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Background Vocal Stacking/Gain Staging Question Audio Interfaces
Old 1 week ago
  #1
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Background Vocal Stacking/Gain Staging Question

Hey there all, just a quick question to help my understanding.

I’ve been recording a lot of background vocal tracks as of late and I’m running into an interesting situation so I’m seeking some assistance and guidance.

When I record I’m going straight into my Apogee Quartet, no analog gear in the chain. Going straight into Pro Tools. Recording levels peak at around -12dbfs for louder sections of the song.

When I edit the vocals I of course tune them with Melodyne and time align them using Vocalign to tighten the timing.

My problem is, individual tracks with no plugin processing sound great and clean. A person and their three stacks sound clean as well. However, when say 9-15 vocal stacks are all playing through my BGV Aux track I start to hear a overdriven sound.

Is that a gain staging thing or am I missing something somewhere? I’ve even tried turning down the tracks before they hit the bgv aux and I still get that sound.

I’ve included my full signal chain below if more details are needed. I get this sound whether plugins are initiated or not.

EDIT I've attached an example of what i'm referring to. One file has all BGV Stacks (9 total). The other file has just the soprano stacks (3 total). In Pro Tools the AUX is peaking -10ish. Even when I insert a trim plugin i get the same effect, This is with no processing whatsoever outside of tuning and time correction.

Since I’m usually recording three part harmony, the individual tracks are first routed to an auxiliary bus for their section “soprano” then routed to a main BGV bus. On the section bus all I have is the SSL channel to tweak EQ and as a gate. On the main BGV bus is just the CLA 2A and a De-Esser.

Lastly the “BGV” bus sends post-fader to a couple of effects sends (reverbs/delays)

Final step is the main BGV bus and the effects going to the last mixing vocal aux that has Slate VTM and stuff in the VMR.
Attached Files

EG Example all.mp3 (895.1 KB, 740 views)

EG Example sop.mp3 (895.1 KB, 736 views)


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Last edited by drumzalicious; 1 week ago at 03:55 PM..
Old 1 week ago
  #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drumzalicious View Post
... when say 9-15 vocal stacks are all playing through my BGV Aux track I start to hear a overdriven sound.
A harsh, hashy, almost pink-noise thing going on? It's there with all the tracks in, but it's not when you solo them?
Old 1 week ago
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
A harsh, hashy, almost pink-noise thing going on? It's there with all the tracks in, but it's not when you solo them?
I guess so. It’s like a slight overdrive/not really distortion sound but like it’s oversaturated but not going through any saturation plugins
Old 1 week ago
  #4
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Are you having the singer(s) move or change positions between passes? Or standing in the same spot?
Old 1 week ago
  #5
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If you're using Melodyne on all the tracks Its likely the artifacts loft over by the tuning process.
I get that when using Autotune on a single track. If I feed the track through a time based effect like Reverb or chorus the artifacts become quite apparent.

I've since quit using Autotune completely and the issue disappeared. I can tolerate a slight pitch variance. That grainy artifact is flat out nasty.
Thing is I wasn't hearing it when mixing. For some reason I only heard it after mastering.

If you're using autotune on 9~15 vocal tracks I can see that causing the issue to be 9~15 times worse then what I've experienced.

I did some experimentation on using the tuner plugin in a different order. At first I used it first and the plugins used after seemed to increase the artifacts.
I've done others where I put it dead last, after reverb and the artifacts were far lass noticeable. I narrowed it down to using autotune before reverb seemed to be the worst. Used after reverb it didn't tune as well but it did reduce artifacts. you may want to try it yourself.

I suspect the distortion comes from so many different vocal parts locking to pitch at different times plus any warble or artifacts are collectively blurring your sound.
Take all plugins off and get a balance first. Then you may want to reduce the number of plugins by using a vocal buss. This may help you narrow down the cause of your problem and most likelt improve whatever sound you're getting.
Old 1 week ago
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Are you having the singer(s) move or change positions between passes? Or standing in the same spot?
No they’re in the same spot usually to have identical takes.
Old 1 week ago
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wrgkmc View Post
If you're using Melodyne on all the tracks Its likely the artifacts loft over by the tuning process.
I get that when using Autotune on a single track. If I feed the track through a time based effect like Reverb or chorus the artifacts become quite apparent.

I've since quit using Autotune completely and the issue disappeared. I can tolerate a slight pitch variance. That grainy artifact is flat out nasty.
Thing is I wasn't hearing it when mixing. For some reason I only heard it after mastering.

If you're using autotune on 9~15 vocal tracks I can see that causing the issue to be 9~15 times worse then what I've experienced.

