be tuned gradually towards their target pitches and then keep auditioning them until you’ve got them close enough to be acceptable.
In terms of effects treatments, you’ll see how we’ve processed our recorded vocal in the following walkthrough, but the main point to bear in mind with this type of sound is that if you’re looking to create a track that’s as atmospheric and film-like as one of Del Rey’s, you’ll need to match the sense of space that you’ll program in the backing track to the vocal part.
Often, blending two different types and depths of reverb treatment, particularly with automation, can yield great results. As ever, careful use of EQ and compression will prove crucial too. Read on to see how it’s done.
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The backing track
Step 1: Our backing track in the style of Lana Del Rey consists of a lo-fi drum loop from Stylus RMX, suitably classical-sounding piano and string parts, both from native Logic libraries, a supporting sub-bass line and a vocal part that echoes Lana’s drowsy style. There’s no vocal processing in this initial clip.
EQ and compression
Step 2: To smooth the vocal and balance the dynamics we apply EQ and compression using Sonnox plug-ins. The EQ uses a high shelf at 10kHz and boosts at around 5kHz, while scooping out content at 1.1kHz and 272Hz. We set a compression Ratio of 4.4:1, with quite a low Threshold.
Step 3: To treat the vocal part to the same rich, lush atmosphere as the backing track we send it to Auxiliary 3 and apply Lexicon’s Vintage Plate reverb. We choose a combination program that combines a 2.5-second plate reverb with a tempo-locked echo, which is slightly louder on the left than on the right. This echo is synced to quarter-notes.
Step 4: Finally, we set up a longer reverb on Auxiliary 4 using the Very Large Vocal preset in the Sonnox Reverb. We set a basic amount of this throughout the track but automate the send level so that on the lines “panther in the night” and “up for the fight”, more reverb is apparent - you can hear this most clearly at the end.
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