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Best Way to Double Track Vox?

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by rbf738, Jan 15, 2015.

  1. rbf738

    rbf738 Active Member

    I have been recording my own stuff for years and want to try thickening up my choruses, making them more powerful for more contrast and pop (in style). Whenever I do them, the two tracks of my voice tend to come off as sounding droney.

    Should I be dropping the second take til it's nearly imperceptible? Should I use reverb on one or the other? Should I EQ one or the other? Should I pan? I don't sing out of tune generally ever unless it's one note which just jumps out; I only mention that because I hear it can help if one is slightly out of tune.

    Any tips would be great here, thanks people!
  2. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Yes the best way is to sing the song with consistance and re-sing it with a preformance as close as the first one.
    But, for those who don't have time or expertise to do it. A few tricks could be used. the used of a very short delay is the most common trick used but there is a vast selection of doubling effects. I personnaly like the real thing or the use of delay(s)

    One other thing to do is to use two different mic/preamp setup when doubling.. It helps avoiding phasing cancellations.

    The reverb don't participate to the doubling effect. You should be carefull if you use it on both tracks because the voices can become unclear. Using a somewhat long pre-delay on a reverb can help.

    Slightly out of tune would be very close. I wouldn't worry about that if you re-sing the song. If you want to trick it with plugins.. a very small detune will help give the illusion
  3. rbf738

    rbf738 Active Member

    Good tips. Any input on setting the levels in the mix (ie one at the normal level while the other one is buried, or should they both be at around the same level (but dropped in the mix because together they'll be louder)?
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    If you really want "that" sound, you are best off to sing the part twice.

    One ancient studio trick:

    Avoid adding sound like S's , T's" F's and K's on the second vocal track... drop them off at the ends of the words... so if your first track says "This sad world is bent beyond belief", on the second track, you'd want to sing "Thi ad world is ben beyon belee". This avoids you having to deal with having consonants hanging over, or ending at the different times.

    pcrecord likes this.
  5. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    There is no rules here, do what ever fits the song and your taste ! ;)

    Personally, I think that a very well perform single track is more intimate and natural. Doubling could be added to some part of the song as a special effect, but I'd rather use harmonies than doubling.
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    It really all depends on what you are after. Sometimes the intimacy is what works best, other times, double-tracking can be a nice effect to use on choruses, bridges, etc. It's all song dependent, really.

    John and Paul used to do a lot of vocal doubling during the early Beatle years (until one of the Abbey Road engineers - Ken Townsend - actually built a device to do it artificially because John got tired of having to sing all the parts twice) and there are some songs, before Townsend's ADT device, where if you listen closely, you can hear where the two takes don't always match.... not that they are supposed to be an exact match, that kind of defeats the purpose of the process - but you can hear where phrases and words hang over, and in a few cases, where the words don't even match... LOL.

    The Beatles were by no means the only act that did vocal doubling - I think it would be difficult to try and count how many times it's been done over the years - everyone from Prince to Metallica has done the double tracked vocal thing at some point, although it's probably less frequent these days with the advent of the DAW and the various emulating processor plugs. Although, to me, I don't really find them to be convincing.

    I do quite a bit of vocal doubling in backing vocals - actually singing each harmony part multiple times to get 'that" sound, and I've also experimented with many of these plugs designed to emulate this, from Wave's Doubler to the Abbey Road ADT that Ken Townsend developed for George Martin - and personally, I don't feel as if any of them really mimic the sound of an actual double ( or even triple) tracked vocal.

    For backing vox, what I will often do, is to sing each harmony 2 times.. so if I'm working with a four-part harmony arrangement, I'll sing the tonic, the 3rd, the 5th, - or maybe even a 2nd or 4th sus or 7th - 2 times for each interval. I'll then pan each harmony interval a little bit ( or a lot, depending on what I want) in opposite directions from each other.... so I'll have a 2 parts for each harmony, panned opposite.

    I'll then route these to a stereo bus, add some overall EQ, some compression to glue it all together, and then a little verb to add the depth and "sheen". It gives me a very nice L/R image for backing vocals that I can adjust the width of by using the pans for each vocal track. I can go as wide or as narrow as I want, simply by panning those individual tracks.

    The result can be a lush, thick, silky backing vocal arrangement, that doesn't present you with the potential issues/problems that can surface when using artificial phase/delay/time/pitch variance - which is essentially what doubler programs use to mimic a double tracked vocal.

    Does it take time to do? Well, yeah... especially when you are your own background singers, LOL, but the final sound really does make it worth it. It works even better if you have a couple different people singing each part twice at the same time, with each overdubbing the same harmonies - having another person gives it more texture because it's not just you singing with you.

    I'm not saying I do this on every song - far from it - I have written and recorded many songs with just a single intimate sounding vocal, or wth a single, one part harmony....but there are times I will implement this more-involved process when I feel it is called for.

    There are times when emulation software only gets you so far. I'm not against plugs, I use them all the time. But, I think we've grown accustomed to reaching for an "do this now button" to get what we want - for instant gratification - as opposed to actually doing that which we want to emulate through artifical means.

