How To Get Black Keys Vocal Sound

If you’re a fan of The Black Keys, you’re probably as intrigued as we are with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s records. 

With their distinctive vocals and guitar tones, The Black Keys started humbly in 2001 in Akron, Ohio, and proceeded to be one of the most famous rock bands worldwide today.

Many music enthusiasts would wonder about Dan Auerbach’s vocal recording techniques that let him achieve those deep, heartfelt vocal sounds. 

Luckily for you, it’s possible to recreate those vocal tricks that made Black Keys an international sensation. Read on for tips on how to make that happen.

How Can You Get The Black Keys Vocal Sound?

The sound that makes The Black Keys stand out is a gritty, raw version of blues-rock. As far as micing is concerned, Black Keys’ singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach prefers a simple approach. His philosophy is less is more, and he knows that good music has more to do with the musician than the gear.

Popular Black Keys albums include Attack & Release, Turn Blue, Keep It Hid, Magic Potion, Rubber Factory, El Camino, and of course, the renowned album Brothers. They all prove how talented Auerbach is as a singer and guitarist, along with Carney as a drummer.

To capture that sound essence and quality that captivates so many Black Keys fans, take a page out of Auerbach’s book by following these simple tips.

Choose a Good Microphone

Use dynamic hand-held microphones like Auerbach’s Shure SM58. It has impressive off-axis rejection, capturing only what’s directly ahead of it. Choose a Shure Green Bullet or one of those infamous Harp Mics.

You can also use big diaphragm microphones for delicate, more complex songs that call for more voice detail. Go for a small rather than large-diaphragm condenser microphone. Auerbach mainly relied on a Neumann KM184 on the Brothers album. 

A Copperphone microphone will also give you that boxy sound. It’ll sit perfectly in the mix and work in harmony alongside guitar and bass amps. Accompanied with a drum kit, they’ll help you build a striking record.

Experiment With Your Technique and Use Effects

If you want to imitate Auerbach, use a controlled bleed technique. Auerbach is a master of this technique; he controls the mic bleed to make the records sound even better. He includes various degrees of this trick in all his popular records, either through the live band infiltrating into the vocals or playback. 

This technique also calls to mind those 1970s classic records that used the bleed technique to glue the music together.

If you want to add muddiness, fuzz, or noise to a phrase or note, try to include some distortion. This will make your singing raspy and less tonal, allowing you to produce great metal, rock, or punk music. It’ll also add urgency and grit. For a fuller tone, distort the vocal before it reaches your effects chain. 

You can use software to achieve this vocal distortion. If you want, you can also automate your distortion to give variation and make your song stand out. The warm saturation will help create that bluesy Black Keys tone we all love. 

Some musicians also add some tension and lift, enhancing the feeling of the song by adding harmonics inside a breakdown section and ramping up the overdrive in the chorus.

Not satisfied yet? Try to create a dense, powerful sound through short reverbs and delay effects. Then, use a few longer reverbs to blend the sound with the instrumentation, and put the song in a timely tune. A medium reverb will focus on the mid-range.

For best effects, use a soft clipper plug-in before your limiter to smoothly cut a few decibels from some of the highest peaks.

Write Your Own Songs

Like Auerbach, you’ll want to expand your creative vibes to include songwriting as well as vocals. That will enable you to get some heartfelt thoughts on papers while mentally planning how you’re going to make the words dance. You can even make it more enjoyable by writing with a group of like-minded friends.

Be Creative With the Mixing

Try not to get too technical; play it by ear, and inject some creative touches to make the mix pop. Chase your creative ideas, and see how they sound out loud. 

Add effects like echoes, reverbs, and delays to add a classic tonality and harmony with the rest of your album. Work with templates and focus on the workflow to shape the sounds of each song.

To create captivating music, control vocal dynamics using a multiband compressor, recreate favorite sounds by adding clarity and warmth using a dynamic EQ, and cut where your musical ear tells you to. You may choose to cut a lot out of the low end, maybe a notch out of the mids, and leave some top end for flair.

Work on the amps to make them sound good and glue it all together beautifully. Also, add some overdrive to get that old-school sound.

Change Your Vocal Style

Vary and improve your vocal style by using soft, light vocals as well as gritty, edgy ones. Try experimenting with new styles, new music genres, and out-of-the-box methods, and use your instruments accordingly to enhance your tone and style.

You could use UAD plug-ins to get good sounds, easily changing them around to experiment with different sounds. Some plug-ins, as well as Apollo interfaces, give an instant Black Keys vibe and give that timeless, warm, analog sound.

Closing Thoughts

When it comes to musical style, there’s a lot that you can learn from The Black Keys. If your interest lies in vocal sound, you can draw plenty of inspiration from Dan Auerbach, the band’s very talented singer and guitarist.

From mixing and matching your style and up to using interesting techniques, effects, and gear, there’s a lot you can do to get that Black Keys vocal sound we love so much. We hope the above information on The Black Keys’s vocal style has inspired you to create some quality music.