Getting the Perfect Vocal Take
Vocals can be a tedious task.
You have to achieve the correct tone, pitch, volume, and more. But what about vocal comping?
What is vocal comping?
Comping is short for compiling and combining. The art of comping vocals consists of selecting and combining different takes of a vocal recording.
Generally, when a vocalist is being recorded, they will record between three and five different takes of a phrase. Getting more than 3-5 takes can become too confusing when trying to remember which take you like the most and sounds the best.
Although comping vocals takes a significant amount of time, it’s made up of a few basics that are important to understand.
Let's dive into them!
Tracking Different Takes
How many vocal takes is necessary?
Getting 3-5 takes will ensure that you have enough options to choose from to get your final lead vocal.
When tracking different takes, it’s best to keep a really sharp ear open for any pitchy notes. You don't want one poor take the ruin the whole batch. After all, this is the whole point of having different takes.
This is also a great time to ask the vocalist to project in different ways or have more or less emphasis on certain lyrics. Even a slightly different inflection can make an impact.
The listener will likely never know about this, but it makes the track high-quality.
After tracking your different takes, they should all be saved on separate tracks so you never accidentally lose them. Losing, deleting, and misplacing files and tracks is a lot more common than you may think, so better safe than sorry.
To speed up the comping process, it’s smart to have one channel ready to go with the takes you know you will for sure use so you don’t have to try to find it later.
Lining Up Harmonies
When recording harmonies, you can record a few takes as well, but be sure to pan one harmony to the left and the other to the right.
Doing this will end up giving you some stereo width and will help you avoiding everything being jumbled together in the middle of the mix.
It’s important that these harmonies are on time and on pitch. It’s really easy to tell when they aren’t lined up correctly with the lead vocal, so even if it takes time, be patient and be sure to put in the minuscule work.
Occasionally, it can be helpful to have at least a minimal amount of autotune on every vocal track (as long as the artist agrees). Autotune can carry a negative connotation, but at the same time, it can be beneficial to the overall quality of the song.
You just want to make sure the harmonies are tuned nicely. That way, when the lead vocal plays along with it it'll sound like one track instead of a 3+ different takes!
You will spend a good amount of time listening back to the different takes and finding the ones you liked most. You can even go as far as comping singular words if it means it will sound better in the end.
When you trim audio after putting your favorite takes in the lead vocal channel, the waveform will end abruptly causing a clicking noise to occur when the audio clip ends.
That can be pretty jarring, right?
In most DAWs, there is a tool called fades, which allows you to subtly reduce the volume at the end of the clip in order to stop that clipping noise.
You’ll want to do this at the beginning and end of the audio clips that you’ve trimmed.
It is also beneficial to use crossfading. Essentially, this helps the initial source fade out and allows the secondary source to seamlessly fade in. So, you can fade the beginning and end and also between the multiple sources.
Use this tool very subtly though, as you don’t want to be losing any vocal clarity.
Important Tip: If you slide the fades too far over, you will end up reducing the volume of the actual word itself, and that is not the goal while using fades.
Comping Your First Song
It’s a great idea to be completely comfortable in the DAW that you will be comping in, that way you aren’t trying to learn how to use the DAW as well as learning how to comp the vocals.
These three steps are a great basis to get started into this process. Once you spend enough time comping, it’ll become second nature.
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