Vocals are the core of any modern mix. It doesn’t matter which genre you’re in; unless your music is strictly instrumental, your vocals have a vital role to play.
Especially in today’s rock and pop songs, vocals need to be crystal clear and full sounding to reach the top of the charts.
Listeners want a vocal that drives the narrative and sounds larger than life. While some voices just have a certain weight and presence to them naturally, the majority of singers are going to need some tracking and mixing magic to get the results they’re after.
Today, I want to focus on using vocal stacks to achieve this goal. While we’ll touch a bit on some processing that may help you realize your vision, the main focus is going to be on how to create effective vocal stacks and why this technique gets such great results.
What does it mean to “stack” a vocal?
Stacking vocals in a very general sense just means having multiple vocal tracks in your session. When you’ve got two vocals playing back at the same time, you add complexity and density to your mix. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about multiple takes of your lead vocalist or your lead vocalist and background vocals – they all stack up to make a fuller vocal mix.
These vocals have two primary purposes: to reinforce and supplement.
Recording Vocal Layers
Use vocal stacking as an opportunity to support your lead vocal track – pushing it further toward the front of your mix.
To reinforce your lead vocal, track doubles of the same part. Two takes of nearly identical performances can stack to create something that sounds like a thicker single voice. No two vocal performances are going to be 100% identical and slight harmonic variances between the two will sum to a more present, fuller sound.
Some vocal producers will stack even more takes, especially if they’re working with a consistent singer. Be cautious though – too many takes can start to sound washy and start to create phase issues with each other.
The other way that vocal stacks can supplement your mix is through the use of musical concepts like harmonies. Recording harmonies and background vocals that vary from the lead will add complexity to your mix without taking away from the lead.
When crafted just right, a great stack of vocals will hit just like a chord on a guitar or synth.
Panning & Processing Vocal Stacks
Of course – these vocals all need to be placed just right to avoid tripping over each other in your mix too. There’s nothing worse that an awesome stack of vocals occupying the same space and masking the lead.
Instead, mixers need to spread their vocals out. They should be opening up the center for only the lead and the doubles that reinforce it while spreading harmonies and other vocal takes out to the sides. Check out this great example from Gerard Vachon:
Notice how each vocal has its own distinct role to play in the mix? It’s crazy what some panning and a great vocal compressor can do for your vocal stacks to sit them perfectly in a mix!
Stacked Vocal Production Techniques
If you’re serious about getting the most out of your vocal stacks, you need to start thinking like a vocal producer. That means taking both technical and musical concepts into consideration as you work. It’s a lot to keep track of, but that’s the reason a great vocal producer is worth their weight in gold.
To learn more about a vocal producer’s role in the studio, check out our eBook, The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook.