How to record background vocals

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How does the song build from beginning to end? This is an important decision. But at what point should they be put into the recording? In some cases, the background vocals come to the recording process with the song and are such an integral part of it and how it was conceived that they must be among the first considerations. These should be recorded at least as scratch along with or soon after the basic instrumentation and lead vocal. This way, any overdubs or additions take them into account, either adding to them or staying out of their way, and the rest of the production is built around them.

These instances are usually obvious. In other songs, particularly those in which it has not yet been decided what background vocals might be needed, if any, I like doing background vocals last, after the rest of the production is recorded and the lead vocal is finalized. I do this for two reasons: First, it may not be clear what the song needs until the end, and second, the background vocalist s may be harmonizing with the lead at times, and those harmonies must match the final vocal. I like to listen through the song, after not hearing it for a day or so, making notes of places where something needs to happen.

Did it work? Did it get better? Would something else work better?

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Would nothing work better? At what point in the song do you bring in background vocals?

14 Tips for Recording and Mixing Vocals - The Right Way | LedgerNote

Do you have them come in right at the opening of the song, or wait until later? When they come in, do they come in strong, or start out in a smaller way and build? Smart use of background vocals can be a great way to build energy as the song goes along.

One typical strategy for me when the song calls for it—and using a very common song form—might be something like this:. Since the bridge is often a bit of a departure from the rest of the song, these background vocals can often be used to create an atmosphere that is distinct, one that sets the bridge apart in a cool way. Now that the listener knows the melody, it may be time to embellish. These can be used to keep the listener interested, or add emphasis to particular lines. How close to the mic do you want your background singer s? If so, then use an omni mic to avoid the bass boom you get from directional mics at such close proximity, and take care to isolate the singer s in all directions when using that omni-directional mic.

When you mix these breathy vocals in, you may add a bit of reverb to help them move to the background, or add atmosphere.

Background vocals like these can often sit close to the lead, sharing similar effects with the lead, and be very effective. If, on the other hand, you are trying to capture big, full-voiced background vocals, allow your singer to move back off of the mic and belt it out. Allow a bit of the room sound to get into the recording. This can add some authenticity and a cool vibe. As the producer, it falls on you to let the vocalist s know what to do. Most performers need the benefit of another set of ears. In the control room, you have a better perspective than those singing.

Sometimes a bit less vibrato or none can help. Feeding them some notes, suggestions on vibe, and rhythmical ideas, and then hearing what they do with those can be a good strategy. One will suffice, better than three conflicting ones. Doubling any vocal, lead or background, can add girth and vibe. Doubling background vocals can give them a fatness that is very satisfying. But it can also make a production sound very different, and in some cases too big!

The back end—mixing them in

The best way to figure out whether it will work to double the vocals is to try it. There are fully harmonized lyrics in the bridges and some harmonies in the last verse. But the choruses are only a doubled melody vocal! Way cool. Doubling, tripling, quadrupling and more can work great. In these cases, it can be effective to have your singers change their voice a bit from take to take, use falsetto on one or two, move their voice back or forward in their throat, or swap mics between takes.

Enough said.

An RP visitor wonders how he can get thick, smooth background vocals like producer Mutt Lange.

This is especially true in songs with fewer vocals, like just a lead vocal and one harmony. But this can clash badly with the chords and make things sound less than stellar. In some cases, changing the harmony up or down a half tone or so outside of that parallel third is necessary. But you may need to alter notes here and there to be sure all is well.

As the harmonies move through the verses, they are not completely parallel to the melody, but rather move with the chords—to the extent that when the song starts a cappella the chords are all there! In particular, check out the lower harmony in the verses! For an example in a completely different style, listen to almost any Gillian Welch song.

David Rawlings, her brilliant guitarist and harmony singer, is a master at picking out the right harmony notes to match the melody and the chords, also to add meaning, emphasize a word, phrase or note, and just to make the song more interesting. The voice is an amazing instrument. And it can be used in so many ways. Oos and ahhs can add something wonderful to verses or choruses.

Getting Started With Backing Vocals

Listen to the harmonies used. Listen to where they come in! Doing big doubled oos and ahhs make a great pad in the right song. But unlike any other instrument they can include lyrics, and not necessarily the same ones the lead is singing, which makes them a great tool! Adding harmonies to the lead vocal, singing the same lyrics at the same time, as we all know, sounds awesome.

This type of backing vocal should be coupled with a little bit of reverb, so make sure you try adding it to both the high octave or low octave backing vocal parts to get the best sound for your track. Pop acts and even Bono from U2 use this recording technique constantly.

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Through the use of a myriad of different voices, the chorus hook really stands out and gives the entire track a party vibe. Fear not though — you can achieve this great effect simply by getting your bandmates involved or even recording yourself in different parts of the room singing the line or hook you want to record. View a complete range of recording equipment over at the Dawsons website. Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media.

Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer. Skip to content. Search for:. Backing Vocal Octaves Another great way of adding weight to your lead vocals, especially during the chorus it to duplicate the lead vocal an octave up or down. Lee Glynn.

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