In this lesson, I’m going to be breaking down the vocal production behind Cal Scruby’s song Cigarette Break. I’m discussing his delivery, background vocals, and I’m even going to discuss some of the mixing as well. So if you’re a rapper who’s trying to get better sounding vocals, this is going to be the perfect video for you!
This is the 4th and final video of this series. I’ve already made videos dedicated to breaking down is rap flow, rhyme schemes, and songwriting techniques. You can watch all the videos in this series via the How To Rap Like Cal Scruby Playlist.
Also If you haven’t already heard Cal Scruby’s song Cigarette Break song feel free to listen to it here.
Cal’s overall rap delivery is very relaxed and intimate sounding. This is because he’s not projecting his voice much at all volume-wise, almost as if he were speaking to someone directly in front of him.
This allows him to get a nice, rich, “crackle/fry” sound out of his vocals. This vocal range is often a sweet spot for many male rappers. The louder you rap the thinner your vocal typically sounds. To learn more about how to improve your rap voice check out my video called “3 Easy Ways To Improve Your Rap Voice”
Cals Dynamics in his delivery is very subtle throughout the hook and 1st verse. His shifts in energy/tone often happen on rhymes and 8th notes which are typically words that need extra room to be stressed correctly.
The most energetic and overall dynamic part of his vocal performance occurs halfway through the 2nd verse on “Jim Jones” and again at the very end of the verse. Cal transitions back and forth between an intimate tone to more of an outside
PRESERVING THE VIBE
The main takeaway here is that Cal’s energy matches the vibe and emotion of the instrumental as well as the concept for the song. Your delivery doesn’t have to be ultra-dynamic and all over the place in order to sound good. What’s most important is that your delivery matches well with what you’re saying and the vibe of the instrumental.
Cal’s energy is very low, subdued, and almost bored. This is because he’s intentionally wanting to sound unthreatened and unimpressed with his opposition in this song.
Has far as background vocals go, Cal took a very minimalist approach here. Cal didn’t stack his vocals or do any spot stacks. The only background vocals he recorded were Adlibs. If you don’t know the difference between these different types of background vocals I’ve made videos dedicated to demonstrating each of them which I’ve included below.
Cal likely didn’t do any stacks or spot stacks because of the intimate and chill vibe of the song. Also, the instrumental itself is pretty minimal so there aren’t a whole lot of sounds fighting against the vocal anyway.
Cal primarily cycled between three different types of ad-libs.
One in which he simply repeated a piece of the lyrics which created like a manual delay or echo fx which typically was used to fill in the gaps (pauses) in his lyrics.
The 2nd type of Ad-lib Cal did was saying an additional phrase that had not been said yet.
The 3rd type of Ad-lib that Cal did was responding to something he already said almost as if he were having a conversation with himself.
Most of these ad-libs occur in small pockets of free space which fills the track in a bit more without distracting away from the lead vocal.
Cal’s lead vocals are very dry and in your face. There does seem to be a very subtle reverb mixed in with his vocal to give it a sense of space and sit it in the instrumental a bit more. This is very hard to hear but is most noticeable on “ess” sounds such as the beginning of verse 2.
Cal’s also doing some very subtle 8th note delay throws to fill in gaps in his verse as he did with his Repeat Ad-libs. However, these delay throws are more subtle. (COMPARE BETWEEN THE TWO) They sound like they start off in the center and then spread out to the left and right speaker making way for the lead vocal that comes in right after them.
You can hear this if you pay close attention to the 2nd verse right after “Kinfolk” you can hear just the syllable “folk” faintly echoing. It’s more noticeable if you listen with headphones.
Cal’s ad-libs are sitting further back in the mix which gives it more contrast/separation from the lead vocal thus making it feel more like a “background” vocal.
Cal achieved this in 3 main ways.
- His ad-libs sound lower in volume
- He’s removed the lower frequencies on his ad-libs which gives them that telephone type of effect. Removing the low end on vocals can make them feel “thinner” and further away as things that are close, tend to have more perceived low-end frequencies which are also known as the proximity effect.
- The third thing making his ad-libs feel so much further away is he has applied more reverb/delay to them than the lead vocal.
1 Your delivery doesn’t have to be crazy dynamic in order to sound good. Just do what feels best for what you’re talking about and the vibe of the instrumental.
2 Typically a good place to add a little more energy are on rhymes, words that land on beat, and words that are held for an 8th note or longer.
3 Cal used 3 types of adlibs to fill in the pauses from his vocals by using Repeats, Additional Phrases, and Responses to his previous lyrics. Cal also used delay throws to fill in these gaps as well.
4 If you need for your background vocals to feel further away try one or a combination of the following.. Lowering the volume, removing some of the lower end frequencies around 500hz and below, and by using reverb and or delay.
Have you struggled with your vocal production in the past? If so, which one of these techniques are you going to try out?