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How to get thick, smooth background vocals - your tips and advice

Still suffering from thin background vocals? Suffer no longer - RP visitors offer their suggestions for the ultimate in thickness...

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A Audio Masterclass visitor recently asked how to get thick, smooth background vocals, such as those achieved by producer Mutt Lange on Def Leppard's CD, Hysteria. Here are some thoughts and solutions from other Audio Masterclass visitors...

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'Sing precisely in tune and in tune.'

Sorry . . I know.

I did enjoy your short piece on this most tricky of areas. .

I would raise but one thought...

I have been finding more & more frequently that when dealing with young bands. It can be a good thing to 'keep it real'. . In that, producing a recorded 'sound' that they can recreate on stage. .

Keep up the good work.

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Those are all pretty convoluted methods to thicken vocals. Not being familiar with Def Leppard I cant say what they did. What I do is pretty basic. Pull out some 2-3k. Most mikes have too much midrange in that area anyway. Pulling back on those mids makes sense if you look at the Fletcher Munson loudness curve. I also have a transformer/discrete transistor signal path that I use as instant thickener on some sources. Drum machines, digital synths, reedy vocals, single coil guitars etc. And then there is always compression.

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I have used a technique with background vocals as such: 3 singers facing 2 condenser microphones at about a 4 foot distance. I record one stereo track and then record a second stereo track. On the second take I switched the vocalist's positions (reversed their locations kinda like panning them). Additional takes combined together produced a very thick and smooth background vocal. I added some compression, a little delay, and a slight touch of reverb.

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I was using this method long time ago since the ADAT machines were used. I usually record the standard three background vocalists six to eight times with changing the speed to from -40 to +20, but still the main trick in recording a perfect background vocals is divided into two notes, the first is the background vocals must have an integrated sounds which mean that each one has a slightly deferent freq. range than the other so they would have a wide freq. range all together. the second important issue is that they must sing in tune and tempo without adding any pro. singers talents. I always find that background singer's performance is more difficult that the main vocalist.

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I was using this method long time ago since the ADAT machines were used. I usually record the standard three background vocalists six to eight times with changing the speed to from -40 to +20, but still the main trick in recording a perfect background vocals is divided into two notes, the first is the background vocals must have an integrated sounds which mean that each one has a slightly deferent freq. range than the other so they would have a wide freq. range all together. The second important issue is that they must sing in tune and tempo without adding any pro singers talents. I always find that background singer's performance is more difficult that the main vocalist

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RP summary - We like comment number three. Notice that the suggestion is to move the vocalists - not just to pan them. This will excite the acoustic of the room in a different way, which will add to the thickness.

We also like the 'keep it real' thought. Many times background vocals don't need to be thick. It's nice to be able to cover all options though.

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By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006
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