Double Tracking: Enhancing Vocals for Rich and Thick Sound

Add texture to a lead vocal or create a wall of sound with backing vocals. Elevate your tracks to new heights with double tracking.

Double Tracking: Enhancing Vocals for Rich and Thick Sound

In the world of music production, one technique that has stood the test of time in creating a rich and thick vocal sound is double tracking. Whether you want to add texture to a lead vocal or create a wall of sound with backing vocals, double tracking can elevate your tracks to new heights.

In this article, we will explore the various methods and tools used to achieve the desired effect of double tracking vocals. From traditional recording techniques to modern plugins, we will delve into the art of doubling vocals to create a captivating sonic experience.

The Art of Double Tracking

Double tracking is the process of recording a vocal part twice and playing the two takes together to create a fuller and more immersive sound. This technique has been used for decades to add depth, emotion, and intensity to vocal performances. The concept is simple: by capturing two separate performances of the same part, slight variations in timing, pitch, and phrasing create a sense of richness and dimension.

Traditional Double Tracking Techniques

In the early days of recording, double tracking was achieved by simply singing or playing the part twice. This required the artist to replicate their performance as closely as possible to ensure consistency between the two takes. However, not all singers possess the ability to perfectly recreate their performance, resulting in a messy end-result. To overcome this, engineers developed techniques to enhance and refine the double tracking process.

Recording Doubles in Close Proximity

To maintain consistency and capture the same feel, it is recommended to record the double-tracked performance soon after the original take. This ensures that the singer can easily match the phrasing, pitching, and overall performance. Additionally, keeping the microphone positions and ambiance the same helps create a tighter performance, with the doubles blending seamlessly with the original track.

Utilizing Cut and Paste

If the intention to double track was not planned during the initial recording, it is possible to find sections within the song that can be copied and pasted to create the desired effect. Most songs have repeated sections, so as long as the feel remains consistent throughout the track, duplicating and layering these sections can add thickness and variety. However, be cautious of using identical double-tracked sections throughout the entire song, as it may result in a lack of diversity.

Addressing Inconsistent Pitching

Inconsistent pitching can be a challenge when double tracking vocals. To address this issue, pitch correction software such as Auto-Tune or Melodyne can be used. However, it is important to use these tools judiciously to avoid removing the natural pitch differences that contribute to the rich sound of double tracking.

Creating Imperfection

Perfect pitch can also pose challenges in double tracking, especially on sustained notes where the two parts might merge. To introduce imperfection and prevent this merging, one technique is to play the singer's headphone mix through a pitch-shifter and slightly offset it by a few cents. This way, the singer will naturally sing the new parts slightly sharp or flat, adding a subtle variation. The original track can then be pitch-shifted in the opposite direction during playback to maintain the correct pitch center.

Managing Consonant Endings

Consonant endings, such as the letter "T," can create messy results if not executed precisely. To address this, singers can soften the ends of words during the second pass, allowing only the hard consonant endings of the original vocal track to be noticeable. This technique helps maintain clarity and prevents muddiness in the double-tracked vocals.

Fine-tuning Phrasing

When a singer's phrasing is not accurately aligned, most digital audio workstation (DAW) software allows for slicing the second part into separate words or phrases. This enables visual alignment with the first track, ensuring a more cohesive performance.

Additionally, elongated words or uncontrolled consonants can be shortened using volume envelopes, while individual syllables can be adjusted using time-stretching techniques. Dedicated software like Synchro Arts Vocalign can also be utilized for precise syllable matching.

Trust Your Ears, Not Just Your Eyes

While it may be tempting to rely solely on visual cues when editing double-tracked vocals, it's crucial to use your ears as the ultimate judge. Sometimes, slight timing variations that may look out of sync on the screen can still sound acceptable to the human ear. Trusting your ears ensures that the edited vocals remain musically pleasing and deliver the desired effect.

Emulating Double Tracking with Plugins

In addition to traditional recording techniques, modern technology offers a range of plugins that can emulate the double tracking effect. These plugins provide flexibility, control, and the ability to achieve double tracking without the need for multiple recordings.

Artificial Double Tracking

The concept of artificial double tracking (ADT) was developed by Ken Townsend, a former Technical Engineer and Managing Director at Abbey Road Studios. This technique involved using two different tape machines to create a delay time of around 100ms, resulting in a sound that closely resembled a genuine double track.

Waves Reel ADT plugin accurately recreates this effect, allowing users to adjust varispeed LFO rates for natural variation and randomization, emulating the nuances of a human voice. With the ability to create positive and negative delay times, Reel ADT opens up creative possibilities for unique slap-back effects and stereo field manipulation.

Vocal Doubling Plugins

Plugins like Waves Doubler and iZotope Vocal Doubler allow users to create synthetic vocal doubles by duplicating, panning, and adjusting the pitch of the original input signal. These plugins offer controls for feedback, pitch modulation, EQ, and output gain, providing a wide range of options for achieving the desired vocal doubling effect. While these plugins may lack the natural randomness of traditional double tracking, they excel in delivering clean, present, and wide vocals that suit genres like pop and EDM.

Processing Vocal Doubles

To separate vocal doubles from the lead vocal and make them more pronounced in the mix, various processing techniques can be applied. The objective is to create distinctiveness between the doubles and the lead vocal. One approach is to double or harmonize a lead male vocal with a female vocal or vice versa. This combination provides a unique coloring and thickness to the lead vocal. Formant shifting plugins like UltraPitch can be used to transform a male vocal into a female-esque voice, further enhancing the creative possibilities.

For rock or heavy-hitting hip-hop tracks, running doubles through guitar amp plugins, such as PRS SuperModels, can add bite and aggressive flavor to the overall vocal tone. Distorting and saturating vocal doubles creates a more aggressive texture that complements the genre. Conversely, heavy compression can be applied to mellow out the doubles, ensuring they sit nicely beneath the lead vocal.

Songs with sparse arrangements often benefit from filling the empty space with vocal doubles and spatial effects. Setting up a rhythmic delay specifically for doubles or applying unique reverb treatments can create a cloud-like cushion around the lead vocal. Panning the doubles wide and matching the reverb treatment accordingly adds width and depth to the overall mix. Alternatively, mono reverbs can be stacked behind the lead vocal to create a focused and centered sound.

Double tracking vocals is a powerful technique used to enhance and enrich vocal performances. Whether using traditional recording methods or modern plugins, the goal is to add depth, emotion, and dimension to vocal tracks.

By carefully considering timing, pitch, phrasing, and processing techniques, producers can create a captivating sonic experience that elevates their music to new heights.

Experimenting with the various tools and techniques available allows for endless creativity and the ability to achieve the desired rich and thick vocal sound. So, trust your ears, embrace the possibilities, and embark on a journey of double tracking vocals to enhance your music production!

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