Posts Tagged ‘ Doubletracking ’

How awesome is doubletracking?

It’s pretty awesome.

Which is why it’s used so much. Chances are, you probably use it yourself. Doubletracking makes things sound bigger and thicker. Who wouldn’t want that?

Do I need to count the ways?

  • Guitars. Especially overdriven guitars. And distorted guitars. And overdriven distorted guitars. The more the merrier. And by ‘merrier’, I mean BRUTALLER. Bonus points for tracking each layer with a slight variation – pickup selector, amp EQ, speaker, mic position, etc.
  • Synths. See that ‘unison’ button hidden in the corner? Yeah, that. Try to use enough detuning that it doesn’t just sound like a big silly flanger. But don’t use so much that your sound is an angry swarm of bees. Unless you like that sound. Bonus points for adding a sub oscillator in there somewhere. And distortion. Don’t forget distortion.
  • Strings. Solo violin vs string ensemble. Need I say more? Bonus points for actually knowing how to score for a string ensemble. Bedroom ‘producers’ who haven’t had any theory lessons in their life, I’m looking at you.
  • Claps. Where would hip hop be without ridiculous unison claps? Doubletracking giant claps is like doubletracking giant baggy shorts. Too much is never enough. Bonus points for running the clap stack through a stereo ring modulator with a square wave carrier. And distortion. Don’t forget distortion.
  • Backing vocals. Do it. I usually hate doubletracked lead vocals, but it’s wonderful on backing vocals. Bonus points for compressing each layer individually but EQing them at a group. And distortion.

On the other hand, doubletracking diffuses the sound as well. Doubletracking will make your instrument sound more blurry and indistinct. It reduces clarity. That’s awesome when you want your double tracked instrument to be a supporting part in the background (or middle ground). Giant walls of guitars fill all the frequency gaps left by the vocals and drums. Unison is a great way of softening synth pads and rhythmic comps.

When isn’t it awesome? Probably any time you want the instrument to be front and centre. Of course, there are some stylistic exceptions (have you ever heard a trance lead that wasn’t¬†massively detuned?) but generally doubletracking will push a sound further towards the background, and that’s often not something you’ll want to do for a foreground instrument.


Alternatives to reverb

Reverb adds two properties to sounds – diffusion and depth. While there are many ways of changing the balance between diffusion and depth, there are times when a more extreme approach is required. Reverb may not be the best solution if a sound needs a lot of diffusion but very little depth, or a lot of depth but very little diffusion.

More diffusion, less depth

Diffusion is a way of blurring a sound, reducing its sharpness or distinction. A sound may need to be diffused if it needs to be pushed to the background or to fit it into a mix that is generally quite diffuse. This might need to be done in a way that doesn’t add depth if the background of the mix requires a lot of clarity or if the mix is meant to be very shallow.

In these situations, processes such as chorus, microshifting, slap delay or even true doubletracking can be appropriate.

  • Chorus diffuses the sound by adding a copy with constantly-changing pitch and timing. This can be appropriate if the sound will benefit from the added movement and the constantly-changing pitch is not distracting.
  • For situations when the movement or pitch modulation are not appropriate, microshifting might be a better solution. This is commonly implemented as a pitch shift of a few cents down on one side of the stereo space and a pitch shift of a few cents up on the other side of the stereo space. This can give a very big sound that stretches across the stereo space, but doesn’t have the modulated sound that chorus adds, and doesn’t have the added depth or tail that reverb adds.
  • Slap delay is shorthand for any quick delay with a delay time roughly between 30ms and 150ms. The delay time should be determined by the nature of the sound – the delay time and level should be set so that the delayed sound blends smoothly with the original sound. Slap delay can be useful when a sound needs less diffusion and more depth than chorus or microshifting, but not as much depth as a reverb might add.
  • True doubletracking is a process of using two ¬†different takes of the same part being played simultaneously. The natural, human variations between the two takes will make them slightly different – different enough to create a different sound when both takes are combined. This is a popular technique for guitars and vocals because it can be used to create a very big sound while still sounding much more natural than applying chorus or microshifting.

Depth, no diffusion

Depth is a sense of distance – particularly a distance between the foreground and background of the mix. A shallow mix will have very little distance between the foreground and background, a deep mix will have a lot of distance between the foreground and background. Usually sounds are pushed to the background by adding both depth and diffusion, but in some cases it is useful to add depth without diffusion. A mix might need to be very deep, but also very sharp and clear (which would require diffusion to be minimised). In other cases,a mix might already be quite diffuse, and depth has to be created by using more obvious means (because regular reverb would be lost in the general diffusion of the mix).

In these situations, delay is often the most appropriate tool. Longer delays (>150ms) should work best. When tuning a delay for depth, rather than rhythmic complexity, it’s often worthwhile tuning it by ear instead of snapping to the song’s tempo. The sense of depth will come from hearing the echos between the notes. This may be difficult if a tempo delay is causing the echos to be perfectly timed to sound underneath foreground elements (so that the background echos are masked by the foreground elements). Making the delay more audible by tuning it in between tempo times will also allow the delay to be at a lower volume. This will enhance the sense of depth in the mix.


Backing Vocals

Recording backing vocals is a little different to recording the lead vocals. Rather than recording them forwards, then backwards, then forwards, I simply record them one section at a time – typically four or six takes for each part. I prefer a combination of syncronised harmony vocals (in time and harmony with the lead vocal) and unsynchronised ‘call and response’-type backing vocals (with different timing and rhythm to the lead vocal).

For bigger backing vocals, I’ll take the two best takes for each part, and pan them hardleft and hardright. The natural variance in intonation gives the part a very wide sound without being messy. It also sounds much more natural than using a single take and making widening it using artificial processes (such as delays or pitch shifting). When I want even more voices, I record different harmony parts and apply the same process. Sometimes I’ll go as many as three parts deep. This results in six total harmony tracks – three on each side.

The trick with harmony vocals is to go easy on intonation correction. Whether you use Autotune, Melodyne, GSnap, or something else, find a way to use it extremely subtly. The more in-tune the backing vocals are, the smaller the total effect is. Your job is to balance correctness with size. I find even correcting the vocals 50% has a significant effect – often too much! A lot of the time I’m happy to keep the backing vocals untuned, or tune one side and keep the other untuned. So long as the singer can sing reasonably well, it shouldn’t be too detrimental to the song. If the lead vocal is appropriately in tune, the backing vocals only need to add size and thickness.

On the other hand, if the lead vocal is weak (tuned or not), the backing vocals benefit from being much more in tune. In this situation, the backing vocals serve as a support for the vocal (and should be mixed appropriately).


Vocal doubling

Sometimes people talk about making a lead vocal sound thicker by “doubling” it – copying the track and applying some subtle effect to the copy (such as delay or pitch shift), and then sometimes panning the two tracks opposite each other.

Personally I never use such doubling tricks – if I want to emphasise the vocals in a particular section I’ll either add backing vocals (usually harmony, but occasionally unison), or copy the vocal to a new track and add a longer delay – to add depth rather than density.

Personally, most doubling tricks just sound like gimmicks to me. Sometimes if I really want a unison double and the singer isn’t around anymore I’ll use some of the other takes (with editing/correction if necessary). However, if you really want a unison double AND your singer isn’t around anymore AND you only got one take (ie, you can’t use the additional takes as doubles – which I recommend doing if you can) then your options are limited. Whatever you do it’ll still sound like a single take, a single performance.