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Fatten up your vocals with double tracking

Vocal too thin? Then reach for a plug-in. Or maybe there's another way...

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It's easy to think that everything that you can do creatively in recording and production needs a plug-in.

So for a thin-sounding vocal, you could add EQ, compression, delay, reverb, or harmonic enhancement using any of the several hundred plug-ins that are available in your DAW.

OK maybe I exaggerate the number of plug-ins anyone has, but who these days doesn't have masses more plug-ins than they need? Or perhaps know how to use.

But there is another time-tested way to thicken a vocal that doesn't need a plug-in. More than that, there is no plug-in that can sound the same. Some make an approach towards a similar sound, but there's nothing quite as good as...

Double tracking

I mean double tracking done the traditional way. Record the vocal, then record it again. Hiphop producers do this a lot, but in other styles of music double tracking is largely forgotten.

This sounds weird on the surface. Your singer has one voice. Why would you want him or her to have two, almost as though they had two sets of lungs, vocal folds and mouths?

Well the thing is, somehow it just sounds good. The small random pitch and timing variations add thickness, life and sparkle to an otherwise plain vocal.

In my opinion this technique works best with an average vocalist. Someone who is really good already doesn't seem to get any better.

But since most of us are mediocre singers, especially myself, this technique is a great thing to be able to use.

How to do it

Well this is easy. Just record the vocal twice. But there are a few points of finesse...

  • The vocalist will find the double easier if they can hear their original vocal while they record.
  • The vocalist will find it hard to differentiate between the first vocal and what they are currently singing, so it's good to pan the first vocal to one side, and lower its level.
  • Sounds like 't' and 'd' are difficult to synchronize, so the singer should under emphasize them, or not sing them at all, on the double. The same applies to 's' sounds.
  • There is a fine line between too synchronized and too unsynchronized. This is a subjective matter that the producer should consider.
  • The power of the DAW can usually correct any errors.

To this list, I would add that using Auto-Tune or any similar pitch correction software changes the effect drastically. For normal double tracking you either shouldn't use it, or use it on just one one track. But for a special effect then if you like it, then go for it.

Summary

Double tracking is an extremely interesting effect and apart from rap and hiphop it is often underestimated and under-utilized.

While some plug-ins can achieve a similar effect, it isn't the same and lacks richness in comparison.

Although double tracking is easy technically, there are some points that need attention, listed above.

By the way

Double tracking can work well for instruments too. A double tracked electric guitar can be a particularly interesting sound.

Double tracking is covered in detail in the Audio Masterclass Professional Course in Reverb & Effects in Component 11.1.1

By David Mellor Wednesday March 14, 2018
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