When recording and mixing vocals, the more consistent the performance, the better the song. But a great vocal track or vocal stack doesn't always start that way. For example, background vocals, (aka BGVs) can be especially challenging because of the number of tracks in the mix which can often multiply your problems. This free tutorial will outline four workflows you can use to refine your background vocals and make them all-star contributors to a great mix.
Consonant And Breath Control
Hard and soft consonants like T's, P's, D's, and S's are critical endings to a word or phrase, but when you have too many of them in a vocal stack, they can run out of control. For example, when a lead vocalist ends a word in a T, it's not a problem because there's only one. But if six background stacks all sing the same consonant, you've got multiple Ts out of time. By asking your singer to "swallow" a hard consonant on a double and triple, you can alleviate the problem before it starts. Breaths at the beginning of a phrase may also present issues making the performer sound nearly asthmatic as they pile up in a mix. Cutting, pasting, or moving breaths using Pro Tools' layered editing feature is a great way to easily move parts around with minimal repair afterwords.
Blend And Balance
Because of the nature of human performance, every double, or triple take is not always consistent in level. The reason could be because of where a note sits in the range of the singer, the words and how well much vocal energy it takes to sing them, and even the singer's confidence in the part. Therefore its the engineer's job to level them out using automated gain from a fader, or using clip gain at the waveform level. First, start with pairs and make sure they're balanced left and right, then move on to the left/right stacks and their relationships in the complete vocal picture. Another important thing to listen for is an overabundance of energy in various frequency ranges that compete or muddy other instruments or parts.
Ultimate Level Control
Once your BGVs are tucked in and leveled up, its time to make the parts work as a group. It's a simple matter to make a BGV group using Pro Tools' New Track feature. A group gives you a central focal point for your BGVs and the ability to easily move them up and down in level in the mix. This is where you can add some sweetening EQ to add definition and carve out problem frequencies.
Verb It Up in Parallel
Because your tracks are grouped, it's an easy matter to add parallel effects such as reverb. Once again, the New Track feature makes it all happen quickly. In a single step you can create your bus, your track, and name them both. All that's left is to instance the plug-in and adjust your levels.
Watch this free tutorial to see all these tips in action.