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chymer
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16th May 2006
Old 16th May 2006
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VOCAL LAYERING TECHNIQUES

Ok,
So I usually dont layer a lead vocal too much.
but i thought that it would be cool if we all shared out own techniqes to achieve that full, lush pop sound.

I usually Have the lead vocal in the middle up front with 2 different takes panned left and right quieter in the mix.
I will make sure they are vocal aligned tight so they are transparent.
This seems to work.
But I reckon I could do more, like put FX on the left/right vocals???
Or stack harmonies underneath, really quiet so you cant hear them but they support the lead, if you do this then share your techniques.

Any cool ideas guys?

Chymer
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16th May 2006
Old 16th May 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chymer
Ok,
So I usually dont layer a lead vocal too much.
but i thought that it would be cool if we all shared out own techniqes to achieve that full, lush pop sound.

I usually Have the lead vocal in the middle up front with 2 different takes panned left and right quieter in the mix.
I will make sure they are vocal aligned tight so they are transparent.
This seems to work.
But I reckon I could do more, like put FX on the left/right vocals???
Or stack harmonies underneath, really quiet so you cant hear them but they support the lead, if you do this then share your techniques.

Any cool ideas guys?

Chymer
Yeah, those are all cool... I would also suggest having the singer sing at different levels of intensity, from a whisper to full out, depending on the song and what you are looking for. Then mix those stacked in the background to achieve the desired effect.
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16th May 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chymer
I usually Have the lead vocal in the middle up front with 2 different takes panned left and right quieter in the mix.
I will make sure they are vocal aligned tight so they are transparent.
This seems to work.
But I reckon I could do more, like put FX on the left/right vocals???
Or stack harmonies underneath, really quiet so you cant hear them but they support the lead, if you do this then share your techniques.

Any cool ideas guys?

Chymer
With that left/right vocals, try detuning... if u have a Eventide DSP 4500 or 3000 or one of these.. try the Dual Shift program! can work like magic...
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16th May 2006
Old 16th May 2006
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These are all good ideas. Also try taking the original vocal and copying it to other tracks. Squish the crap out of one of the tracks boost the presence in another and then mix them in with the original til it has that pop. You can even get dynamic with the automation in order to give the chorus a little more push or back off completely on the bridge... You get the idea.
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6th May 2009
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How Exact do Doubles / and Triples etc need to be?

Vocal Layering Techniques:

I'm usually not recording the best vocalists, so I find it can be problematic doing multiple layers, as none of the takes are close enough to each other.

Whats this VocAlign?

Should the takes be so close that in general you can't really hear that there are 2,3,4,5 takes?

In a sparser Mix (simple verse say) I assume they need to be even better matched than in a big excessive chorus.
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6th May 2009
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One cool trick is to put the classic "telephone" filter on one of the takes pan hard left or right. On the right song it really adds little somin' somin'.
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6th May 2009
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I'm a fan of a lot of 70s and 80s "overproductions", although at the same time I'm also a really big fan of really dry, really clear recordings where you can hear every single thing in mix without things sounding artifically "big". This contradiction is difficult to maintain or justify, but it's just what I like. I absolutely refuse to use sample replacement or autotuning unless it's for a specific effect. To me, If we have to go that route to get the sound we're after then we didn't track correctly. I don't care what so-and-so uses to get his albums sounding amazing, I want to hear reality and not some artifically airbrushed debutant with fake tits posing in front of a green screen, even if that reality has a few blemishes.

I just recorded and mixed an album by a band that has four singers in the band and their hallmark is definitely their vocals. I had to pull out all of the stops for these guys to make them happy with the vocal tracks for the album and here's a few that we used.

1. "Queen vocals" - After watching the Classic Albums DVD of Queen's Night at the Opera, the guys were really interested in singing together around one mic even though we essentially had unlimited tracks available to us. For some songs we did takes with them singing together in harmony, and for others we had them all sing each singer's part of the harmony together for even bigger stacks. We also did a session using this technique in the living room of the guitarist's house which was a big resonant room with a lot of natural ambiance.

2. Background Vocal Thickener - For any vocal tracks that we wanted to sound extra lush, we would mix them down to a stereo track and put a small room reverb with no predelay and a very quick decay and compress the hell out of it. This resulted in a very 80s sound of overcompressed and over 'verbed vocals, but tucked low in the mix and EQ'd properly it added a nice lush texture to the vocals. I used this to some degree on every single track because it worked out so well.

