Working with vocals is a fantastic way for electronic producers to tap into a whole new dimension of emotion and connection in their music. This extra dimension is added through a combination of the vocal performance, lyrical content and the way the vocal is produced. As a producer, you might not have control over the first two parts, but the production of the vocal is your time to shine.
If the goal of the vocal is to create an extra layer of meaning and feeling in the song, then you will want some parts of the vocal to stand out more than others. More often than not, the part of the arrangement where the vocals need to shine brightest is the chorus. This is the hook that draws the listener in, the thing that sticks in their head for days, weeks or even years.
Our trainer Doug is a master of vocal production, and has recently worked on the track Botanical with Goddess911, a collaboration between Nick Littlemore of Empire Of The Sun and Al Wright of Cloud control.
He set out to create contrast between the verse and the chorus by using layered vocals. Sometimes layering up to 16 versions of same vocal. For the verses he kept the layers tightly centred
During the verse of this track, the vocals are given a more intimate treatment by keeping them more or less centred in the mix. In these sections, four layers of vocals were recorded singing in unison, and have been panned slightly to give a hint of stereo spread.
Then to give the chorus the contrasting lift Doug used even more vocal layers
When the chorus kicks in, the vocal becomes extremely wide, immediately creating an expansive feel. For these choruses, sixteen vocal takes were recorded, layered and panned across the entire stereo field, all the way from hard left to hard right.
If you listen to the chorus you can hear that the Chorus vocal has a shimmering and expansive quality, but it doesn’t necessarily sound like 16 different people singing.
In this song, the rhythm and tuning of the vocal takes was kept extremely tight to retain a direct sound akin to a single vocal take, but a more choir-like effect can be achieved if the timing and tuning of the layers does not line up exactly.
If you’re after a less “tight” sound, Doug suggests a few things to try
Recording each take at different angles, heights and distances from the microphone can also enhance this effect as each layer will differ slightly in tone.
The end effect is something that sounds similar to the results you get using a Chorus plugin – which essentially does the same thing Doug talks about here – introducing minor inconsistencies in timing between different versions of a recording to create a rich and layered sound.
If you want to try this effect yourself, there’s a few great options including Live’s recently updated Chorus-Ensemble plugin, Waves Doubler, or Soundtoys MicroShift.
If you’re looking for more techniques to try – have a look at our blog Six Ways To Take Your Chorus Up A Notch. Its packed full of tips for getting the best out of your productions.