I did some experimentation on using the tuner plugin in a different order. At first I used it first and the plugins used after seemed to increase the artifacts.
I've done others where I put it dead last, after reverb and the artifacts were far lass noticeable. I narrowed it down to using autotune before reverb seemed to be the worst. Used after reverb it didn't tune as well but it did reduce artifacts. you may want to try it yourself.

I suspect the distortion comes from so many different vocal parts locking to pitch at different times plus any warble or artifacts are collectively blurring your sound.
Take all plugins off and get a balance first. Then you may want to reduce the number of plugins by using a vocal buss. This may help you narrow down the cause of your problem and most likelt improve whatever sound you're getting.
I was thinking that may be the issue. Each one tuned to perfection and timed to perfection. When layered and within a mix it’s not noticeable at all because of all the other elements of the mix. For my situation it plays a part because we use some tracks for live performance stems and it can be obvious when soloed.

I was thinking it may be a gain structure thing. Like if all the tracks peak at -12 my aux shouldn’t be showing it’s at -12? It should add up no?
Old 1 week ago
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drumzalicious View Post
No they’re in the same spot usually to have identical takes.
There's your problem, probably. Takes more typing to 'splain than I have time for right now, but move the singer(s) around between passes and the issue will probably go away.
Old 1 week ago
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
There's your problem, probably. Takes more typing to 'splain than I have time for right now, but move the singer(s) around between passes and the issue will probably go away.
Thanks I’ll try that
Old 1 week ago
  #10
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have you tried turning your BV Stack down?... you may be crushing your master bus.
that seems more likely to me than an issue of having your singer standing in the same spot. BTW i do a lot of RnB vocal production and the singer is always in the same spot unless we are trying to get an off mic sound.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blaine Misner View Post
have you tried turning your BV Stack down?... you may be crushing your master bus.
that seems more likely to me than an issue of having your singer standing in the same spot. BTW i do a lot of RnB vocal production and the singer is always in the same spot unless we are trying to get an off mic sound.


Are you speaking of the main aux where all the bgvs go? I’ve tried using a trim and I still get the same effect.
Old 1 week ago
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blaine Misner View Post
... i do a lot of RnB vocal production and the singer is always in the same spot...
I'm kinda surprised to see this twice in one thread. Used to be that moving your singer(s) between stacks was Recording 101. Back when the tape machines were steam-powered.
Old 1 week ago
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
A harsh, hashy, almost pink-noise thing going on? It's there with all the tracks in, but it's not when you solo them?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Are you having the singer(s) move or change positions between passes? Or standing in the same spot?

Quote:
Originally Posted by wrgkmc View Post
If you're using Melodyne on all the tracks Its likely the artifacts loft over by the tuning process.
I get that when using Autotune on a single track. If I feed the track through a time based effect like Reverb or chorus the artifacts become quite apparent.

I've since quit using Autotune completely and the issue disappeared. I can tolerate a slight pitch variance. That grainy artifact is flat out nasty.
Thing is I wasn't hearing it when mixing. For some reason I only heard it after mastering.

If you're using autotune on 9~15 vocal tracks I can see that causing the issue to be 9~15 times worse then what I've experienced.

I did some experimentation on using the tuner plugin in a different order. At first I used it first and the plugins used after seemed to increase the artifacts.
I've done others where I put it dead last, after reverb and the artifacts were far lass noticeable. I narrowed it down to using autotune before reverb seemed to be the worst. Used after reverb it didn't tune as well but it did reduce artifacts. you may want to try it yourself.

I suspect the distortion comes from so many different vocal parts locking to pitch at different times plus any warble or artifacts are collectively blurring your sound.
Take all plugins off and get a balance first. Then you may want to reduce the number of plugins by using a vocal buss. This may help you narrow down the cause of your problem and most likelt improve whatever sound you're getting.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blaine Misner View Post
have you tried turning your BV Stack down?... you may be crushing your master bus.
that seems more likely to me than an issue of having your singer standing in the same spot. BTW i do a lot of RnB vocal production and the singer is always in the same spot unless we are trying to get an off mic sound.
Hey everyone, I've attached an example of what i'm referring to on my original post. One file has all BGV Stacks (9 total). The other file has just the soprano stacks (3 total). In Pro Tools the AUX is peaking -10ish. Even when I insert a trim plugin i get the same effect, This is with no processing whatsoever outside of tuning and time correction.

