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Tips for Mixing and Recording Vocal Stacks

Recording and Mixing Vocal Stacks
Recording and Mixing Vocal Stacks
Greetings. My name is Ian Vargo. I’m with The Pro Audio Files, and today, I’m going to be showing you how to approach recording and mixing gang vocals.

I’m going to be using the music of Ugly, Ugly Words, whose new record, Queers, comes out on Tuesday, January 13th. Make sure to check it out!

Alright, so Andy, the lead singer of this band, approached me with this song, which was unique in that the chorus was just a chant, over and over again. It didn’t even have any lyrical content, it was just a chant.

So, let’s take a listen. The vocals that I recorded in the demo actually made the final version.

[chant vocals]

So, that’s the chorus. Just that over and over again.

As you can see by this Pro Tools session, there are a lot of things going on. We have a really massive drum sound. Pretty busy bass and guitar line, a lot of percussion… just a lot of everything, really. The challenge was to get the gang vocals to be able to sit above everything else.

My approach was to try to worry about it when I was recording, rather than mixing. What I ended up doing, as you will hear, is there’s a lot of variety in the performances, and the way the performances were recorded.


So, I’ll have some parts that are really up front and in your face and compressed, and I’ll have some other parts that are really strained sounding, like the singer is very strained on the microphone. I have some other higher and lower octave parts, some that are set back in the room; I used a variety of microphones.

What this did, was in each of the performances, there are imperfections that add up to a pretty cool sound.

So, let’s go ahead, and I’m going to solo the parts.

[alternating chant vocals play]

Let’s go back.

[alternating chants play]

And as you can see, even though we have a lot of tracks, there is a pretty minimal amount of processing. For the most part, I just have maybe a little bit of EQ, maybe some harmonic distortion, maybe a little tape saturation or compression, but recording it with a vision allowed me to not worry about it in the mix, and trust me, when you have all of these tracks, the last thing you want to worry about is, “am I running out of DSP? How much do I have to change these original vocals to fix the mix?”

So, I was fortunate to have recorded them this way. So let’s put them all together.

[chant vocals]

And because I had never used this sound in an arrangement before, I decided to have a little bit of an auto-tuned kazoo in there. Needless to say, I have not used that sound since, but I think it’s a pretty cool layer. Let’s take a listen.

[kazoo plays]

Pretty wild. Let’s hear it all together.

[full mix]

Alright! So, my advice for you is to worry about it while you’re recording, so you don’t have to worry about it in the mix, if at all possible.

This has been Ian Vargo with The Pro Audio Files. Make sure to check out Ugly, Ugly, Words, whose record Queers comes out January 13th.

Thank you!


Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Get in touch and learn more on his website.