The Weeknd has one of the most recognizable vocal sounds in modern music. His smooth, silky vocals glide over production with airy reverbs and delays that have become a signature of his style. In this guide, we'll explain exactly how to get The Weeknd's iconic vocal sound in your mixes.
Tuning Vocals with Auto-Tune
Once you have a high-quality recording, you can apply the vocal chains. The first step is to tune the vocals using auto-tune subtly. Auto-tuning will correct slightly out-of-tune notes and give vocals a focused center pitch.
Be careful not to overdo it, though, as The Weeknd's vocal tuning is very subtle. We'll set the retune speed relatively slow and the depth reasonably light. It will smooth out more significant pitch issues but keep a natural, transparent sound.
De-essing Harsh Sibilance
The second step is to tame harsh "ess" and "s" sounds using a de-esser. Since The Weeknd's vocals are so airy and bright, de-essing is critical. Optimize the sound with a deductive EQ. We'll set the threshold reasonably aggressively to target those piercing sibilances. A tight, focused de-essing band works well to zero in on the harsh consonant frequencies. Be careful not to impact the body of the vocals while removing sibilance.
Sculpting the Tone
After de-essing, we can sculpt the overall vocal tone using an equalizer for detailed tone shaping. We'll dip out some low-mid boominess to control muddiness, then boost around 3 kHz to accentuate breathiness and around 12 kHz for air and clarity. The goal is to guide the tone towards an open, atmospheric sound like The Weeknd's vocals.
Controlling Dynamics with Compressor
Next, we must smooth out vocal dynamics for consistent loudness and tone. Use a fast attack to control peaks with a medium release. And use a medium ratio for general leveling. It helps create transparently smoothing dynamics. Add a bit of low cut and a bit of high cut to make the voice sound wider. Compress gently so that most of the vocal dynamic shines through.
To further accentuate brightness and air, we'll boost critical high frequencies. We'll attenuate around 200 Hz to reduce muddiness, then boost highs sharply at 12 kHz and extreme highs at 16 kHz. It magnifies the silky top-end for which The Weekend vocals are known. The air and presence create a breathtaking sound. Saturate the mix for a dense, rich sound.
Controlling Lows with Multiband Compressor
Clean up the lower frequencies with the correct compression. Focus on the bass and low-mid bands, aggressively compressing them to clamp down on muddiness and boominess. The high bands can be left more open to preserve clarity. It makes space for the vocals to float clearly above the mix.
Creating Depth with Delay, Reverb, and Doubler
The final critical element is The Weeknd's signature sense of space created by lush reverbs and delays. Use the delay effect well to replicate his delay tones. Add reverb for a smooth tail. The Doubler thickens and widens the vocal for a bolder, more substantial sound.
Add a little bit of weight without overdoing it. Be careful not to cause any phase issues or artifacts to the sound. Pay attention to the processing, as that is an important step. With the help of a side-chained compressor and the flanger, you can add context to the reverb.
Finally, we'll utilize the Waves Vocal Rider to integrate the vocal smoothly into the entire mix. True to The Weeknd's workflow, this helps glue the tuned and processed vocals into the production by automatically adjusting levels.
We'll set moderately fast attack and release times so the Vocal Rider can track the vocal lines without noticeable dipping or swelling. Set the sensitivity and boost the output to maximize the level. It makes his voice sit perfectly mixed with the instrumentation.
You must minutely adjust and fine-tune each setting to get the Weeknd’s sound. But there is an easy solution if you want to achieve the smooth R&B sound he is famous for. You can apply The Weeknd Vocal Preset to your mix. The preset is inspired by the unique style that Weeknd uses in his mix. From subtle pitch correction to technical shaping to creative effects and mix balancing, we have all the processing to take your vocals to the next level. Our preset uses only stock plugins so that they will work in your favorite DAW without tweaks or modifications. Experiment with these plugins and settings to get the sound that you want to achieve.