When you listen to your favorite bands, it’s possible that you don’t consciously notice when there’s more than one vocal layer happening at a time – but you can rest assured that there is probably more than one, most of the time.
In this video, me and Alex will show you how the majority of modern bands layer their vocals in the studio so you can give your mix engineer plenty to work with so your song can sound HUGE!
The mic we’re using in this video is the amazing Lewitt LCT1040, a really unique and powerful mic system that utilizes both a tube and FET circuit that you can blend seamlessly, along with an infinitely variable polar pattern, attenuation, and a remote controller for all the functions. You don’t need one to layer vocals the way we do in this video, but it sure did make it easy!
Layer 1: Lead
The lead vocal is the primary part that the audience will be hearing, it will be mixed the loudest and everything else should support it. It can be one continuous take, or a compilation of takes edited together (comp for short). This should be your best possible version of the primary melody part. It will be panned in the center of the mix, front and center to all others.
Layer 2: Lead Double
The double is a track that is as close to identical to the primary lead vocal as you can get it, by performing it extremely tightly or by editing it. It will be mixed much lower than the lead, but it adds girth and presence to the lead and makes it sound more intentional. It’s also usually panned to the center. As demonstrated in the video, you can substitute a low octave double, where you sing the same notes but an octave lower.
Layers 3 and 4: Harmonies
Next, you can record your first layer of harmony parts. This article is primarily about the recording perspective rather than the compositional, but as I show you how to do in my songwriting course, the most important part of creating harmonies is observing chord tones, which means you primarily use notes that exist in the chords that are occurring under the melody at that moment. You can sing your first harmony as a part that is higher than the lead vocal, or below it, but usually you don’t want to cross from above to below.
Once you’ve written your first harmony part, you’re going to record it twice. Sing them as closely similar as you can, with the pitches, the pronunciation, the lengths of the words and so on all the same. I will usually pan them both center and play them back solo’d together to hear how tight they are, then re-record or edit as needed.
For these and all other harmonies, we record them twice so we can have stereo pairs so your mix engineer can pan them right and left to create a wide stereo image that will make your song sound huge.
Layers 5, 6 and Beyond
Here’s where it starts to get dicey to try and give you specific instructions – this is, after all, a creative endeavor, and you’re always going to pursue your own aesthetic for your music. But as a general rule of thumb, record stereo pairs of every part – and record everything in multiples of 2. You can record more than 2 of any harmony or additional part, but mix engineers are always very happy when you send them doubles of each.
For example, if you decide to record a second harmony part for layers 5 and 6, you can record it twice as I mentioned above, but if you want it to be even bigger, you can record it twice more – this is called quad tracking. You can record 6 or 8, but it’s usually best to not do odd numbers – I can guarantee you that your engineer will just mute the odd man out rather than have an unbalanced mix.
This will get you the meat and potatoes of the vocal part – this is the bare minimum that will get you a modern stacked vocal sound. From there, you can get really creative, add things like counter-melodies, scream and whisper layers, call and response parts – and some stuff the world has never heard before! I can’t tell you what that will be, so experiment recklessly – and as always, have fun recording!
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