Doubled tracked vocals refers to recording the same vocal part twice and mixing them together. This gives that vocal part more power and presence in the mix, and, depending on how you mix the double tracked vocals, can achieve a number of different effects. You can feature them throughout the entire song, or only use them at points of emphasis like the chorus or on specific lines to add a little something extra. Let’s talk about how to mix double tracked vocals to get the most out of your double (or triple).
How to Mix Double Tracked Vocals
Before we get into actually how to mix double tracked vocals, let me stress the importance of getting the double as close to the original as possible.
The vocalist should listen back to the original part a few times to get the nuances memorized. Once they have a grasp on it, play the track and sing alongside it, trying to mimic every element of that original take as closely as possible.
Don’t worry about the two takes being TOO similar. Just by virtue of the fact that this is a new recording, you’ll get that natural stereo spread (I’ll get to panning in a moment) that you can’t replicate with just copy and pasting a duplicate (even if you vary the timing and pitch of that duplicate).
The closer the double is to the original, the more powerful and thick the two vocals will sound together. If the timing is off on a particular word or syllable, however, it will become noticeable and take the listener out of the song.
You want the double to be so close to the original that it SOUNDS like one single take.
EQing Double Tracked Vocals
When it comes to EQing your vocal double, the approach varies depending on how you’re going to be using it.
Generally I want to apply the same effects to the main and double vocals, EQ included. This is especially true if the double is going to be as loud as the original (I’ll talk about setting the levels for your doubles in a moment).
If you’ve got two doubles, meaning you triple tracked it, you might try high passing the doubles a bit higher than the main vocal (see my vocal EQ guide for more information). This helps to put a greater emphasis on the main vocal, giving it complete control over the bass and fundamental of the vocal.
Typically though, you can’t go wrong applying the same EQ you applied to your original vocal.
Compressing Double Tracked Vocals
Similar to EQ, we want to dial in the same compression settings for our vocal double(s) as the original.
If you make your compression too dissimilar from your original vocal, the double will begin to stand out.
9 times out of 10 we don’t want to draw attention to the vocal double(s) as it’s distracting for the listener.
The goal is almost always to achieve a blend and fool the listener into believing two or three vocals is actually one, albeit stronger and thicker sounding.
Apply the best compressor settings for vocals and move on.
Panning Double Tracked Vocals
The best way to pan double tracked vocals depends on if you have one or two doubles.
If you just have one double, you have two options. The more conventional approach is to keep them both in the center with the double lower in volume (more on this in a moment).
The more ambitious approach is to pan the original hard left and the double hard right (or vice versa). They’d be the same volume in this case.
This technique doesn’t always work and lends itself to certain vocalists and genres over others.
Christian Lee Hutson’s “Northsiders” is a relatively rare example of panning two vocals left and right. In that song’s case, it’s a tight double, but you can still hear the variations when you listen closely. The left channel is generally a few ms ahead of the right channel, and there’s breaths which alternate between sides which aren’t on the other.
They’re not trying to fool you, but this double tracked vocal mixing technique creates an added intimacy and immediacy on that vocal which works well with the song itself. It also adds a natural chorus effect (see what is chorus) which makes that vocal sound wide and full as some gentle acoustic guitar and strings fill out the instrumental.
It’s worth a try, but don’t be disappointed or think you did something wrong from a mixing perspective if it doesn’t work. Again, it comes down to the vocalist, genre, and song more than anything. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
One last thing to mention if you only have one double: don’t leave one vocal in the middle and pan the other on its own.
This will take away the power from that vocal that we’re trying to create via the double. This also makes the vocal sound as if it’s not coming from the middle which we never want.
If you DO happen to have two doubles/triple tracked vocals, I recommend panning the two doubles hard left and right, keeping the original in the middle.
This adds a lot of thickness and width for that vocal part, but it’s all about finding the sweet spot for the volume.
Best Volume for Double Tracked Vocals
Once again, the volume for double tracked vocals depends how many doubles we have.
As I just mentioned in the panning the original and double vocals hard left and right, these should be the same volume with this technique.
Make sure they’re EQ’d and compressed the same especially on this technique, as well. If anything is off, one side will sound louder than the other, destroying the careful balance between the two and placing more of an emphasis on one side over the other.
If you have tripled tracked vocals and do the hard panning left and right with the original in the center, I like the drop the volume on these about 20dB LOWER than the center on average.
That may seem a lot quieter, but we want to get it to the point where we can’t hear or notice them, but the second you remove them, you notice that vocal get weaker. That’s the sweet spot, so experiment bringing the side vocals up and down until you find it, but I find that 20dB (assuming everything else is a equal) lower is a great starting spot.
Copy and Paste Your Chorus
This is kind of obvious, but it’s an easy way to get triple tracked vocals so it bears worth mentioning just the same.
You likely have a unique recording for each instance of the chorus of your song. In most songs, the chorus typically plays three times. Therefore, you have access to three unique recordings of the chorus, and thus triple tracked vocals for the chorus.
Because the chorus is usually the only time I use vocal doubles/triples to help that part stand out and contrast with the single vocal on the verses, this works out.
Simply copy and paste the second and third chorus vocals as doubles for the first… and so on. Pan each one hard left and right, drop them 20dB, and just like that you’ve got that extra “oomph” for the most important part of your song on your vocal.
Fake Double Tracked Vocals (Duplicating)
If you ever want double tracked vocals but don’t have true doubles, we can duplicate our existing vocal and dress it up a bit to simulate and fake the effect of a proper double.
Simply duplicate your vocal track twice. Pan each duplicate hard left and right and drop the volume by 20dB.
Add 10ms of delay on one and 20ms delay on the other. Drop the pitch of one 6 cents and raise the pitch of the other by 6 cents.
Just like that, you’ve got doubles which are slightly off the time and pitch of the original which makes for a convincing double. And with the -20dB, they’re still buried enough to be felt rather than heard, so the need for a true double isn’t as important in this case, anyway.
Double Tracked Vocals Mixing Tips
- Double or triple tracking your vocals adds width and power to any vocal part. You can use them throughout the mix or just a choice moments like the chorus to add a little extra emphasis to that part.
- The tighter the double or triple tracked vocals, the more convincing they will be and greater the effect and benefit will be.
- Generally you want to EQ and compress your double or triple tracked vocals the same as your original to keep them as similar as possible.
- If you only have one double, keep it center with the original to keep the vocal right down the middle.
- You can also try panning your original and double hard left and right, but this technique lends itself to some vocalists, songs, and genres over others and doesn’t always work.
- If you have triple tracked vocals (meaning two doubles), pan each one hard left and right (keeping the original in the center) and dropping them by 20dB below the original (set this to where you can feel the difference without them rather than hear it). This adds width and presence to the original without the listener hearing the doubles.
- If you have three unique takes for the three instances of your chorus, copy and paste the two others per chorus and mix them hard left and right and -20dB to have instant triple tracked vocals. Rinse and repeat for the other two choruses.
- To “fake” triple tracked vocals, duplicate your vocal track twice, panning each hard left and right, dropping them 20dB, and adding 10ms and 20ms delay to each respectively along with pitching one down 6 cents and the other up 6 cents.