How to Make a Flutter Vocal Effect Like Billie Eilish


Thales Matos


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."

Silence hurts more flutter vocal effect

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. 

auto-pan device used like a flutter vocal effect

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.

autopan device intended use

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

tremolo rate automation for flutter vocal effect

First, the rate of the Tremolo, which starts at 1/16th on the word "more", then gets faster and faster.

Dry/Wet Automation

The second automation is the amount of effect being applied to the sound. The Tremolo doesn't just turn on suddenly.

tremolo dry wet automation for flutter effect

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.

autopan device unlinked from tempo - rate in hertz

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.

draw mode automation for flutter vocals

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.

distorted flutter vocal effect

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.

freak modulation by native instruments

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.

shaperbox flutter effect by cableguys

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.

Dirty tremolo frequency shifter preset

There's this preset called "Dirty Tremolo" that is somewhat similar — you just have to mess with the LFO Amount knob.

dirty tremolo lfo amount automation flutter effect

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.

vocalsynth engine startup preset vocal effect

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.


Thales Matos

August 19, 2022


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