Vocal Comping Tutorial – A Complete Guide to Comping a Vocal

Vocal comping can be the difference between having a decent performance and an incredible performance on vocals. In this vocal comping tutorial I’ll answer what is vocal comping, why you’d want to do it, and most important offer my personal vocal comping guide which I use every time I’m comping a vocal.

What is Vocal Comping

vocal comping

First let’s answer the obvious question, what is vocal comping?

Vocal comping is the process of taking multiple vocal takes of the same part, then compiling together an all around best take from those clips.

It involves a lot of cutting and pasting, not to mention paying careful attention to the details of each take to listen for subtle differences, but it’s well worth it for the finished result.

Vocal comping is one of multiple reasons to double track vocals (if not triple track them). Not only do the extra takes allow you to thicken out that vocal when blended in, but it allows you to comp together your dream take.

Reasons to Vocal Comp

Oftentimes when recording vocals, there’s not one singular perfect take even for a section of a song like the verse or chorus.

For instance:

  • A word or phrase might have been rushed or late.
  • Parts are excessively out of tune.
  • There’s too much dynamic range.
  • The energy or emotion is to high, low, or just doesn’t fit.

When you have a pool of takes to choose from, you can pick and choose the best parts from each, so let’s talk about how to do that now.

Vocal Comping Tutorial

Step 1 – Create a Blank Track Above Your Vocal Takes

I’ll typically begin by creating a blank track directly above the other tracks which I’ll pull the clips into and label this accordingly (like “Lead Vocal”).

Once you have your blank track, it’s time to start listening to takes.

Step 2 – Listen to Each Take, Focusing on One Section at a Time

I typically like to go one sub section of each section when comping together each greater section.

So if we have a verse which has four lines, I’ll want to make sure each line is perfect, and will focus in on each of these as a whole when comping.

Ideally we won’t have to get so ticky-tack that we are clipping in individual words from one take into another, but if we do then so be it.

Sometimes that’s what’s best for a section and the song overall; we may have one take where 95% of it is perfect save for one particular word being off time.

When you’re ready to listen, solo each vocal for the entire section (verse, chorus, etc.) one at a time and listen.

You can also listen in the context of the full mix, but I like to listen in solo to be able to pay closer detail to pitch, delivery, and timing.

You may want to leave the metronome/click track on with respect to timing to ensure that the part is on time.

Step 3 – Copy and Paste the Best Take (By Bars, Not Clips)

When you find the best overall take, copy and paste it into the blank track. It goes without saying, but make sure you paste the track at the exact same alignment.

It’s easy to get the timing off if you just copy the tracks themselves, so I prefer to copy 8 bars (for example) on my timeline rather than the clips themselves and paste it at the same starting location on the empty track.

Ideally one entire section will sound great all the way through, but if there’s anything which sounds off then you can visit one of the other takes and paste that in.

In terms of what sounds best, aside from the obvious timing and pitch issues, it’s just a matter of feel in terms of what sounds best to you. Regarding pitch, when it’s a single word which is off I might opt to just tweak that one section if the rest of the section is good.

When a phrase or subsection within the greater section off, compare the second or third takes for comparison to see if one feels better.

If it does, then copy and paste it on top of the comped vocal track.

vocal comps

Step 4 – Use (Short) Fades for Transparent Transitions

Getting the two tracks to flow into one another naturally so that it sounds like one is an equally important element of vocal comping.

Making a fade between two tracks creates the most natural transition between two different tracks. This is as opposed to just plopping the two tracks next to each other in which case you’ll almost certainly hear a pop or some sort of unwanted artifact of the awkward transition.

If your DAW didn’t automatically create a fade between the two tracks when you pasted the new one in, create a small fade of a quarter of a bar or so total between the two.

In my Ableton Live, highlighting a certain amount of time on the timeline between the two tracks, then pressing Ctrl, Alt, and F together creates a natural fade between the two tracks for the amount of time you’ve highlighted.

Because it’s two different performances, the timings won’t perfectly align with one word being slightly earlier or later, so you may need to pull more of the first track or second track so that the transition is more fluid.

Generally, shorter fades of a beat or less work best and are the most subtle and transparent/unnoticeable.

When a fade is too long, you hear a warbling kind of sound of the transition between the end of the preceding track and the start of the next track.

Highlight a beat or less in length on the timeline and create the fade, then click and hold the end of one or the other track to find a good, natural sounding break point between the two.

Also note the vocal may require some additional tinkering. This includes tuning up a small section which you can do by cutting to isolate the part of a clip which is out of tune then adjusting it independent of the rest.

It also can include part of one of the comped sections of the vocal being too loud.

In the above example, I’ve isolated the front of “39 12-Audio” to adjust its clip gain independent of the rest of the track, let alone the rest of its clip.

This saves me from having to use vocal automation in that section.

Vocal Comping Reviewed

Vocal comping is all about putting your best foot forward with the most important instrument in your mix: the vocal.

I personally use it all the time with vocal parts which are difficult to where I can’t reliably hit them in one take. As you can see from the image above, some of these tracks just focus on certain sections, and I can then pull them in as necessary into the comped vocal.

Remember that double and triple tracking vocals allows you to create a strong vocal via comping, but it also allows the added bonus of being able to thicken out the lead vocal by panning the doubles wide and dropping their relative volumes.

Also keep in mind that that even if you didn’t double or triple track any vocals, you likely still have three tracks (on average) for the chorus at least, assuming the lyrics or melody never changes on it which is standard for most pop songs.

In a pinch, pulling from your three recorded choruses gives you enough material to comp together an ULTIMATE chorus vocal take.

Don’t worry about reusing the same, comped vocal for each chorus. Huge commercial mixes do it all the time, and the quality of a perfect comped chorus outweighs the lack of novelty between them.

Also, I guarantee your listeners won’t notice.

Happy comping!

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