Chances are some of the biggest, fullest vocals you’ve ever heard in a mix didn’t get that way on their own. There are all types of effects and mixing techniques available to audio professionals today to create a larger-than-life performance, and one of our favorites is the classic vocal double – and it should be one of yours too.
Vocal doubling is easy to implement at multiple stages of your music production from tracking through mixing. A great vocal double is subtle to listeners, but as an audio professional, you should be able to pick them out when you hear them.
They walk that fine line of being noticeable enough to catch your listener’s attention without being jarring or overbearing. Like a well dialed in reverb or delay, they just seem to perfectly accentuate a voice.
What Is A Vocal Double?
A vocal double is exactly what it sounds like – a second take of the exact same vocal performance. It’s not a harmony or a background vocal – a double should match the main track as closely as possible. Your goal when tracking a vocal double is to get a take that’s nearly identical to the first.
Of course, nobody is that robotic.
Singers have slight variations in each performance, be it timing, pitch, or any number of things. These variations are exactly why doubles sound so great in the right situation. Like the harmonic distortions caused by saturation, the variations in a vocal performance will phase in and out with the lead. They’ll separate from the lead and come back to equilibrium.
All of this movement creates a rich, luscious sound that makes your vocal sound massive.
Where Do Vocal Doubles Come From?
If you have the opportunity to work with a singer for the tracking session of a song, your chance to start recording doubles starts right there. If you plan on using vocal doubles to cut through an incredibly dense mix (as many rock and metal engineers do), you can create those double tracks right there in your vocal session.
Work with your singer to add a double to the verses, choruses, or even just specific lines as you see fit. Vocal producers often track doubles alongside backgrounds and harmonies – fitting them into their overall vision for the vocal mix.
If you’re not able to be part of the tracking session, you’ve still got options for adding vocal doubles to your production. You can start by asking for alternate takes of the lead vocal from the tracking session if they’re available. Often, these takes are just as good as a pre-planned double, even if they weren’t recorded to the actual lead as a “guide”.
Rather than digging deeper into session files that might require pitch and timing corrections, many engineers today choose to go with virtual solutions like doubler plugins to get the sound they’re after.
Vocal Doubler Plugins
Vocal doubler plugins use creative, new methods for doubling that go far beyond simply making a duplicate of the track.
When you duplicate a track, you get an exact replica of the performance, which means you’re missing out on all of the greatness that comes from the timing and pitch variations. Your lead simply gets louder, not harmonically denser.
With most virtual doubling, you get some of that timing and pitch control back. Doublers like the Multiplier section of Howard Benson Vocals do this with ease – allowing you to increase the variations with a single Offset knob.
Check out this example from Victor Borba:
Victor goes a step further with some of his vocal doubles by adding LoFi effects and delays for a truly unique doubled sound – all of which go toward creating a more interesting vocal mix that’s sure to capture the attention of anyone listening.
Planning Your Vocal Double Strategy
Vocal doubles need to be included as part of your overall vocal mix plan. As any great vocal producer will tell you, getting a single good vocal take is just the start – it needs a full vocal mix supporting it to get the results the pros do.
If you want to get in the same mindset as those vocal producers, it all starts with knowing the techniques they use day in and day out. Our eBook, The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook, shows you exactly what they’re doing in their sessions and why they’re doing it.