Using Effects Plugins to Create Character Voices: Aliens, Demons, and Monsters

In our last article on processing vocals for speculative fiction podcasts, we covered dealing with synthetic voices such as Robots, AI, and Androids. In this article we will go over some techniques for creating non-human, non-synthetic voices, such as Aliens, Demons, and Monsters. Creating non-human character voices can be a fun experience and help bring your podcast to life, and also help the listener distinguish between the characters more easily. Here, we will cover several techniques for using effects plugins to achieve the desired voices of the characters. I will go over a few of my go-to tools for processing these types of voices, but I also encourage you to try out these effects in various combinations, as sometimes we need more than one tool to get the job done.

Reverse Reverb:

One of the first tools I reach for when dealing with ethereal, non-human voices is reverse reverb. Many DAWs have a built-in plugin for this effect but it can also be done manually with a few basic steps. Simply reverse the audio file so that it plays backwards, then add the desired amount of reverb, reverse the track again, so that the vocal is once again playing as it was recorded. The tail of the reverb will now precede the vocal and add an otherworldly, ghostly lead in to every word. This process is great for voices from beyond the grave or coming from another dimension. It will usually produce a haunting effect.

Bit Crushers:


Image 1) Screenshot of the Decimator interface in Audacity

Another fun tool to pull out for non-human voices is the bit crusher. For harsher sounding voices, for instance demons or monsters, I often reach for a bit crusher plugin. Bit crushers work by reducing the amount of information (or resolution) in the audio file, thus creating distortion. The amount of bit reduction can be catered to taste and can produce a variety of subtle to extreme effects. These plugins are easy to use and are included with many DAWs. The robust freeware Audacity has a free plugin called the Decimator, which allows you to reduce both the sample rate and the bit depth. There are also many freeware plugin options such as the Tritik Krush. These easy to use plugins may produce the desired effect, and require little finesse or experience.


Image 2) Screenshot of Harmonic Generator interface in Audacity

Harmonizers are one of my favorite tools for creating non-human character voices. They work by shifting the pitch (either higher or lower) of the original signal and then recombining the effected signal with the original. Most harmonizers allow you to combine multiple versions of the altered signal, and can be used to create thick and interesting effects. While these plugins can be used with musicality in mind they can also be used to create discordant and unsettling results, perfect for otherworldly voices. I often reach for these plugins (or hardware such as the POG, or poly octave generator) when working with alien characters and find the tool to be an easy choice for instant strangeness. Audacity has a free plugin called the Harmonic Generator and its operation is simple and intuitive. This effect can also be achieved by adding duplicates of the original signal and pitch shifting them individually. This latter technique can be useful as you will be able to mix the individual altered signals to taste.

Combining Effects:

While single plugins can be effective and get the job done, sometimes it is worthwhile to experiment with stacking effects. However, the order in which you process you audio files can drastically change the results. For instance, you may want to have reverb on your vocal track to create a sense of space, but should you add it before or after the other effects? In most cases, if you are using reverb for environment you will want to use it after processing your track with other effects. But there are not necessarily rules for which order effects can be used in. I encourage you to experiment with stacking effects, and while you do so try them out in different orders. You will find that the results can vary greatly, and as always it is up to your sense of esthetics (and the audibility of the track) that will determine which is the right tool or tools for the job. You may also want to take notes on how you created a certain characters’ voices in case they come back in a subsequent story. This process can be really fun, so go wild and hear what happens as you explore the world of audio effects plugins.

Jean-Paul L. Garnier

Jean-Paul L. Garnier lives and writes in Joshua Tree, CA where he is the owner of Space Cowboy Books, a science fiction bookstore, independent publisher, and producer of Simultaneous Times podcast. In 2020 his first novella Garbage In, Gospel Out was released by Space Cowboy Books and in 2018 Traveling Shoes Press released Echo of Creation, a collection of his science fiction short stories. He has also released several collections of poetry: In Iudicio (Cholla Needles Press 2017), Future Anthropology (currently being translated into Portuguese), and Odes to Scientists (audiobook - Space Cowboy Books 2019). He is a two time Elgin Nominee and also appeared in the 2020 Dwarf Stars anthology. His new collection of SF poetry, Betelgeuse Dimming has just been released and is available as a free download audiobook / ebook at He is also a regular contributor for Canada’s Warp Speed Odyssey blog. His short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in many anthologies and webzines.