Every time an artist gets big, there’s a slew of unsigned artists that pop up out of the woodwork trying to sound just like them. I’ve seen this countless times in my twenty years in the music business, from hearing people that tried to sound like Jay Z to hearing people that still try to sound like Drake: with Post Malone racking up another #1 with Rockstar featuring 21 Savage, a new crop of aspiring artists are asking, “How can I achieve the Post Malone sound?”.
Well the short answer is you can’t. Why?
Post Malone, pretty much like every great artist, has their own unique voice. There are no fx that’ll help you get Post Malone’s voice, you can’t eq your vocals to sound like his. No amount of reverb is going to mask your real voice and make you sound like Post Malone or anyone else for that matter.
Post Malone’s audio engineer just does what every professional audio engineer does: adds the right amount of compression, eq, reverb and delay to Post Malone’s vocals. And if you ask me his mastering engineer didn’t do such a good job on his last album “Stoney” cause the album sounded over compressed and harsh.
Another thing to keep in mind is when people say they want the Post Malone sound, what sound are they referring to? The mixing on “White Iverson” is completely different than the mixing on say “Candy Paint”. The former having much more thinner vocals and longer reverb tails, while the latter sounds like a more traditional hip hop mix.
The more important question aspiring artists should be asking themselves is: how can I be as good as Post Malone? Not how can I sound like him.
So what makes Post Malone sound so good?
It really doesn’t get more basic than his voice! Your voice is the foundation of your music and no amount of mixing and mastering is going to fix your voice. Now Post Malone doesn’t have a great singing voice as he does huge a fair amount of autotune but what he does have is a unique voice: he sounds like a British cowboy who grew up on equal parts hip hop, R&B and country. He almost sounds like if James Blake had grown up in Houston, instead of London.
Obviously you can’t get Post Malone’s voice as that is unique to his upbringing as well as the physical structure of his throat, mouth and the way sound moves through his airways. Believe me I’ve mixed songs where the artist sounded eerily similar to Post Malone, and while it was cool they could mimic him so well, it felt empty like when a comedian does an impression. It’s likely because copycats usually never achieve a modicum of success as their progenitor.
Instead of doing what is essentially an impression of another artist, what you can do is focus on what makes your voice, personality and upbringing different and unique. It doesn’t matter how bad you or even others think your voice sounds, everyone has a unique voice. What makes it “bad” is that you haven’t found your sound yet.
Let’s look at Post Malone collaborator and rising rapstar, 21 Savage. The first time I heard 21, I was dumbfounded like “wow why didn’t someone think of this deadpan delivery earlier, it’s so easy to do!”. 21 sounds kind of like a guy who just started rapping, except he’s much more in the pocket, albeit not the usual one rappers inhabit and he’s way more polished than a guy who just started rapping in his proverbial basement. There’s literally nothing special about 21’s voice but it’s his deadpan super serious delivery that makes you think “Okay this guy might kill me”. 21 Savage, has learned much like all great artists, that the key to mastering one’s voice is is to turn what would be perceived as a weakness into a strength.
I believe every aspiring artist can do this: take what’s unique about you, particularly what’s the weakest part about your voice and sound and focus on that. I know it sounds crazy, but I think it’ll help you get a better idea of what your sound should be and what it shouldn’t be. Remember you won’t be cool, trying to be someone else.
Flows and Melodies
I can’t finish this without speaking a little about flows and melodies, which depending on what your musical background is, are basically the same thing. It should go without saying that every great artist from Elvis to The Weekend has catchy flows and melodies. If you want to be great, you need to master the ability to craft catchy flows and melodies. But how do you do this?
In Future’s Like I Never Left documentary, Future spoke on his love of crafting melodies and using nursery rhymes as a muse. If you are from or familiar with 80s and 90s hip hop, you’ll know that purposely making your flows sound like nursery rhymes is heresy. But just like with all great disruptions that challenge conventions, nursery rhymes may be the key to the Post Malone sound.
For instance, if you’ve heard any of Post Malone’s songs, particularly Candy Paint, they definitely have a nursery rhyme feel to them and I don’t mean that as a slight. But if you want to have that Post Malone sound, it’s a good idea to start by making your flow more nursery rhyme like and less complicated. An easy way to do this is to come up with a simple flow that you can repeat over and over with slight variations at the end and from there you just basically fill in the blanks with words.