Processing Backing Vocals

Backing vocals are as important as lead vocals and understanding how to process them to best optimise them can be daunting.

Compression


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Before you can begin mixing backing vocals you need to prepare and optimise them so that they can be further processed with no side effects. This involves using corrective processes to remove unwanted noise, using tuning processes for pitch perfect vocals and using corrective equalisation to remove problematic frequencies.

Noise gate

To get rid of noise we use a process that has remained unchanged since inceptions. It is the Noise Gate.

A Gate is a device or plugin that behaves like a downward expander on steroids. A downward compressor processes the signal that exceeds the threshold. A gate processes the signal that falls BELOW the threshold. When the signal falls below the threshold it is attenuated or silenced. The gate opens as the signal rises above a threshold, and closes when it falls below it. How this is achieved is determined by the various features gates offer.

Once we have removed all noise from the vocals we use corrective equalisation to remove redundant and problematic frequencies. This is where we treat the boxiness and nasal effect of the vocals and band-pass the whole vocal spectrum to remove redundant frequencies. In music technology just because you can’t hear something doesn’t mean it’s not there and that is why we use so many of the industry’s visual aids to help us. The graphical display on the eq unit will tell you so much more than just using your ears. We can ‘see’ redundant frequencies even though we cannot hear them, so why keep them?

Compensatory processes

Compensatory or colouring equalisation comes next. This is where we highlight and pronounce certain frequencies and work the much valued air band.

Once the backing vocals are cleaned and optimised we need to add some dynamic motion and solidify the entire vocal line so that it sits in the mix. Using a compressor or limiter can work wonders in managing the dynamic range of the vocals and pronouncing it and sometimes going for a very coloured process like harmonic distortion can pay dividends.. In this particular video I opted to use a Tube Leveling Amp as I wanted to have some level of harmonic distortion imparted on the vocals. It worked beautifully.

In the video I show you how to use corrective equalisation to clean and optimise backing vocals. I explain dynamic range and headroom and how to maintain them in a mix context. I show you how industry professionals work the air band of the vocals and I finish off by showing you step by step how to use valves to warm the vocals.

Plugins used in this video:

FabFilter Pro Q3

Cubase Noise Gate

Softube TLA 100A Leveling Amp

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Gate
  • Corrective Equalisation
  • Response
  • Headroom and Dynamic Range
  • Tube
  • Amp
  • Air Band