Here’s what you need to know about vocal doubles and why they may actually be ruining your recordings.
What are vocal doubles?
Vocal doubles are when you record a vocal track and then record a second vocal track usually emphasizing key parts of the verse. Rappers and singers have traditionally recorded vocal doubles (informally called “vocal dubs”) on the ending phrases every bar or half a bar.. The purpose of this was to make the vocals sound more fuller as well as to make certain lyrics stand out more (at least this was the reasoning).
Vocal doubles should not be confused with Ad Lib tracks in which usually a rapper will say additional lyrics that compliment the main vocal track but are not necessarily the same lyrics as in that vocal track. If they are the same lyrics, they’re usually said differently and occupy a different sonic space than the main track.
Should you still be recording vocal doubles?
It depends on what genre and style of music you’re going for. If you’re making modern rap music than no, you don’t need a vocal double track for the main verses. This is because doing a vocal double is going to make your vocals sound muddy and outdated.
Also unless you’re Eminem, it’s very difficult to perform the exact same phrase, in exactly the same way, for the double track as you did on the vocal track. If you’re double track is even a millisecond off, you’ll have slight alignment issues with the main vocal track. You’ll also be hard pressed to find an audio engineer that’s going to have the patience to fix each and every misaligned vocal.
I bring Eminem up, because he’s talked in length about how many takes (more than 10) he does to get his vocal doubles sounding precise. In fact, Eminem’s approach may not even be considered vocal dubs in the way I’ve defined it here, it may actually be called vocal layers or vocal layering, as he sometimes re-records the same main verse track again. I think this is complete overkill and likely an insecurity Eminem had, because his voice didn’t sound full enough.
I found this vocal only track of Eminem’s Lose Yourself (released in 2002) and you can hear the vocal double track as I defined it earlier.
In prior eras of hip hop, I’m thinking before 2007, recording vocal doubles were more common because artists and sound engineers felt it made the vocals more fuller. However, with modern mixing techniques, rappers and singers don’t really need to do vocal doubles to achieve this fullness.
Also vocal doubles sacrifice the intimacy of the main vocal track. For example, artists like Drake and Kanye never double their vocals anymore (at least in the last 10 years). I think this not only helps make the vocals sound more intimate but also requires that the rapper deliver one solid performance rather than rely on vocal doubles to fill in the flaws.
These artists actually rely on what’s called “punch ins” to fix any flaws in their main vocals. “Punching in” is when you basically record a bar or two or until it doesn’t sound satisfactory and piece together the verse. Many of the new rappers do this from Lil Wayne to Future to Young Thug to 2 Chainz. In fact, many don’t even write down their lyrics, they just punch in an improvised lyric after lyric. I’ve discussed the merits of this approach before in The One Trick Every Successful Singer and Rapper Does That Helps Their Songs Sound Better.
The only new mainstream artists I can think of that doubles their vocals is Kendrick Lamar and he’s a student of the Eminem & Dr. Dre school of rap (and he doesn’t do it all the time).
When should you double your vocals?
Here are some instances when you might want to record a vocal dub:
- If you’re trying to do an older hip hop sound than by all means record vocal dubs, particularly if the beat sounds like something from over 10 years ago.
- If you’re doing R&B, rock or country or any kind of music that involves singing, you may want to do vocal dubs as well. But remember it can take away from the intimacy of the main vocal.
- If you’re recording a chorus (for rap or a singing style song),your audio engineer can use the vocal double to pan them to the sides to get a more stereo sound. For choruses, in general, I’d recommend recording additional vocal layers of the main vocal to be panned to the left and right side. But this may not be needed for all songs.