Curious about how to make a flutter vocal effect like Billie Eilish? One that sounds choppy like talking into a fan?
Read this step-by-step guide to find out different approaches to achieve that sound effect, no matter what DAW you use.
No fan needed!
Billie Eilish's flutter vocal effect
Isn't it super inspiring when someone comes up with creative sounds by using effects differently than what they were originally intended for?
That's what I think happened in "Bad Guy" and some other songs by Billie Eilish and Finneas.
It has inspired me to use something similar in the ending phrase of my original song, "Silence Hurts More."
The examples from this article are in the video above.
To provide some context: in this section of the song, I sing a basic harmony. There are two vocal tracks — one is an octave below.
To create the flutter vocal effect, simply automate the Auto-Pan device.
Tremolo effect using the Auto-Pan device
A Tremolo effect is simply amplitude modulation (or volume modulation).
The easiest way to achieve that is by automating the rate of a Tremolo plugin — if you have one.
Since Ableton Live doesn't have a native Tremolo plugin — only some presets in the Frequency Shifter effect that sound like a Tremolo — my favorite way of making a Tremolo sound has been the Auto-Pan.
It is typically used like an LFO that shifts the audio signal from the left speaker to the right speaker at whatever rate you want.
It could be synced to the song's tempo or left at a random rate.
Now, if you offset the phase until the left and right channels align, it becomes a Tremolo.
So you're basically modulating the signal's volume without any panning effect.
The tremolo automation
The secret to that effect you heard in Billie Eilish's song is to speed up the rate of the Tremolo during a certain phrase — or just a word with a longer duration.
In this case, I actually automated two parameters in my Vocals Group.
Tremolo rate automation
First, the rate of the Tremolo, which starts at 1/16th on the word "more", then gets faster and faster.
The second automation is the amount of effect being applied to the sound. The Tremolo doesn't just turn on suddenly.
There's this curve where it goes from an entirely dry unprocessed signal to a 100% wet Tremolo effect.
And it takes almost a whole measure to get to a 100% effect, which is the duration of the word "more".
Until this point in time, the effect is off.
Getting creative with tremolo automation
It doesn't sound as interesting when you don't automate the rate. The speeding-up effect makes a huge difference.
That tremolo ended the phrase faster than it started.
You could go the other way around: from a fast rate to a slow rate. Or faster in the middle of the word, then slower again.
Get creative, experiment with these rates, and put your own spin on them.
I chose to sync the rate to the BPM of my song, but you could do this freely.
Just click the Hertz button, then select the Rate parameter, so you can draw an automation line.
You can press "B" to turn the draw mode on and draw your automation until it sounds like how you envisioned it.
You may not get this right the first time but keep tweaking until it works for you.
Distorted flutter effect
If you really want to go for that distorted flutter effect, then distort the signal a little — with any distortion plugin.
I usually add a saturator in the chain and play with the mix knob to apply distortion in parallel.
This isn't the only way to achieve this sound but it's a fairly easy approach.
Bonus techniques to create the flutter effect
There are several ways to get creative with sound effects and that will certainly improve your songs, starting today.
Tremolo effects and VST plugins
If you have a dedicated Tremolo VST plugin, it's even more intuitive. It's the easiest, cleanest method.
All you have to do is automate the tremolo rate.
There are some really nice modulation plugins out there with tremolo features, like Freak by Native Instruments.
But you don't have to buy an extra VST plugin for this. Most DAWs should already have a tremolo effect.
I've also achieved similar results with plugins like Shaperbox by Cableguys.
It lets you automate many parameters like volume — and they have some pre-made patterns that you can customize.
Frequency Shifter as a Tremolo Effect
You can also use the Frequency Shifter.
There's this preset called "Dirty Tremolo" that is somewhat similar — you just have to mess with the LFO Amount knob.
VocalSynth by Izotope
When I want to go for even crazier flavors, I like to use VocalSynth and combine it with the Auto-Pan, or Tremolo.
Here's a nice preset I just found: it's called "Engine Startup" but I tweaked the frequency modulator.
Now it's your turn
Now you know many ways to achieve that flutter vocal effect in any DAW.
Have fun with those effects and let me know what you come up with — in the comments below.
If you truly love sound effects and music production, make sure to visit my website for more resources.