Mixing the Ultimate Lead Vocal, Part 3

Over the past couple of months in these pages, I’ve outlined sundry tools and techniques that excel at bridling dynamics and sculpting mondo tone for lead vocal tracks.

Make it shine with automatic doubletracking effects and reverb

By Michael Cooper

Fig. 1. Here’s a fat ADT patch created using the 2CAudio Breeze reverb plug-in.Over the past couple of months in these pages, I’ve outlined sundry tools and techniques that excel at bridling dynamics and sculpting mondo tone for lead vocal tracks. This month, we’ll tickle the troubadour’s track with automatic double-tracking (ADT) effects and reverb. Put these best practices to work on your money track.

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Double Up Celemony Melodyne Editor and Antares Auto-Tune can each produce fat ADT effects, creating the illusion that the singer sang the same melody twice for simultaneous playback. Make a copy of your lead vocal track and tune it, using either plug-in. (Auto-Tune’s automatic mode will yield the fastest results, if you’re in a hurry.) Then play both the tuned and untuned tracks together at mixdown. In most cases, the result will sound clearer and more natural and dynamic than a chorus effect fashioned from a modulating delay.

Reverb plug-ins can also be used to create ginormous-sounding ADT effects. The Softube TSAR-1, 2CAudio Aether, and Lexicon LXP Reverb Bundle all allow you to mute the reverb’s tail (a.k.a. late reflections), leaving only early reflections that double up vocals magnificently.

If your reverb plug-in can’t completely kill late reflections, try this alternative strategy: Reduce the reverb’s decay time to less than 0.2 seconds. Set the size parameter fairly high and the diffusion control (if available) very low. You’ll know the size parameter is set too high if you hear a significant delay between the dry track voicing and the onset of discrete echoes; if it’s set too low, the effect will sound too subtle. Also make sure your pre-delay setting is very short (no more than 10ms) or off. Blend the 100%-wet output of the plug-in with your dry track to taste. Voilà, your singer sounds huge! The inexpensive and user-friendly 2CAudio Breeze plug-in sounds fantastic using the above-detailed settings (see Figure 1 above).

Push Back Your Reverb Of course, there are times when you want to hear a reverb tail on the lead vocal track. In this case, it’s often a good idea to program at least several milliseconds of pre-delay for your reverb patch.

Pre-delay typically refers to how long (after dry input) it takes for early reflections to begin to voice. (The TSAR-1 implements pre-delay differently from other plug-ins.) A little bit of pre-delay gives the dry track a chance to voice without being veiled by reverb, thereby improving clarity and intelligibility. It also increases the apparent size of a virtual space: For every millisecond of pre-delay you’ve dialed in, your brain interprets the nearest reflective boundary to be roughly six inches away. You can bounce your lead vocal off a virtual canyon wall roughly 200 feet away, for example, by setting pre-delay on your reverb to 400ms.

But before you go Pink Floyd on me, consider this: If pre-delay is set higher than 40ms, you’ll hear discrete echoes when the early reflections voice. If the onset of those echoes doesn’t occur on a beat or subdivision beat of your music’s groove, it’ll throw a wrench into the rhythmic feel of the song. Luckily, the Lexicon PCM Native Reverb Bundle allows you to easily synchronize predelay time to your host DAW’s tempo, using any of 13 different note values ranging from a 32nd to a half-note. All of the bundle’s seven different reverb plug-ins also allow you to tempo-sync—to a different note value—the delay time that separates early reflections from the onset of the reverb tail that follows.

Break Out the Calculator If your plug-in can’t sync early and late reflections to your DAW’s tempo, you can calculate the necessary delay times needed for each and enter them manually, as long as your reverb plug-in allows editing those parameters. (This is only feasible for fixed-tempo recordings.) First, divide your song’s tempo by 60 to arrive at the number of beats per second. (For example, 120BPM divided by 60 equals 2 beats per second.) Next, divide 1,000ms by your result (e.g., 1,000/2 = 500) to arrive at the number of milliseconds one beat—or a quarter-note delay—takes at your song’s tempo. Using this formula in a song that has a 120BPM tempo, we can program 500ms pre-delay time to make early reflections arrive a quarter-note’s duration after dry signal voices. An eighth-note pre-delay would need half as much time or 250ms, a sixteenth-note pre-delay 125ms, quarter-note triplets 166.7ms (500ms divided by 3), and so on.

Go Beyond Reverbs Some productions— for example, those with very dense arrangements—don’t take kindly to slathering ’verb on the lead vocal track; it just makes the singing sound veiled or ghosty. Next month, I’ll show you how to use echo and multi-tap delay to add depth and ambience where reverb fears to tread. I’ll also reveal some hot tricks using other types of processors to give your vocal track its moment in the sun.