thank you.
Old 1 week ago
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drumzalicious View Post
Hey everyone, I've attached an example
See what you mean. The stacked harmonics on those open vowels, the "our's" in particular, are breaking up badly. The Apogee shouldn't be an issue in this regard; you don't say what mic you're using.
Old 1 week ago
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I hear a frequency buildup in several areas - particularly around 700-800hz for the whole group, and around 1-2kHz on the female stack. Backing off the mic would alleviate much of it, but some corrective EQ could clean it up as well.
Old 1 week ago
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thismercifulfate View Post
I hear a frequency buildup in several areas - particularly around 700-800hz for the whole group, and around 1-2kHz on the female stack. Backing off the mic would alleviate much of it, but some corrective EQ could clean it up as well.
I agree - the OP needs to go in and automate each track before it his the aux bus - frequency buildup is just a volume build up at certain frequencies. It might be one track causing the problem - or various tracks at different times. What the OP needs to do is solo each overdub and then add them back in one by one until he hears the culprit, then turn it down - either with volume, or notching the frequency. Clip automation, with the line showing, is awesome for this, you can change the envelope of the note that's causing the problem - it might be a matter of reducing an attack, decay, or sustain portion rather than a whole syllable, word or phrase - you need to find where the build up is occurring and who's responsible - careful and methodical listening is the key.

Doubling and triple-tracking takes can be landmines for this kind of stuff - it takes a fine ear for detail and a lot of automation to correct.

Or, you can do what some suggested and imagine each take as a group in a different mic position, or room position - we sometimes do this with string and horn overdubs - we move the players to different positions to simulate a larger group. Sounds better, too.
Old 1 week ago
  #17
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Incidentally, though this is a problem as a result of multi-tracking and overdubbing, it isn't a new issue, and you'll hear plenty of examples of frequency overload on recordings before it was easily fixable - an infamous example is Joni Mitchell's 1973 song "Car On A Hill", where in the middle section (beginning at around the 1:10 mark), she builds up a vocal choir along with Larry Carlton on lead guitar - on the early vinyl issues, it distorted badly, in recent versions I've heard, it seems cleaned up a bit, but it's still there. Joni had a powerful voice, and adding electric guitar to the mix, just made it worse - it's an unpleasant and harsh distortion.

Old 1 week ago
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
See what you mean. The stacked harmonics on those open vowels, the "our's" in particular, are breaking up badly. The Apogee shouldn't be an issue in this regard; you don't say what mic you're using.
Mainly using a Rode NT2-A going directly into the Quartet. No Hardware in between.

Quote:
Originally Posted by thismercifulfate View Post
I hear a frequency buildup in several areas - particularly around 700-800hz for the whole group, and around 1-2kHz on the female stack. Backing off the mic would alleviate much of it, but some corrective EQ could clean it up as well.
Ok great, I usually EQ those to sound much cleaner in the end, however for the purpose of this post i wanted to provide raw tracks. As i said before usually within a mix its not an issue and its never heard. However these get used for playback stems and sometimes it rears its head.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sharp11 View Post
I agree - the OP needs to go in and automate each track before it his the aux bus - frequency buildup is just a volume build up at certain frequencies. It might be one track causing the problem - or various tracks at different times. What the OP needs to do is solo each overdub and then add them back in one by one until he hears the culprit, then turn it down - either with volume, or notching the frequency. Clip automation, with the line showing, is awesome for this, you can change the envelope of the note that's causing the problem - it might be a matter of reducing an attack, decay, or sustain portion rather than a whole syllable, word or phrase - you need to find where the build up is occurring and who's responsible - careful and methodical listening is the key.

Doubling and triple-tracking takes can be landmines for this kind of stuff - it takes a fine ear for detail and a lot of automation to correct.

Or, you can do what some suggested and imagine each take as a group in a different mic position, or room position - we sometimes do this with string and horn overdubs - we move the players to different positions to simulate a larger group. Sounds better, too.
I've gone in take by take and there's no exact track that has an issue at any point they're all pretty clean (accounting for editing artifacts).

What ive started doing is using just a single take from each singer and using those as the live stems and use the heavy stacks for the record since its not heard as much. I just wanted to make sure i wasn't doing anything wrong gain wise.
Old 1 week ago
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drumzalicious View Post



I've gone in take by take and there's no exact track that has an issue at any point they're all pretty clean (accounting for editing artifacts).
The individual tracks will sound fine by themselves, but at some point, as you unmute tracks and bring more tracks in, the summed tracks will distort - when that happens, you've found the culprit, the build up will occur because the sum of one or two tracks (probably at certain frequencies) will overload your aux bus .

What is your average level at the aux bus input? You should be running at -10db or less.
Old 1 week ago
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sharp11 View Post
The individual tracks will sound fine by themselves, but at some point, as you unmute tracks and bring more tracks in, the summed tracks will distort - when that happens, you've found the culprit, the build up will occur because the sum of one or two tracks (probably at certain frequencies) will overload your aux bus .

What is your average level at the aux bus input? You should be running at -10db or less.
Well that’s where I was concerned. Individual stacks peak at -12ish. When all sent to the aux the aux “says” it is hitting at -10 which is interesting and provoked my whole question about gain structure and summing.

