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Recording “double tracked” vocal parts are simply two vocal recordings of the same part played back simultaneously, a simple technique but very reliant on the ability of the singer. Here’s our guide to double tracking.
Why Double Track Vocals?
Double tracking is used as an effect similar to a vocal delay, to add weight and texture to a lead vocal part and blend it into the mix. You could use this to add some substance to backing vocals – but unless it’s for a specific effect with its own place in a mix, the effect isn’t prominent and can get lost easily.
You can use it to highlight sections of a song, such as a verse or even shorter phrases. This works really nicely as it’s fairly subtle and your average listener probably won’t notice a big difference – just more ‘presence’ of the lead vocal.
The Recording Process
Most of the time you can just treat the doubled part exactly the same as lead vocal, and let the doubled part itself add color to the mix. If you want to add more texture and interest, try using a different microphone for the doubled part.
Recording the lead vocal part with a large diaphragm condenser mic, and then with a dynamic microphone for the doubled track will bring out different qualities of the singer’s voice, and it will blend into the mix nicely – ideal if you don’t want the effect to be too prominent.
In the studio, make sure that the singer can hear some of the original vocal take in their headphones during the double tracking, so they have something to match to. Finding the right balance of the original vocal against the current take in the singer’s monitors is tricky but worth spending time on, as it will make the process easier for the vocalist.
The Performance Process
You have to bear in mind that some some singers can double track, and some can’t. It requires the singer to very closely match the original take, allowing the interest to come from the tiniest differences between the two takes. To help you know if it’s going to work well, during the recording keep mind that the two parts should sound interchangeable (so you could edit from one to the other mid-phrase) but not absolutely identical.
This means your singer needs to be well rehearsed and know exactly what they are going to sing before they record the first take.
If your singer can’t match the original take closely enough, break the song up and use the effect to highlight verses or specific phrases.
The Mixing Process
If you have a great singer, you can use the double tracked parts at the same level as each other. Panning them centrally will give you a similar effect to a short vocal delay, and panning them slightly wider will give some natural width to the vocal part.
If you can’t match the two takes closely, use the doubled part to support the lead vocal. Having it a slightly lower level than the lead part will help the lead to blend into the mix, without becoming too distracting from the main vocal part.
[original image via Ibrahim]