Tips for Producing Background Vocals ft. Manny Marroquin Signature EQ

Hey guys, welcome to another video here at MixNotes.

Today I thought we’d take a look at background vocals. Specifically, sort of on a production end of things. It’s not really an EQ tutorial or anything, but we will touch on filtering a little bit. More or less just stacking, doubling, panning, grouping, things like that.

So with that, I’ve got an example here. I’ll play it and we’ll get into it.

[mix]

Alright. We’ve got eight different tracks going on, eight mono sources. Same sort of rhythmic part with harmonies.

First track is the main melody, right?

[main melody]

Right. Then we did two doubles, panned them hard left and right.

[main doubles]

With a pretty excessive amount of filtering on them.

[main doubles]

Right. The thing to remember when you’re doing harmonies and stacks is that everything is sort of meant to sort of highlight and bring color and enhance the melody.

So this is our main melody. This is the line we want people to sing, right?

[main melody]

And everything else is just going to color that and enhance that.

So that’s the fundamental. Then we go to a pair of harmonies above.

[harmonies]

Right. And those are tucked down well below the main sort of theme, the main melody, because again, we’re just enhancing it. We don’t want people to sing the harmony, we want people to sing the melody.

Then we do a harmony below it, which sounds like this.

[low harmony]

They have a little bit of EQ and filtering on that as well.

Then to top it off, down the center, or slightly off center, we have one harmony above the main melody.

[high harmony]

Right. And it’s pulled down quite a bit. Not only because it’s in the center, but also because it’s a higher part. Higher parts are going to cut through naturally way more than something that’s lower in range, just because of the nature of where it sits in the register.

So — and it has a bit of EQing on it. For EQ, I tried out this Manny Marroquin — his EQ, which sounds really unique, very musical sounding. I know it’s modeling specific frequencies from specific pieces of gear. I don’t know what.

I tried it out and it sounded pretty cool, and I thought I’d keep using it. So I think here — we’ve got some pretty significant high passing. 200 or so. Dipping out some 140, boosting some 15kHz.

[main melody]

That’s on the main one, and then briefly, we’ll just take a look at these other pairs.

The doubles for the main melody…

[main melody doubles]

Significant amounts of filtering. 750, low pass at 6.7kHz, boost a little 800, boost a lot of 3.2kHz…

[doubles]

It almost is kind of a radio sound. Really just kind of widening it and giving it more of a presence and more weight.

[main melody and doubles]

Almost kind of a chorus-y sounding effect. Then the upper harmony.

[upper harmony]

Not quite as drastic. You know, still high passing up to 300, boosting some 15kHz, cutting some 140 out.

[upper harmony]

Right. And then the lower harmonies.

[low harmonies]

Again, just keeping the low end out so it doesn’t fight the main.

[harmonies]

So nothing fights that main melody, and then the top part, sort of the same kind of EQ curves, and let’s just take a look at panning really quick here. I’ll bring up the mix window.

Basically run it in pairs is how I think about it. So you’ve got your main track down the center, and then its double is panned hard left and right, then upper harmonies is the next hard left and right. Lower harmonies I bring in a little bit to like, 51 so you kind of create this full kind of wide sound.

Then the top, super super top high harmony we go a little to the left. Here’s what that sounds like.

[all harmonies]

By panning it a little — you know, eleven to the right or so, it gives it a little more space to be heard I think.

[all harmonies]

That was it straight down the center. Then I hit it to the right a little bit.

[all harmonies]

Right. And that’s sort of just personal preference. But that’s panning. As far as routing, you know, they’re all going down to this Vox 2 buss, which has some more EQ, the whole 1176 LA-2A thing going on, and then we have it sent to a hall and a little bit of room verb, as well as a dotted eighth note delay. I think I’m using EchoBoy from SoundToys.

But just kind of wanted to leave it a little loosey goosey. I didn’t want it to be perfectly synced in time, I wanted to be able to hear the repeats in the mix. And just a reminder, here’s what it sounds like with the track.

[mix]

There you go. An example of background vocals. You can apply this to any genre, regardless of what you’re trying to do. Try different things, you can get crazy with filtering, you can get crazy with effects, there’s no really set rules.

I would say start out in pairs. Some people will have twice as many tracks as this. Sixteen, you know, and they’ll have stacks and doubles of everything, maybe they’ll do stacks of — so instead of just having these two upper harmonies, one on each side…

[upper harmonies]

They’ll have those on each side, and they’ll each have a double over there too with its own filtering on it that just helps those particular voices sit a little fuller.

So you can get expansive as you want with this. Watch the low end, it will build up, watch the mid-range, it will build up, but other than that, just play with it, get creative, get a great singer that can match the parts. You can use something like VocAlign to line things up, and there’s a tutorial on the channel about that.

Also, they have to be in tune, like, really in tune. Melodyne them, auto-tune them, whatever you’ve got to do. Really great background vocals are just pristine. Perfectly in tune, perfectly in time with each other, with a great singer that typically sings the lines.

There’s no — I mean, with this artist, there was no “play a third above” or anything, it was like, “oh, can you play — try a harmony above,” and she’d sing it, it’d sound good, then we’d be like, “Oh, let’s try one below,” sing it, it would sound good, and then be like, “Can you do one really high up?”

You just sort of improve your way through it I guess until you get the sound you want. At least that’s how I do it. Really great singers are definitely able to do that. So first and foremost, it’s all in the talent, and then after that, a little filtering, a little strategy as far as panning and placement, and it’s not quite as tough as people make it out to be.

So with that, I hope that helps you out with your background vocals. Try it out, let me know how it goes, and we’ll see you in the next video.

Mixnotes

Mixnotes

Mixnotes is a YouTube channel with tutorials on mixing, recording, business, plugins and more. We've partnered with them to feature some of their videos on The Pro Audio Files.
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