Vocal processing notes
Table of contents
Layering vocals with more takes of the same lead (called doubles), harmonies and fills creates a much richer and fuller sound giving more energy and presence to the vocals in a track.
Doubles are two other takes of the lead melody sung in the same way with the same pitches, these are then panned all the way left and right and if needed can be chopped and ajusted to fit the rythm of the main lead. recording with a click track or the lead playing is really useful for these.
Doubles are kept quite lower in volume than the main lead and it’s good practice to cut their low end up to the fundamental frequency and dip their high end (around 5-9khz) and de-ess them pretty hard to get rid of transients and sybilans.
Harmonies are either the melody sung higher or lower than the main lead or just notes without any words that harmonize well with the main melody.
Fills (or ad libs) are shorter vocal elements that either accentuate a specific part of the lyrics by saying or singing it differently or fill in between the words of the lead, these can be really anything that adds interest to the vocals and make them more interesting. They are a good place to experiment with more intense effects too.
- Use an EQ on doubles to remove some low end and high end to separate them a bit from the lead and make mixing easier
- EQ the harmonies even tighter on the actual frequency that is being sung to remove a lot of unnecessary sonic information
When processing vocals with multiple layers, it’s useful to group all the secondary vocals together and apply an effects chain on the whole group while keeping the lead separate with it’s own effects chain, that way it’s less time consuming than tweaking effects on a lot of secodnary vocal tracks while still allowing to differentiate the backing vocals from the lead, the vocal chains we use are the same for both the lead and the backing vocals, their effects are just mixed differently.
All the following effect are also applied in a parallel processing way, which means that copies of the dry signal are created and the effect is applied to them fully wet. Then the level of the different copies (original dry and different effected ones) is mixed and panned to balance the presence of every effect and make the whole harmonious.
Autotune should always be the first effect on a track, for a lead vocal 20-50% of correction is a good place to be, for the backing vocals they can be pushed further since they are less present in the mix and we won’t hear the correction as much.
In the effects rack in itself, the first effect that is applied is compression, since this is gonna be used for parallel compression we can push the compression very far with the highest ratio. It’s interesting to create two tracks with tho different compressors on them and pan them slightly (2L, 2R). Playing with the attack and release parameters also help further shape how the compressed vocals are sounding.
After compression, a flanger is used to add some more stereo width to the vocals, good settings for that is a longer delay time and less feedback. This can be panned slightly to the side too.
4. Filter delay (slapback)
Then, a filter delay with only the left and right sides active is used as some kind of slapback delay. The delay times are set manually to be slightly different from each other and pretty short. Both left and right channels have a different EQ on them. This is panned opposite of the flanger.
5. Short reverb
A new track is added with a short reverb, panned to one side.
6. Long Reverb
To accompany the short reverb, a longer one is added, panned to the opposite side. Adding grit with various distortion effects can be really interesting on these reverbs.
7. 1/8 note delay
Using a regular delay, create a 1/8 note repeat, panned to one side.
8. 1/2 note delay
Same as previous but with a longer 1/2 note repeat panned to the opposite side. It’s interesting to add other effects on these delays to make it sound really different than the main vocal, anything from flanger, chorus, distortion and reverb works well.
- automating the mix levels of the different effects in different parts of a song can be a good way to make the vocals sound different and create a different mood in a chorus versus a verse for example.
- on doubles, use quite a lot of compression to make them more uniform.
- modulated delay and reverb, especially filtered down to focus on the low-midrange is really effective on doubles.