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How to Stack Vocals

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When it comes to vocals, even some singers and rappers don’t know what to do with their own takes. Through years of recording artists, the best method I’ve ever come across for recording and arranging vocals was inherited from Epic Nation the Label’s Juggman Shizzy @entlceo_juggman and it goes a little something like this:

Take 1: “Preliminary Take” – Obviously try to get a good take, but this first take is more for structure than anything else

Take 2: “Double”- After you have a skeleton recorded (patch as many times as needed), record a “dub” take. The idea is, by keeping the skeleton on, we can get a take with more confidence from the vocalist. It’s reinforced by their own semi-mixed voice.

Take 3: “Main”- Record one more take, using the dub take from Take 2 as the new skeleton. Mute the original skeleton. Take 3 will be the main vocal, so try to get the whole verse/chorus in one complete take.

Now that we have a great main vocal track recorded, we need to spice it up by stacking takes.

Take 4: “Ins and Outs”- Add energy to the track by doubling the end of each phrase throughout the entire track. Alternatively, re-cut a full double track and fade in as needed, but this can get tedious.

Take 5: “Adlibs”- Sound effects, general chatter and talking

Take 6: “Adlibs 2”- More sound effects, character noises, etc.

You can choose to stop here, but this is a great setup for the mix engineer. You’ve got multiple takes to work with, in case a couple words aren’t fitting right, and you’ve also got plenty of arrangement material to work with. It’s easy to take stuff out later, but it’s not easy to capture the vibe again, so the more full takes, the better.

Now we need to mix all these vocal takes! The main focus of this blog post will be stereo imaging and EQ, so if you’d like more in-depth vocal mixing material, check out the Secrets of the DAW eBook!

Take 3 should be mixed completely mono. Gate, EQ dip at 400hz, 1500hz, compress 4-6db, high shelf +2-4db at 1khz, reverb and/or distortion sends

Take 4 should be mixed nearly the same as Take 3, but we want to make it a little wider. I LOVE using Soundtoys Little Micro Shift set to about 30-40% on ins and outs. It doesn’t make them super ridiculously distractingly wide, but gets them out of the way of the main, while blending in a great way. If you’re getting phasing issues, mess with the wet/dry, and consider taking out some lows 250hz-500hz.

Takes 5 and 6 should be again, the same as Take 3, but we’re going to pan Take 5 25% left, and Take 6 25% right. Now take a big chunk out of 2khz on each of them, and saturate to taste. I love to add a decent amount of reverb on the adlibs. If you can’t keep the adlibs pretty loud, you probably have too much lows/mids. The libs should be light and bright. We really want these out of the way of the main vocal’s body, so don’t be afraid to wash them out with reverbs and use drop delays.

Getting your vocals to blend is going to make or break your track. Panning and EQ is the most important way to get a great blend! If you’ve got any mixing questions, don’t hesitate to hit up the MASTRs on IG!