Recording – Processing Layered Vocals
Clean-up Remove the spaces between vocals
to delete headphone leakage, mouth noises,
etc., then add fade-ins and -outs to smooth the
transition from vocal to silence (see Figure 1).
Insert a steep (48dB per octave if available)
highpass filter to cut the very low frequencies
where subsonics, hum, mud, and p-pops live.
|Fig. 1. The spaces between phrases and words have been cut, with fades added to create smooth transitions.
Dealing with Inhales Inhales are a natural
part of singing; however with multiple voices,
inhales often don’t occur simultaneously. For a
more unified sound, pick two inhales that are
in sync (or just one, if you don’t have two that
sync), and delete the other ones. Adjust the
gain of the inhale(s) so that they slide properly
into the phrase. If you want to keep an inhale
but it’s too prominent, fading in on the inhale
can make it less obtrusive while still retaining
an authentic vocal quality.
The Dreaded “P-pop” Using lowcut filters,
if you reduce the lows sufficiently to remove
the pop, you usually reduce the voice’s resonance.
Instead, zoom in on the p-pop (it will
have a distinctive waveform) and split the clip
just before the pop. Then, add a fade-in over
the p-pop (see Figure 2). The fade-in’s duration
determines the pop’s severity, so you can
fine-tune the desired amount of “p” sound.
|Fig. 2. The upper track has a major p-pop; the lower track had an equally bad pop, but the fade has tamed it.
Notes That Don’t End at the Same Time
If one note is short compared to a note with
the correct length, split the short clip just
before the last word, and use DSP to stretch it
(e.g., in Cubase or Sonar, ctrl-click on the right
edge and drag to the right). In some cases you
can split a note during the sustain, stretch the
end longer, and crossfade the split region to
make a smooth transition between the main
part and “tail.” This can give a more natural
sound if you need a fair amount of correction.
A note that extends too long is easier to
fix—just fade it so its length matches the “reference”
vocal, or split during a sustain and
move the end closer to the beginning, with
For a really uniform sound, group all the
vocal clips together and add a common fade so
that they all fade simultaneously (see Figure
3). This creates a super-precise vocal sound,
but as you’re not processing the vocal itself, the
sound is natural.
Busing I prefer not to mix a zillion tracks, so
I like to set up aux sends to send all the layered
vocals to a single stereo return. Not only
does this make it a lot easier to mix, but you
can also use a common signal processor (like
a bus compressor set for a modest amount of
compression) to “glue” the tracks together. A
bused, individual stereo output also lends itself
well to reverb, as the voices sound like they’re
in a common acoustical space.
|Fig. 3. Each word has been aligned to start at the same time, while a common fade time creates a common ending. Before the fades were added, each note had a different end time.
Is it Worth it? These tricks involve a fair
amount of detail work, but the results are
worth it. Smooth, consistent, polished background
vocals make an excellent bed for the
lead vocal while also giving it more importance—
and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no
more important element of any song than the