Tips for Layering vocals
FirstLoveStudio
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#1
25th January 2010
Old 25th January 2010
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Tips for Layering vocals

Anyone got any top tips for the recording + mixing of layered up vocals - everything from double tracking, to Backing vocal harmonies - anything from mic technique to de-esser + editing.

I just want to get better at this whole area - I know this is a bit general but hey...
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25th January 2010
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When im doubling up on the main vocals, i like to use warp feature in protools to align syllables. Thats always a good way to go about things, especially if the takes are inconsistent. i'll usually keep one take more prominant and the other to almost "thicken out" the main voc, if that makes sense? But it all depends on what your doing, some metal bands like to double track and pan each track left and right haha. So i help that helps somehow.
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25th January 2010
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get your backing vocalist to not enunciate plosives and S sounds when singing backing vocals. apparently this is a trick that broadway musical choruses use all the time.

failing that, de-ess the HELL out of the backing vocals. you don't need five layers of SSSSSS in there.
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25th January 2010
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Singing to a click may help with getting similar takes.

If you think it'll help, doing another take is always preferable to editing vocal tracks for two hours. I hate comping vocals.

Don't be afraid to use pitch correction when needed. It's an editing tool like any other and what matters is the end result, not the way you achieved it.

I myself have tried many ways of multiplying vocals, and these days I usually get three good takes, all equally compressed, panned in the same position and set at the same volume. If you only have two takes, it doesn't sound thick enough imo, but more than three often reduces the intelligibility of the lyrics too much.

Some famous examples:

Brian Wilson pretty much established the procedure I follow, but he sometimes only used two tracks.

Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine used to do ten takes and then mix the best one at the top. Notice that with many of MBV's songs the lyrics are quite hard to make out because of this.

John Lennon's vocals were oftentimes not doubletracked but rather modulated as he was doing the take.

I have no idea how Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear from Animal Collective) does it, but I'd very much like to find out...
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25th January 2010
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Originally Posted by Black Shadow View Post

I have no idea how Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear from Animal Collective) does it, but I'd very much like to find out...
Hell yeah!

Thanks guys - any more? How about mic technique when layering? Do you use different positions and mics?

What determines mic choice and position on backing vocals compared to main vocals? Something duller? Further from the mic?
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25th January 2010
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Vocalign is a magical plug for vox doubles
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FirstLoveStudio View Post
How about mic technique when layering? Do you use different positions and mics? What determines mic choice and position on backing vocals compared to main vocals? Something duller? Further from the mic?
It all depends on what you're after and what kind of voice(s) you're working with...

For instance, if you want a single lead vocal plus multitracked and/or harmonized backing vocals, I'd maybe use something like a SM7B for the lead and a LDC for the backing vocals.

Imo the clarity aspect of a condenser lends itself more easily to vocal stacking, but maybe that's just me. As for mic position: do what sounds good, for everything.

That said, you might not need to use different mics. EQ is often of critical importance as well: setting the hi-pass filter on the backing vocals a little higher than on the lead vocal might make them sit together better.
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25th January 2010
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When I double track parts, I like to sing the same thing, and same notes at least 2 different ways. Hard to splain though. Maybe one clean, and the next gritty? To add a more rich texture to it, or just more options at mixdown.

I usually will check harmonies on piano as I'm working on them, things go quicker that way.
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25th January 2010
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Can be cool to ask the singer to take a couple of steps back when doubling. Helps to give it it's own space in the mix. Also doubling as you go (if you know thats what the track needs) this way the singer is more likely to mimic the take more accurately than if they did it the next day... Another one is to try a different mic.
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25th January 2010
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For stacked backround vocals I like to create space - even if in a dead room.

Use LDC and have the singer move around for each take, from 3-8 feet away and have them sing just to the left or right of the mic to avoid plosives. The distance will force the singer to sing differently (louder/softer) so the tracks will stack more naturally between the closer/more distant takes (esp good if there's only one singer stacking many tracks).

Ask the singer to enunciate in the extreme even if it sounds odd if stacking many parts where the lyrics are significant and cut their S's short.

The most important thing is that they follow the guide vocal rhythmically...which requires practice
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25th January 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FirstLoveStudio View Post
Anyone got any top tips for the recording + mixing of layered up vocals - everything from double tracking, to Backing vocal harmonies - anything from mic technique to de-esser + editing.

I just want to get better at this whole area - I know this is a bit general but hey...
my advice... sing the takes realy well... Things stack well if they are performed well. Take your time and do the takes untill your happy with them....
#12
25th January 2010
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I can't remember who said it, but the best advice I have received about layering vocals was here on Gearslutz-- if you are stacking several takes of the same line, high pass each successive take until the last take is just air. It really helps eliminate some of the muddiness that can accrue when you stack a bunch of vocals, but without losing any of the fullness. I wish I could remember who posted that... maybe Roundbadge?

