How to use a vocal-double to enhance lead vocals

One of the toughest things about working with a lead vocal track is getting it to pop out, while allowing it to still sit in the track nicely in context with its surroundings [other tracks].  Every mixing engineer has her/his bag of tricks, but here are a few ideas to utilize a “vocal-double” which may help support and embellish the lead vocal track.  For this demonstration I am using the lead vocal track of NBC’s The Voice Season 1 winner Javier Colon.  Note that you can click on images to get a bigger perspective.

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Recording and Mixing Our Signature Vocal Sound in SONAR X2 – Norman Matthew [MURDER FM]

Hey world, forget your Monday-hate and dive in with me to make the first day of the week a little less sucky and a bit more murderous. Henceforth, it’s NorMonday. So if you find crawling back into the grind a bore, let’s get board–maybe a little chitty-chat about production techniques, tricks, voodoo, esoterica and sleight-of-hand. No blahs here, just blast.

MURDER FM has been blessed with some really nice response to our sound both here at home and the U.K. and the Cakewalk folks were kind enough to ask me to talk a little about the things that go into producing our sound. Hahhh! The real trick’ll be to shut me up, let’s get to it—hopefully it’s helpful.

The nuts, bolts and screams of “We The Evil.”
Coming back from our Sold Out UK Tour, I really wanted to push the envelope with MURDER FM’s new record, so when SONAR X2 arrived, I immediately went to work on using it to shape what would become MURDER FM’s heavier and darker sound.

I recorded the Vocals for “We The Evil” using a Cakewalk UA-101 as my interface into X2. Using a Nady condenser mic, I always track as direct and flat as possible, including no preamps for multiple reasons, 1.) I have the cleanest signal for optimal mix options and preamps will color the signal nicely, which leads to reason number 2.) Cleaner signals force me to have to be a better singer and really develop my character versus letting the effects and preamps shape my tone. It’s a bit more work in the end, but much better for what I am trying to do with my own signature production techniques.

Oh yeah, screamage. There’s a lot of textures in the vocals on “We The Evil”. You don’t “hear” some, but you “feel” them and that’s what I’m going for. It’s a lot more orchestral in the arrangement than one might think when it comes to creating “big dark vocals” that feel huge, but are still intimate. There are some lower octave vocal accents in the verses and lots of doubles and harmonies in the chorus to create that arena sing along vibe. To really make the screams punch, I cranked the SOFTUBE “saturation knob” about 40% of the way to get my point across!

Mic, pre and chain (or not).
Here is where I would sing the praises of the Nady SCM-1000 Wired Cardioid Studio Condenser Microphone. For it’s price, this thing is a beast and has yet to let me down. It captures my voice perfectly and really accentuates things without me having to going into a preamp. On “We The Evil” I used and abused X2’s ProChannel feature for everything I needed vocal wise. It’s such an amazing and powerful tool from the PC2A and Console Emulator Channel/Bus to the Compressor and Saturation Knob, it really gave me everything I needed for the vocal track and is perfect for drums and my master bus.

Getting my grit on: Not a perfect science.
For FX, I used VX-64 Vocal Strip. The doubler really helps the chorus vocals pop out, especially in the gang vocal sections and the Compander in the vocal strip really brings out the “throaty” tone in verse vocals, so much so, when mixing I cranked the tracked and could literally feel the grit in my throat in my stomach, it’s really a powerful tool. TheDeesser in the strip helps to clean up the throaty “s and p” mishaps. The “tube equalizer” allows me to bring out that mid range punch. I used the Delay within the VX-64 on my main chorus vocal help to create the hugeness of the chorus vocal by putting it just a tad out of time with the backup vocals and harmonies. That way, everything isn’t hitting directly at you–but more at slight little milliseconds off of one another, much like the natural movement of a choir…Too perfect is tooo bland in my opinion.

Scene of the rhyme.
All of the new MURDER FM record was tracked at my studio, THE SOUND FOUNDATION in Dallas. I’ve got multiple amp setups, drum isolation booth, a collection of different mics and all the latest Cakewalk plug-ins. One of my new faves for guitar tones is OVERLOUD. I track a mic’d amp tone and a clean DI signal for both post production and editing purposes. Heavier sounds such as MURDER FM’s tend to brickwall with distorted tones. Having a clean signal helps to view the transients gives me the flexibility to plug in anything missing in the mic’d amp tone to obtain the fullest guitar tone I possibly clean and avoid that “thin” one dimensional tone.

I told you—get me going and I don’t stop. But hey—God is in the details and I don’t wanna make him mad, so I spend a lotta time there. Besides, who wants to think about how far it is to the weekend when you could be thinking interfaces and plug-ins. ‘Tis the diff between a mere Monday and a NorMonday.