3. Double double, you're in trouble - During vocal tracking I made sure to try and get a double of every single vocal track we felt was a keeper. Any time we wanted someone's vocal to sound a little bit bigger, we'd toss in the double. Sometimes we'd squash it, sometimes we'd radically EQ it, sometimes we'd toss it through a Leslie, etc. We didn't want the sound of a doubled vocal, so we'd edit it carefully to make sure the timing locked up between it and the main vocal. Most of the time these were tucked in the mix and weren't obvious doubles, but occasionally we'd go for the obvious double too. Just matters what you're looking for. An additional benefit of having the double was that you had another take in case someone didn't like the timing or feel of the main keeper track, we could always swap in the double to see if it worked better in the mix.

4. The joys of editing - In the cases where we didn't end up with usable doubles we just edited repeated sections (like copying and pasting the second chorus under the first chorus, etc). If there weren't any repeated sections I would try and fly in vocals from the pre-productions demos we did. Which brings me to my next part...

5. No more "beat the demo" - Luckily for us, the bassist and guitarist of this band had home studio setups and since I wasn't available for most of the time they had allotted for preproduction, they were able to record the songs for the demos. For the most part the tempos were the same and the production value wasn't too bad on them. In a couple cases, some demo vocals actually ended up quite prominent in the final mix. We had a bad case of demo-itis early on with these songs and many of us were quite resistant to attempts at changing parts during tracking, which isn't always a good thing. However, one benefit was that we were able to use our favorite magic little bits from the demos without sacrificing sound quality.

6. My good friend Leslie - Just about everyone involved in production/engineering has heard the story about "Tomorrow Never Knows" and John Lennon wanting his vocal to sound like the Dalai Lama on a mountaintop, so Leslies on vocals aren't a new or unknown trick. One of my favorite musicians is Kevin Gilbert, and there was an interview with him where he was asked if he had any "desert island gear", things that he just can't do without in the studio. He said, "I'd be lost without a Leslie, I sort of use that a lot for processing." I just kind of nodded and said, "Hmmm..." so when this album project came around I started noodling with it on my own, just experimenting and seeing if I liked the results. I certainly did and so did the band, so there are lots of Leslie vocals on the album, which they now are never going to recreate live :D I had an old Leslie available, but not knowing that much about miking them and having some noise issues with it, I tended to use the Leslie simulator in Native Instruments B4 a lot more than the real thing, mainly for ease of use.

7. Overusing effects - In the 70s and 80s, a lot of new effects were coming out and people tended to overuse and abuse them. So, try getting something where it sounds good and then crank it up to 10 and see if you like it in a mix. Sometimes good sense tugs at you and says, "Yeesh, should we really use a Leslie on 90% of the tracks?" but to blazes with all of that sense! Do it! Overuse it! It's fun and you can always tuck it or yank it from the mix entirely later on. And you just watch and see if it does end up buried or on the cutting room floor, everyone will make comments about how they miss it or want a mix of the song for themselves with all of that overboard crap pushed up nice and loud!

8. Mellotron - I've been absolutely nuts for Mellotrons all of my life, from Strawberry Fields through Tony Banks and Rick Wakeman to again, Kevin Gilbert, I absolutely love the sound of Mellotrons. I prefer them to any sample and sometimes even over the real thing (of whatever sound we're going for), but I especially love to trick the ear by layering real violins/cellos over Mellotron string sounds. Where this comes in with vocals is whenever we had any big vocal oohs or ahhs going on, I'd tuck a layer of a Mellotron choir underneath them just to see what happens. Sometimes it would sound cheesy and fake and sometimes it would just lift the track up in the right way. Even if you don't like Mellotrons, using choir sounds from keyboards or samplers might do this for you. One little interesting thing that I haven't gotten a chance to try yet is the Jimmy Jam trick of sampling oohs and ahhs from your singer(s) and triggering them with a keyboard. You or your neighborhood keyboard wizard may come up with some arrangements that you might not have come up with otherwise.

9. The most important thing: Make sure that the inflection, pronounciation, timing of consonants and sibilants line up in your vocal tracks. The real key to making things sound bigger and more lush than they actually are is to make the backgrounds sound like one track, not a collection of twenty. It's just like a string section or an orchestra; if they're really good and playing together well, they sound like one massive instrument and not a collection of many. It's the difference of playing a chord on a guitar and having six guitars play each individual note of the chord... they impart a completely different sound.

