Mixing Backing Vocals

Whether you want to create full lead vocals or a soaring choir - learn how to mix vocals the right way.

From grandiose choirs to a subtle backing for lead vocals - create impressive sound in your music productions with the doubling technique. The voice can be made more prominent in a complex arrangement by recording it several times. Doubling is a really effective technique to bring vocals forward in the mix. In this tutorial, we'll focus on recording and different positioning for backing vocals in the panorama.

Listen to this piece of music without backing vocals:

 

Now we want to add backing vocals to the mix in a way that makes them sound natural and that uses depth and room effects to set them apart from the main vocal.

First a very important tip: The more backing vocal tracks you use, the more mixing possibilities you will have. Also make sure during the recording phase that the timing of each background vocal take is precise.

Step 1: First we'll roughly set the volume of our choir voices and position the backing vocals in the stereo image using the panorama knob. We'll leave the main vocal directly in the center. Ideally the individual backing vocals should be doubled several times. This allows for more flexibility when positioning them in the panorama.

 

Step 2: Now we want to mix the backing vocals to position them at the back and give the impression that they are farther away from the listener. To do this we'll lower the high frequencies using a hi-cut filter at approximately 4 kHz. We'll also lower the dominant frequencies at 400 Hz and 2.5 kHz.

As you can see, we've also used a low-cut filter at about 65 Hz to avoid any rumbling frequencies in the bass range.

Step 3: In our example we can simply drag & drop this EQ setting to all of the backing vocal tracks because they were all performed by the same singer.

Step 4: At this point we can slightly boost the frequencies at 400 Hz and 2.5 kHz in the main vocal. This will bring the main vocal forward and separate it from the backing vocal even more.

 

Step 5: Now it's time to automate the volume curves for the individual backing vocal tracks. Switch the automation to Touch Mode, activate the volume curve "vol" in the track header and draw each curve while the track is played back. This is a great way of adjusting the dynamic to fit each part of the song.

In "Trim" automation mode you can make relative adjustments to the drawn volume curves.

Note: An alternative to using automation is to cut each backing vocal track into smaller objects (keyboard shortcut: T) and adjust the volume of each object.

 

Step 6: Next we'll create an audio subgroup which will allow us to edit all of the backing vocals as one unit.

To do this we'll route all of the backing vocal outputs to a subgroup bus.

Step 7: Now it's time to compress the backing vocals. Here it is acceptable to remove more dynamic than we would with the main vocal. Making the backing vocals less dynamic is another effective way of separating them from the main vocal.

For our example we'll use the Samplitude compressor "AM-Track" in the first plug-in slot of the submix bus.

Select the preset "Vintage Warm", open the "expert" toolbar and shut off the "auto makeup" feature. Now set the "output" knob so that you have a good balance between the backing vocals and main vocal.

Step 8: Another way to separate the lead vocal from the backing vocals is to use various reverbs. In our example we'll add an "Ambience" room effect to the main vocal through the AUX1 output and some reverb to the backing vocals through the AUX2 bus.

For both AUX sends we'll use the Samplitude reverb "VariVerb Pro" and feed the main vocal through AUX1 with the preset "[22] want ambience".

For our backing vocals we'll use the preset "[30] gospel choir" from AUX2.

Experiment with the "expert" options such as the "pre-delay" which defines the felt distance from the background choir. The shorter the "pre-delay" setting, the farther away the backing vocals will seem.

The "ER Tail" can be used to adjust the mix ratio between the first reflections and the reverberations.

Step 9: Make the final adjustments to the backing vocals volume using the backing vocal bus.

 

We hope you enjoy mixing your backing vocals.

The Samplitude team