I understand what you’re meaning by adding in one by one now. I’ll check that next time I’m in the studio.
Old 1 week ago
  #21
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if you have optimal leve for a pair..every pair you add you drop them all 3 dB ie root note dbled and a 3rd dbled.. drop all 3 dB ..add a dbl'd 5th drop another 3 for 6 total for all going into you aux return

plus i melodyne BEFORE anything else and i also bounce the melodyned vocals to an audio track called BKG ptch
Old 1 week ago
  #22
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Can you re-confirm what we are listening to in the vocal samples? When you say individual tracks sound clean with no plugins, are you referring to no melodyne/vocalign? Or is this all post melodyne? Be specific to what we are listening to because the explanation is a bit hard for me to follow.
Old 1 week ago
  #23
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yes, make sure you have bounced your tuned tracks to new audio tracks as Sigma points out, and that the instances of melodyne are then removed/made inactive (preferably removed altogether). Melodyne can do some crazy things if you leave it in there, even if on another track.
Old 1 week ago
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by latestflavor View Post
Can you re-confirm what we are listening to in the vocal samples? When you say individual tracks sound clean with no plugins, are you referring to no melodyne/vocalign? Or is this all post melodyne? Be specific to what we are listening to because the explanation is a bit hard for me to follow.
The tracks are post Melodyne. All Melodyne tracks are bounced and reimported.
Old 1 week ago
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drumzalicious View Post
The tracks are post Melodyne. All Melodyne tracks are bounced and reimported.
Have you tried either volume limiting (or brick wall limiting) the individual tracks before they are bussed?

Also, not sure of your melodyne knowledge level, but it will occasionally mis-judge notes - whose blobs can be still dragged around and manipulated but it adds quite a bit of grain and artifacts. There are specific ways to correct that, just throwing that out there.

As far as the routing, it was a little confusing but disengaging each plug and seeing if any are hitting the front end of these too hard (in chronological order) is where i would start.
Old 6 days ago
  #26
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I remember reading an interview with Mike Shipley where he talked about doing some massive vocal stacks for Shania Twain. Apparently the consonants build up faster than the vowels and this is exacerbated by EQ,

the solution in that case was that he had to literally cut out all the consonants and paste them onto a separate set of tracks and process them differently

my thought on this is that because no voice is a flat representation of all frequencies the stacking begins to accumulate in ways that are different from simply making one voice louder. My other thought is that doing something to an extreme often produces results that are non-linear and difficult to predict from doing that same thing to a lesser degree.

Quote:
When I edit the vocals I of course tune them with Melodyne and time align them using Vocalign to tighten the timing.
Tuning is going to create artifacts that will also "stack" up. Stacking doesn't "know" to only stack up the "good stuff". Any bad stuff is also going to be stacked. And over tightening is going going to make sure that everything hits right at once. Including bad stuff.

Brent Hahn's thing about moving the singer around is part of the basic principle of stacking. Which is similar to the principle of having 40 violins in an orchestra and not 1 violin miked up through a PA. Part of the 'charm' of a stack is the small differences between takes, timing and pitch, otherwise you could just paste in duplicates. The harder you tune your tracks, and the tighter you vocalign them, the closer you are coming to just pasting in duplicates.

Pretty soon your differences create more of a "flange" than a "chorus".
Old 6 days ago
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
the solution in that case was that he had to literally cut out all the consonants and paste them onto a separate set of tracks and process them differently.
Singers who do a lot of stacking generally know to ease off on the consonants after the basic or, after a point, not sing them at all. Surprises me that Mutt wouldn't be all over that.
Old 6 days ago
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Singers who do a lot of stacking generally know to ease off on the consonants after the basic or, after a point, not sing them at all. Surprises me that Mutt wouldn't be all over that.
I believe there were somewhere around 40 tracks of BGVs, so maybe even easing off wasn't enough.
Old 6 days ago
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
I believe there were somewhere around 40 tracks of BGVs...
Yeah, I guess there would be.
Old 5 days ago
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Singers who do a lot of stacking generally know to ease off on the consonants after the basic or, after a point, not sing them at all. Surprises me that Mutt wouldn't be all over that.
I've been on many sessions where the background singers didn't sing the consonants - once you've got a couple of tracks of good consonants, that's enough.

A sidebar: Back in the early 80's, I was recording a singer for a jingle I did, it was for a client "charles j gillespie's auto service". The background singer flubbed the " ..auto service" part and sang a different four syllable line - I can't recall what it was, but it completely disappeared when all three parts were brought in, yet isolated, it was an obvious clam. We left it in.

I remember it so well because it was one of those ah hah moments, a learning experience.
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