10. Make sure your singer doesn't suck. Okay, I only really did this one so I could have a nice even ten
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6th May 2009
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Sometimes a like to take two copies of the lead vocal track, nudge one say, 15 samples and the other 30. I'll put a little verb, bring them way down and pan left right. Gives I a cool natural delay with out a delay plug in.
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I rarely have time to do all this, but for a big pop/rock chorus, I love having a lead and a lead double up the middle, 2 (or 4) more doubles panned hard, and all the harmonies at least doubled. Usually have to settle for a lot less and use some 'tricks'... waves doubler, etc.
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A while back someone posted a video of MJ singing a vocal take then taking several steps back and adding a a part, and so on and so forth. It's been working very well for me.
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6th May 2009
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Nice posts! I'll sometime add some distortion or the telephone effect as previously described nudged up real close to the prominent vocal track. You don't necessarily want to hear that track, but it does add some "excitement"

Cool! Have fun!
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Jalen rawly - thanks so much for taking the time to make your post - those are some cool tips!thumbsup
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9th May 2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcb4t2 View Post
Jalen rawly - thanks so much for taking the time to make your post - those are some cool tips!thumbsup
No problem, I've never been what one would consider soft spoken

Have fun!
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can someone please share more!
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Jalen Rawley - another Kevin Gilbert fan here. And I'm still waiting for the Mafia to make my song a hit!
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8th June 2011
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A few points:

1) With layered backing vocals, so much of it depends on the arrangement of the song. Some parts will just work great and some parts that you think will work great, sound horrible. There is a lot more to it than just singing 3rd's and 5th's even if most of the parts use end up using are made up of 3rds and 5ths. If possible, it's cool to make one of the backing parts more static (like holding a pedal tone) and have movement in a 2nd backing part.

2) You have got to watch out for a build up of lower mids on the layered parts. The lower mids do tend to build up as you add more layers and they can obscure the lead vocal and sound muddy. If your vocal mic has cardioid and omni patters, try singing the lead vocal in cardioid and the backing layers in omni as the omni will have less proximity effect and this will help. Otherwise you will need to eq the backing layers to control the low mids.

3) DON'T PUSH your voice when you are layering the backing vocals. Try and relax as much as possible. It will help the layers blend together and it will help keep you on pitch. A lot singers go off pitch on the backing vocals when they push themselves (some go flat, some sharp).

4) Nothing sounds as good as real layered vocals because of the tiny, AND RANDOM, differences in pitch and timing on each backing vocal track. You can't get that exact sound by just copying a one vocal track and then detuning or putting a delay on it to try and make it sound like a 2nd track. Even if you sit there and try and make the detuning and delay random on the copy track, it will never sound as good as a real 2nd track.

5) If possible, you will want to compress all of the backing vocals AS A STEREO GROUP to make them hang together. Hopefully you have a mixer that will allow you to do this as it's pretty important.

6) Don't go crazy trying to line up everything exactly perfect. It's worth going back and listening to the Beatles backing vocals, something like Nowhere Man (Rubber Soul CD) or Here, There, and Everywhere (Revolver), and you can hear slight timing errors in places but these help make things sound real.

Mike
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8th June 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cookie View Post
Nice posts! I'll sometime add some distortion or the telephone effect as previously described nudged up real close to the prominent vocal track. You don't necessarily want to hear that track, but it does add some "excitement"

Cool! Have fun!
+1

This one is really great. simple yet effective.

I like light and shade elements in my vocal mixes. It helps keeps things moving/interesting when heavily compressed/limited in modern day loud masters.


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#18
9th June 2011
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another technique

In the chorus you have to higher some frequencies of "s" pronunciation and send it to a reverb (find the setting) and maybe compress it. this must happen on a new vocal track, or not. depends on. Widen up this new sound to left and right.
It gives the chorus a very fresh feeling. But it not might work on every arrangement. The song "must be" dreamy and powerful.
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9th June 2011
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Singing to a click can work for singers who have trouble keeping time. Better to get it right during tracking, n'est-ce pas?