--
Mojo
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25th January 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mojo Man View Post
I can't remember who said it, but the best advice I have received about layering vocals was here on Gearslutz-- if you are stacking several takes of the same line, high pass each successive take until the last take is just air. It really helps eliminate some of the muddiness that can accrue when you stack a bunch of vocals, but without losing any of the fullness. I wish I could remember who posted that... maybe Roundbadge?

--
Mojo

I think i read what you are referring to.. it was a recent thread... I think it was UBK.....
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25th January 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ianbryn11 View Post
I think i read what you are referring to.. it was a recent thread... I think it was UBK.....
You are right about it being UBK. Sorry for the misinformation (and thanks to UBK for the great tip)!! I just found the thread; here is a link: How to Mix a LOT of Background Vocals

There is some really great information there about mixing vocals with high track counts, but there is a lot of it is good information that applies to general technique as well.

--
Mojo
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25th January 2010
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With BVs, I usually de-ess the crap out of them ad then EQ some air back in.
Also, I like having doubled lines recorded a bit further from the mic.

Edit: I'm going to try the phaser trick as stated by ubk in the tread quoted above...seems like a great idea...
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25th January 2010
Old 25th January 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FirstLoveStudio View Post
Anyone got any top tips for the recording + mixing of layered up vocals - everything from double tracking, to Backing vocal harmonies - anything from mic technique to de-esser + editing.

I just want to get better at this whole area - I know this is a bit general but hey...
What gear do you have to play with?
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26th January 2010
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Lots of practice stike--- I usually drop the song core down to bare minimum --- and just sing that double perfectly > then harmonies, etc. While tracking ~~~little or no effects > fairly flat ,,one side of the can off ( so I can get the pitch ) if necessary hit : the note on the piano or a pitchpipe ....we have no pitch plugins
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A little trick that I learned back when using DA88s is varispeed. Record the lead vocal as normal, then record one double at -2% and yet another at +2%. Set your DAW back to 0% and mix, EQ, and pan to taste. (I think that it's one of those insider techniques that doesn't get talked about much). I've used this technique to great success. When I track artists who have never worked this way, they find it strange but love it in the end.

You can now add a "Varispeed" button to Logic's transport. Try it out and report back to us.

+1 for Vocalign which is now available in AU and has an uncrippled 14 day trial.

Good luck!!!
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26th January 2010
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Stacking vocals is an art and it can be tough to do. The masters tend to it by ear and unless they are doing an exact double of a lead vocall, they tend to make VERY SLIGHT variations in pitch, timing and phrasing on each additional take to get the blend they want and they never push too hard when they sing backing vocals.

From an engineering point of view the main problem is a build up of lower midrange that turns into mud when various vocal takes are stacked. One trick I have used is to record the main vocal in cardioid and then record all the backing vocals in omni (assuming you have a multi pattern mic, I use old Neumann U77). This REALLY helps reduce the mud as the omni pattern is much flatter with less low mid boost. You can also "hollow out" the stacked backing vocals with eq or use a different and flatter mic on the backing vocals but try the omni pattern if available.
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In the earlier days -- you had to be right on the spot with your vocals. When you were tracking/bouncing 3 tracks to one channel ( 4 track days or earlier ) and a bass and guitar where going down with you > everyone had to play over again, if didn't have your part down AND... yes ~ no undo

>> Not that we were better back then > just did not have an alternative ...so we had to make it count. Guess I expect too much from some artists that walk through our doors
#21
26th January 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FirstLoveStudio View Post
Thanks guys - any more? How about mic technique when layering? Do you use different positions and mics?

What determines mic choice and position on backing vocals compared to main vocals? Something duller? Further from the mic?
I'm with Empora on this one. Sing the doubled part, take a step back and record another take, and then one more step too. It should work well with your fairly-large studio room. Even facing a different direction in your room will give additional "room space" sound to capture.

If it's the same vocalist as the lead vox, then I usually use the same mic unless I'm looking for a special effect.

Iron Man
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26th January 2010
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For me control room monitoring balance when tracking backing vocals is uber important.

The performers mix has to be separate.. (usually they want themselves louder than the rest of the music)

In the control room while setting up any adjustments to the new incoming BV signals I think you have to have one hand on the fader levels pretty much full time.. This is so you can hear the BLEND..

Once you have selected the best mic to proceed with..

Look for evenness - are some lines to quiet or too loud? (even when you have asked the performer to adjust that themselves) then use compression (or fader rides while recording) to get everything you want audible..