    With all the bell and whistles we have at our disposal these days, I think it's important to point out that there does in fact remain some old-school methods that are still better than the processors meant to emulate those methods. ;)


  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I used to double track all my vocals back, today I prefer clean tracking with good quality front end and the less is more approach. Its a good way to big rich sound. I think we often like to dup thing to hide our insecurities. Sometime hearing things too real is discouraging in a world that seems impossible to reach, especially with limitations or not realizing how less is really a friend.. Even with less gear and talent, less is more approach always sounds bigger over duplicates to me. Delays are the greatest tool. Maybe I am hitting that age where I just want to hear it like it is.

    I'd much rather hear one good track with tasty harmonies combines with instrumental colouration over 2 or more dups any day. But, then one might think of Bohemian Rhapsody, a wall of sound which is a complete different approach.

    In the mixing role, I will 99% of the time, strip out dups and use spacial tricks to give more size and character over duplicating. Most people ask me how I got the mix so much bigger. I tell them plain and simple, they had too many tracks of the same thing.

    When I mix something, I first listen through it all a few times. Then, begin a process of elimination. Elimination as in, redundancy and problematic phase creators which are tracks duplicating something. Once I get the main tracks sitting right, I may use duplicates, (assuming they line up), to very subtly accent the bed tracks. (HPF, LPF)
    If they start swirling, I will fix those dups until they work or emulate something better.
  8. rbf738

    rbf738 Active Member

    Really great insights here, thanks for giving me something to think about.
  9. Lou

    Lou Active Member

    Another trick that works well. (if your recording to a DAW) Is edit your second vocal. Actually go in and Cu the second vocal at the ends of the word so that it ends close to the first vocal. then use a fade tool to smooth the second vocal out. Sometimes the fade tool works by itself with out cutting. But this technique can really bring a doubled vocal together
  10. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Nice one Lou.

    To add onto this,
    Doubling doesn't necessarily need to include the entire bandwidth either. I particularity think its a good technique to use filters on the dups. Exactly how we carve out a bass and kick. You don't need 120hz in every track of a mix.
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    vocal doubling can be a great texture - but like anything else, it's song dependent. There are times where a single harmony will work great... other times, as mentioned by Chris, with songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, it's the vocal layering/doubling that really makes it shine. This isn't really an engineering thing, per se'...it's more of a production and arrangement thing... and like any production method, it will depend on the song.

    If I'm working on a song that is similar in vibe to McCartney's Yesterday, I'm probably not going to add "gang vocals" a'la Mutt Lange/Def Leopard. ;)

    Yet, if I'm intentionally doubling the backing vocals, (or even the lead vocals) I'm doing it because that's the texture/sound that I want. It's not always about making it sound "big". It's simply an alternate voicing technique that will work sometimes sound great, and other times not. If you listen to The Beatle's No Reply, you can hear Lennon doubling his voice on the verses and the choruses. Yet, it doesn't sound "big". It's just a texture that works for that song.

    View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2_O4EegdNY
  12. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Just for clarification, I'm thinking the OP is talking about doubling lead. Chorus, of course its about texture and harmonies.
    My point about big is. People do tend to double leads all the way through a song to add size to the vocals. When you double the same voice, to my ears, it not only sounds smeary and almost unatural , but if you don't take special attention to the freq on the doubles, too much of a good thing actually does the opposite. Thus, you have a washy sounding lead in the mix that just got smaller.
    pcrecord likes this.
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I never doubled my lead vocal to add size, Chris. I doubled to add texture, a certain vibe - I think we can agree that there is a difference. My intention, or goal, was to perhaps add a character to my vocal that was reminiscent of Lennon - the youtube video above is a perfect example - and there are other examples I could come up as well, if I thought hard enough about it... but "size" was never really the motivation when I chose to double a lead vocal. It was all about texture.

    In Lennon's case, I think he was a bit insecure about his voice, and maybe he liked to double it up to mask things in the first track he didn't care for.

    For as much of a songwriting genius as he was, Lennon was, by all rights, a technical idiot. I've read interviews with George where he mentioned that he and Paul had to take John's amp out of standby - many times - when they walked on stage to do a show, because Lennon didn't know how to do it, or, would forget about it so often that it drove the other guys crazy - LOL.

    In the studio, he was very vague about what he wanted on his voice. One of his catch-phrases to Emerick, Martin and Townsend was "throw some ketchup on my voice, will ya?" That could mean delay, reverb, doubling...no one ever really knew.

    He really had no idea what was happening in the studio from a technical approach. He just knew what he liked to hear - but he couldn't be specific about how to get what he liked. LOL

    For the track Tomorrow Never Knows - arguably their first true psychedelic track, the last song on Revolver that ushered in Sgt. Pepper - he told the studio guys that "he wanted his voice to sound like it was at the top of a mountain in Tibet, swirling in the wind". Hmmm... Tibet... alrighty then. Mountaintop... Check. Swirling. Got it. Wind? .. Oooookay. LOL. In the end, all they ended up doing was doubling his using the ADT device that Townsend had built for them, seriously cutting fundamental lows, compressing pretty heavy, and adding some phasing and futzing lows and hi's on the last verse for effect.

    Now, having never personally been to Tibet, I can't say whether or not it sounds like John on a mountaintop, screaming in the swirling wind ... but obviously he was cool with the result. ;)

    View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spjcPS4ekOA
  14. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    doubling was used initially to mask sour notes. shelly fabares comes to mind among others. its a good way to make not so great vocals sound acceptable. old school talent augmentation.

    the way i heard the lennon quote was actually "F#*k up me voice."
    bigtree likes this.

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