A chorus plugin can really enhance the effect on already layered vocals.
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9th June 2011
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When recording doubles do have your previous track playing? What does a singer usually ask for?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Fleischman View Post
When recording doubles do have your previous track playing? What does a singer usually ask for?
It depends really on the singers skills. Some singers are irritated, and others need it. And maybe another one dont need it.
But for filling gabs in the vocal track it must be played parallel.
(kind of simple, do what you and the singer want to do)
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9th June 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmikeperkins View Post
4) Nothing sounds as good as real layered vocals because of the tiny, AND RANDOM, differences in pitch and timing on each backing vocal track. You can't get that exact sound by just copying a one vocal track and then detuning or putting a delay on it to try and make it sound like a 2nd track. Even if you sit there and try and make the detuning and delay random on the copy track, it will never sound as good as a real 2nd track.

5) If possible, you will want to compress all of the backing vocals AS A STEREO GROUP to make them hang together. Hopefully you have a mixer that will allow you to do this as it's pretty important.
Great suggestions Mike

Further to this, you can gate your backing vocal bus off the lead vocal, just to tidy up the lead-in and lead-out
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9th June 2011
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When I record doubles I mute the original track if they are singing exactly the same notes. Having the first track on usually makes the second track off somewhat. Kind of like when people sing along to the radio and think they are the greatest singer of all time. Turn the song off or down really low and they immediately realize they kind of suck
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When I want to record layered vocals, I stack them by doing a take, get the singer to take a step back, and adjust preamp so the same level is coming in, then do a take, take a step back, adjust pre, do another take, as many times as required.

This also works well with strings.
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9th June 2011
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I ran ALL my vocals through my Digitech Valve FX guitar processor
Clean Tube patch, using the unheard of AKG C-1000 as my primary
voice and acoustic guitar mic.

The AKG may not be the greatest condenser on it's own, but
you pump that signal through a tube preamp and it can do wonders.

I also have some slap back reverb added in with my ART FXR Elite.

Blending these vocals took DAYS.

During the last minute, you can hear the guitar layers peeled away
a bit too.

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9th June 2011
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Try different mics (for character) when layering or tracking background vocals
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Ladd View Post
Try different mics (for character) when layering or tracking background vocals
Also, not only try different mics...try different KINDS of mics to pick up subtle nuances.

I use all sorts of experimental DIY mics for bax/fill vox quite a bit. Some work, some don't...never hurts to try.
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9th June 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmikeperkins View Post
A few points:

1) With layered backing vocals, so much of it depends on the arrangement of the song. Some parts will just work great and some parts that you think will work great, sound horrible. There is a lot more to it than just singing 3rd's and 5th's even if most of the parts use end up using are made up of 3rds and 5ths. If possible, it's cool to make one of the backing parts more static (like holding a pedal tone) and have movement in a 2nd backing part.

2) You have got to watch out for a build up of lower mids on the layered parts. The lower mids do tend to build up as you add more layers and they can obscure the lead vocal and sound muddy. If your vocal mic has cardioid and omni patters, try singing the lead vocal in cardioid and the backing layers in omni as the omni will have less proximity effect and this will help. Otherwise you will need to eq the backing layers to control the low mids.

3) DON'T PUSH your voice when you are layering the backing vocals. Try and relax as much as possible. It will help the layers blend together and it will help keep you on pitch. A lot singers go off pitch on the backing vocals when they push themselves (some go flat, some sharp).

4) Nothing sounds as good as real layered vocals because of the tiny, AND RANDOM, differences in pitch and timing on each backing vocal track. You can't get that exact sound by just copying a one vocal track and then detuning or putting a delay on it to try and make it sound like a 2nd track. Even if you sit there and try and make the detuning and delay random on the copy track, it will never sound as good as a real 2nd track.

5) If possible, you will want to compress all of the backing vocals AS A STEREO GROUP to make them hang together. Hopefully you have a mixer that will allow you to do this as it's pretty important.

6) Don't go crazy trying to line up everything exactly perfect. It's worth going back and listening to the Beatles backing vocals, something like Nowhere Man (Rubber Soul CD) or Here, There, and Everywhere (Revolver), and you can hear slight timing errors in places but these help make things sound real.

Mike
Great points, thanks!
#30
11th June 2011
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I had a good time panning each track to attempt putting the voices
as you might hear them in their virtual stage positions.

Also because I had so few tracks to work with back then, I was recording wet,
where now I try to make the vocal sound as strong as I can dry.

For a thin voice, it might help to double with a lower octave to fatten
things up.

Of course the problem with all this mad science is being expected
to have the same vocal quality live as people hear in your recordings.
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