Tone? I like to have good eq control of upper mids available to me.. Also do you need to scoop out low mid 'boom' (again its best to do that by mic selection and position before touching EQ)

All the above adjustments should be made with a constantly adjusted monitor balance - you may want to make final tweaks by listening to the mix + vocal balance playing through a boom box.. In fact the lower volume monitoring can:

a) be a nice break for your ears as you move towards the mixing stage of the project

b) help you and the artist (on playback) spot pitch anomalies that you both might miss at full volume on headphones or the 'big' monitors. (relative pitch detection is way easier to do at low volume)

My favorite tweaker tool for stacked vocals used to be a TLA EQ1 mic pre / EQ. I would just use it in line in mode (using another mic pre) so only the eq section. I found the 'grainy' sharpness to the upper mids helped give BVOX 'air' and definition.. I would "custom EQ" each new BV part to make it 'fit' into the stack.

My chain

Mic pre (various)
Line in Focusrite 215 channel A eq
UA 1176 limiter
Line in Focusrite 215 channel B eq
Sometimes Line in TLA EQ 1
DBX 902 de-esser
Tape / DAW

You can hear this chain on the vocals on this whole album where I engineered and produced the vocal sessions.

Here is a busy track with a lot of stacked BVs (its a sort of Beachboys / indie rock hybrid)

Carrie – Can't Make Love – Video & free listening at Last.fm

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26th January 2010
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#25
26th January 2010
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Does all of this apply when recording single vocalist w/o BGVs over acoustic instruments. i.e. folk ballads and the like?

What would be the purpose in doubling the vocal in that case?
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26th January 2010
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Possibly none!

Its more a pop production technique.
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26th January 2010
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Great thread.

What i'm finding, is simply how important performance is, the emotion and timing. If it isn't sounding 'right', right away, we'll take a 15 minute break and work with an instrument along side(piano, guitar) and attempt to work out the reasons it isn't sounding the way we want. ie: tuning, rhythmic stuff, melody, words, whatever... we'll work more towards something we do want. After that, the vocal usually starts taking better form. If your inexperienced, as i am, vocals really TAKE TIME. Everything does. So i'm never in a rush. For some reason, people seem to think things happen just like that! And they're rich!

Tracking harmonies, multiple people on a single mic, etc...is great IF you know what you want and that it will work for the song.

What i do know, is that i HATE excessive fixing in a mix. I want good performances/sounds off the bat.

If someone is getting muddiness and other hard to fix problems that seem to be just multiplying, those problems are usually made at tracking imo. Too close to the mic, wrong mic, wrong gain, wrong room, wrong part, wrong vocalist, etc.

All this can show up as...hard to mix....later. Make the right decisions up front. Using hpf's, group compression later, eq are obviously needed for mixing. But a well performed song, can sound great without any added hype. Ya know?

Anyways, I like the beach boys stuff for vocals, everyone does right? Well, AFAIK, it took a great deal of work to get those recorded. Treating the vocal as an isolated orchestra.
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26th January 2010
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Originally Posted by desol View Post
Great thread.

What i'm finding, is simply how important performance is, the emotion and timing. If it isn't sounding 'right', right away, we'll take a 15 minute break and work with an instrument along side(piano, guitar) and attempt to work out the reasons it isn't sounding the way we want. ie: tuning, rhythmic stuff, melody, words, whatever... we'll work more towards something we do want. After that, the vocal usually starts taking better form. If your inexperienced, as i am, vocals really TAKE TIME. Everything does. So i'm never in a rush. For some reason, people seem to think things happen just like that! And they're rich!

Tracking harmonies, multiple people on a single mic, etc...is great IF you know what you want and that it will work for the song.

What i do know, is that i HATE excessive fixing in a mix. I want good performances/sounds off the bat.

If someone is getting muddiness and other hard to fix problems that seem to be just multiplying, those problems are usually made at tracking imo. Too close to the mic, wrong mic, wrong gain, wrong room, wrong part, wrong vocalist, etc.

All this can show up as...hard to mix....later. Make the right decisions up front. Using hpf's, group compression later, eq are obviously needed for mixing. But a well performed song, can sound great without any added hype. Ya know?

Anyways, I like the beach boys stuff for vocals, everyone does right? Well, AFAIK, it took a great deal of work to get those recorded. Treating the vocal as an isolated orchestra.
I love Gearslutz. Thanks everyone!
#29
29th January 2010
Old 29th January 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jules View Post
Fear of Sound – Carrie – Listen free and discover music at Last.fm

The track "cant make love"

Does the link not work in the USA? Or do you hate it! (or both?)

Carrie "Fear of Sound" album Island Records 1992

The BV's are often 22 tracks deep on that record..

("Joseph" is the most Beach Boy like..)
that link works, but the first one you posted was just some chick on youtube singing into her webcam
#30
29th January 2010
Old 29th January 2010
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Forget the big video in the middle. Top right a track should load and play.
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