Testing the CA-2A in the Real World: Three Reasons it’s a Must-Have Plugin for Mixing

I was recently hired to burn the ole midnight oil and produce, mix, co-write and play just about every instrument on an EP for an artist out of NYC.  The record is pretty cool, definitely fun to make, and it falls somewhere between Fiona Apple and Taylor Swift.  Considering the genre, I figured it was a great time to try out our new CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier in the field and in a practical situation.

From testing the beta out briefly during development, I knew I was going to like the outcome of using the CA-2A, but what I didn’t expect was the versatility of the plugin.  I ended up using it on a lot more than what I expected.  From smoothing out vocals to arpeggiated guitars to piano tones, I really loved what I was getting from the CA-2A.  I also had the benefit of A/B’ing it with another branded Leveling Amplifier that I use, and I found the Cakewalk CA-2A thicker sounding in general and also more versatile due to the R37 screw [knob.]   Here are the reasons I found myself going to the CA-2A instead of my other comparable leveling amplifier.

1.)    R37 Adjuster on Vocals – This adjustable screw is interesting.  The physical appearance of the screw does not give off the importance of its usefulness.  Basically, this parameter allows you to adjust the compression on the high frequencies.  Since my other Leveling Amplifier does not have this adjustment, I always started out by keeping the screw all the way to the left (0%) and then dialing it in until I found the sweet spot.  The result was amazing especially on vocals.  I was able to always get a warm yet transparent sound but without the harshness on most of the “ess” words.  Since this project is with a female vocalist, I found it especially helpful.  I was also able to work the QuadCurve EQ into the mix and combine it with the CA-2A nicely.  By tweaking the hi-end frequencies on the EQ along with the R37 screw, I was able to get a more present vocals without any harshness.

2.)    “Limit” Mode on Bass Guitar – I’m not sure if it will be like this for every song, but for this track the CA-2A on the bass guitar in “Limit” mode was a magic bullet.  I always run the bass into its separate bus, so I ended up using the limiter on that stage.  I played the bass guitar (as you can hear from the track on this post) with a pick for this song.  The CA-2A in limiting mode on the bass bus really allowed me to fatten up the sound of the low end, but also kept the attack of the pick in focus.  It leveled out the attack of the pick hitting the string but also kept it present.  I had the EQ running on the bass track, and then the limiter on the bass hitting the peak reduction at about -3db.  I kept the R37 at 0% as you can see from the image.

3.)    “Compress” Mode on Piano and Whirlie – fortunately for this track I had the benefit of having David Cook (keyboardist and MD for Taylor Swift) play on the track – the guy is a genius.  I’m pretty much a hack at keyboards so my usual piano editing (to make myself sound decent enough) was not going to cut it.  As you can hear from the attached track, there is a lot going on in the song, so I had to figure out a creative mixing strategy to make room and carve frequencies.  To say that the CA-2A helped me achieve this on the track would be an understatement.  Using the plugin in compress mode on the piano enabled me to really place it in the mix correctly.  It also helped dial in the frequencies to get it out of the way of all the other things that were in the same frequency range.  To get the piano to sit correctly, I hit the compressor pretty hard, used the R37 at 50%, and then notched up the highs of the QuadCurve EQ.  I also used the Channel Tools plugin to give it some more width and depth and get it out of the way of the guitars.  The more I use this, the more I understand the importance of the R37 screw.  It’s almost an oxymoron, but by combining the R37 with the high-end frequencies on the QuadCurve EQ it seems like I am able to get a warm top end sound out of instruments.

On the rest of the track I also ended up using the CA-2A on some acoustic guitar tracks as well as one of the clean electric guitars.  I’m psyched about the performance and versatility of this plugin – instantly you can hear the difference wherever you use it.  I also think this is a plugin that would be a great benefit to folks who are just getting into mixing.  The simplicity of the unit basically makes it fool proof for obtaining professional results without a lot of technical worries – basically just use your ear and turn the knobs;)

Try the CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier for free

Thanks for reading and be sure listen to the mix posted below.

The song on this post uses the CA-2A on exactly the following tracks:
Lead Vocal track (Compress Mode)
Bass bus (Limit mode)
Piano track (Compress Mode)
Whirlie track (Compress Mode)
B3 track (very lightly) (Compress Mode)
Left acoustic guitar track (both mics)  (Compress Mode)
Arpeggiated Electric Guitar track (Compress Mode)
1 of the backing vocal tracks (Compress Mode)
Tom drums bus (Limit mode)
Hi Hat (Compress Mode)
Mandolin track (Compress Mode) (doubled – CA-2A only on 1 of the tracks)