I'm studying guitar and I'm trying to sing in the meantime I'm playing.

I was wondering how to saturate one's voice such as in Alizee's song at 2:27

"Le flower power

Est mort de sa belle mort..."

  • That's some kind of engineered effect, and not (only) a live-performance vocal technique that the singer is applying by herself. Are you asking how to achieve the same engineered effect, i.e. what sort of sound engineering tools to use? – mlibby Dec 9 '15 at 11:21
  • Yes, exactly. What is the material used? – Revolucion for Monica Dec 9 '15 at 11:22
  • Title edited to reflect your clarification. – mlibby Dec 9 '15 at 11:25

This kind of effect emulates the behaviour of old fashioned high impedance dynamic microphones and low fidelity amplifiers/speakers; the Shure green bullet is the most well known contemporary model of this type of microphone. Most guitar amps, public address systems like you find at bus terminal, or even the speakers at a drive through are day to day examples of the kinds of speaker systems involved. These have limited dynamic range and thus are easy to overdrive, and have a relatively narrow frequency response, in particular cutting off the highs. These combine to give the scratchy, distant vibe that characterizes these systems. See the demonstration at about the 1:00 mark here. Nowadays, these are often exploited by harmonica players. So one way to achieve this effect is by actually using such a microphone and/or speaker system, though I suspect that on this recording it was achieved via some effects plugin.

Another related effect is singing through a bullhorn. To me, the effect in your sample is more subtle than an actual bullhorn. However, searching for "bullhorn vocal effect" yielded this -- a stompbox that spans a range of distortion/eq effects similar to the recording.

So for an effects plugin I would search for bullhorn and/or harmonica microphone effects that are suitable for your setup, or you could roll your own from other effects:

  • Apply a combination of a highpass and lowpass filters (i.e. a bandpass filter), cutting off the lows below something like 100 to a few hundred Hz, and cutting off the highs above a few thousand Hz. As a starting point, I'd go with very sharp stair-step cutoffs, but the ultimate version is up to taste.
  • Apply some distortion to the signal, this can be pretty rough, e.g. hard clipping.
  • (Optional) apply additional compression -- the distortion should provide quite a bit of compression, but the dynamic range of the kinds of systems you are emulating is pretty reduced, so you may find you want more (clean) compression and less distortion.

There are no specific guidelines, these suggestions should be considered as a starting point. Ultimately you'll have to make decisions based on the source material, the musical context that the track will sit in, and your own aesthetic judgements.

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  • Okay, that's very good suggestions! Thank you! And what about a software? Is there any good enough? I understand that it would probably do the job aftewards, except if you have an idea? – Revolucion for Monica Dec 9 '15 at 15:20
  • @Marine1 I'm not well versed enough in what is out there to make a suggestion. Plus, you have not indicated what software setup you are already using, which might affect suggestions you might get from others. However, note that answers on this site tend to avoid giving specific equipment recommendations (meta.music.stackexchange.com/questions/125/… ) so you might have better luck with specific suggestions on other fora. – Dave Dec 9 '15 at 15:42
  • Another aspect of the "harmonica" sound is that those bullet mics were often plugged into small guitar combo amps by harmonica players, and overdrive and reduced frequency response is also a hallmark of the sound of a small, cranked-up combo. – Todd Wilcox Dec 9 '15 at 19:26
  • @Dave Okay, I understand why you don't specifically give equipment recomendation. At least, it's to understand how does artists do. – Revolucion for Monica Dec 9 '15 at 21:27

To create the sound you refer to, the signal must be altered by applying an engineering effect. The use of digital processing has made these type effects easy to achieved using relatively inexpensive equipment. The effect can be applied at the time the input is received (such as in a live performance) or in post production when a recording is made in the studio.

If you want to accomplish this on your own - singing while playing guitar, you can use a vocal effects processor like this TC Helicon Voice Live Play. I show this one as an example of the type I refer to and this is not intended to be a recommendation. There are many other similar processors that work well.

Many vocal processors include multiple presets and the ability to create your own user defined presets that can be created by modifying the parameters of an existing preset and saving it as a custom preset.

I have one that has a 60's radio effect preset that comes pretty close to the sound you describe. I have another that has a megaphone effect that also achieves the sound you are looking for.

Most home studio recording equipment and VST software will include some preset's or patches or mastering effects that will give you that sound. My multi track recorder has a megaphone mastering effect that can be monitored during recording or added after the vocal is recorded. Application of this effect can occur during recording or applied during mixing and mastering (post production).

This "effect" is probably achieved through band limiting and compression and boosting the output gain of certain frequencies and adjusting the dynamics. But since there are so many devices available that have the presets or patches built in, you don't need to be a recording engineer or sound engineer to achieve your desired result.

Have fun experimenting.

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The two main components of this effect are EQ and slight overdrive/distortion.

With the EQ cut out the low and the high frequencies leaving only the mid frequencies. Essentially you will end up with a narrow band of frequencies in the middle that give kind of an "old radio" sound. You can do this with any EQ that has an adjustable high-pass (allowing only the high frequencies through which cuts off the low end) and an adjustable low-pass (allowing only the low frequencies through which cuts off the high end). You might be able to get a decent result with a graphic EQ, but you won't have as much control over fine tuning it. You will have to experiment with the cut-off frequencies to get the exact sound you want, but just doing this EQ move alone with get you very close to the sound you want.

Then add a slight amount of overdrive to give it some "edge" and "grit". You still want the lyrics to be understandable so don't over distort it. Any overdrive or distortion effect should work here as long as it sounds decent when you only add a little bit of overdrive/distortion.

Optionally, you could also add some additional compression (overdrive/distortion already has a compressing effect to it) to even out the sound more by bringing the loud parts down in volume and this also produces a "fatter" tone as well.

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That's not really "saturation". Saturation happens when you run things through a tube amplifier and get harmonic distortion. Here's a good article on that: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb10/articles/analoguewarmth.htm

What this is is simply a megaphone/telephone effect with some distortion thrown in. The other answers have good ideas on how to achieve this, with the gist being a high pass and low pass to cut out both the lows and highs of the human voice, in effect simulating a telephone. In fact, the voice frequency is defined as between 300 Hz and 3400 Hz. But I figured I'd just let you know what "saturation" typically means in the audio engineering world. :)

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