How To Thicken Up Your Sound

A lot of people struggle to make the sounds in their tracks rich and weighty. This can lead to mixes sounding somewhat thin and lacking the polish of a professional release. Ideally, your featured sounds – basses, lead synths, perhaps vocals – should sound full and enveloping. If you get this right, it will make the rest of the tune go much more easily; you'll find that you don't need to add as many elements to the tune, since one or two strong parts will always sound better than ten weak ones.

So, it all sounds good in theory. But how can we actually achieve this? Let's go into a bit more detail as we take a look at a few options....

EQ

EQ should normally be your first port of call when processing a sound –if you can do something with EQ you'll save time, effort and CPU power. So what does 'thickness' equate to as far as EQ is concerned? Well, 'thicker' sounds are generally weightier in the midrange and low-mids. Try re-balancing the sound; boost areas from 200 – 600Hz or alternatively, cut other frequencies that are of less importance. Boost gently with a wide 'Q' to ensure that you keep a natural sound.

It's also important to remember boosting the low mids on everything is the quickest way to a muddy and confused mixdown. So take care when working on these frequencies, and if you boost 200Hz on one sound, consider cutting it in a different sound so that the mix doesn't get too swamped.

Doubling Up

Doubling a sound is a quick and easy way to thicken it up. If you're recording a vocal, you should always get the vocalist to do several takes. This way you can take the best ones, layer them up, pan a couple centrally, a couple out wide, and end up with a really big, rich sound.

But the same idea can work for synths and samples too. If your sound is too thin, try adding another sound playing the same melody, and bandpassing it so that it only adds the frequencies you really want. Or, even more simply, just duplicate your synth and play the same pattern an octave down.

Parallel Compression

 

One reason a sound can feel thin is when the transients are over-emphasised. Although it's important to keep transients in your mix, if they're too big they'll dominate all the headroom, and the body of the sound can be squashed down out of the way. This is where parallel compression can really help: crunch the sound until the pips squeak on a buss channel and then mix it in behind the original signal. The result should be that you keep the transients on the original channel, but increase the weight of the sound with the buss.

Distortion

This works on a similar premise to parallel compression; with a distortion plugin you're basically taming the transients (by crudely chopping them off) so that the body of the sound is louder in comparison. So you need to be a bit more subtle when using distortion, as it can leave you with plenty of unwanted artefacts. If you want things to sound transparent then a simple clipping plugin can help – these simply lop the tops off your transients without affecting anything else – GClip (for Windows) and Airwindows Clip2 are both excellent free clipping tools. Your author still maintains that Cooledit Pro was the best tool around for transparent clipping, however.

Distortion can also help add thickness by saturating and boosting harmonics. There are plenty of dedicated saturation plugs out there and they can really help add some heft to your sounds. Adding harmonics is partially what analogue hardware does (it's a key aspect of good old 'analogue warmth') and you can get plugins to do specifically that and nothing else. 'Reviver' by Fielding DSP is a plugin that allows you to dial in differing levels of 2nd and 3rd order harmonics, which will boost certain frequencies in a very controlled manner. It's a subtle sound but can be extremely effective when used carefully.

Modulations

Of course, some of the classic plugin effects are designed for thickening up a sound too; chorus, detune, flange and so on. In these cases you should aim for a fairly slow LFO rate, and be careful with the 'mix' control, to ensure that the effected sound doesn't overpower the original. You should also remember that these effects mess around dramatically with the time and pitch of a sound. Which can be fine for smooth, slow-moving sounds, but if you've got something percussive, or a buzzy synth that cuts through the mix, a chorus or detune can really take the edge off those transients and presence. So be sure to watch out for these unwanted side-effects when you're using such plugins.

These are just a few of the main ways to thicken up a sound. There are more – one of the best things about music production is that there are always more ways to achieve a particular thing – but these tips should get you moving along the road to finding a sound that is warm, unique to you, and fully polished!

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