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Tips for Mixing Layered Background Vocals

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How to Mix Layered Background Vocals [Excerpt]
How to Mix Layered Background Vocals [Excerpt] - youtube Video

Alright guys, so I lied. Forgive me. I don’t mean any harm by it, but instead of going to the drums for this video, I went ahead and I worked through the blend of the background vocals, and I thought it would be cool to show you what I did.

First up, I listened to the tracks kind of one-by-one to group them into like busses. I found that these first four…


Had their own little harmony thing going on, so I bussed them to the gang harm I called them, for gang vocals harmony. Then I went through and found these five…


The — kind of the low men chant kind of thing. So they’ve got their own buss. Then I have these.


Kind of the main sound of the backgrounds, according to the rough mix. Warren’s mix. Definitely not a rough mix. I feel bad saying that, because it’s not a rough mix, it was an incredible mix.

Then we have the kind of what I’m calling the “rock” vocals. It’s the same octave, the same part as the main gangs, but it’s with more aggression.


So they all sound great, incredibly produced, well recorded, and I went through. The reason why I grouped them was because I wanted to compress them and filter them slightly different, and I’m going to show you that.

So the first ones here…


If I bypass this — let me actually get rid of the effects on those. We’ll come back to that. Let me bypass the Lexicon Hall. So for now, we’re just hearing the dry harmony vocals.

[dry harmonies]

Okay. The SSL, all I’m doing you can see here is high-passing up to about 320, 310. Somewhere in there. Just kind of pull that up, back it off, kind of find the sweet spot to where it’s — those vocals are contributing something in the low-mids, and there really wasn’t, so I high-passed it out of there.

Then I filtered the top. We’ve got a lot of stuff going on, we’ve got acoustics, all kinds of things, so I’m filtering a little bit of the top. It’s really not that much, but a little bit to kind of help take out some of the sibilance in the stuff that’s extra shiny up top.

That was it with this one. A little bit of compression, I’m looking for 3 dB of reduction at the peaks.

Here’s the before.

[harmony vocals]

Actually, let me bypass this EQ as well. Here’s the real before.

[harmony vocals]

Okay. So you can see, we’re knocking down about 3 dB at the peaks, whenever they cut in there. Then we’ve got the Pro-Q, which I wanted to — I didn’t need these to be very warm. I don’t need this to be very full sounding, so I found a couple of spots in the mids that could help thin them out a little bit.

Now this set of harmony vocals, or background vocals is kind of serving a purpose in the overall sonics of the backgrounds.

[vocal harmonies]

I was thinking just because we have so many stacks, to have all of them — to allow all of them to have lows and lows mids just wouldn’t make much sense, so the main thing that they’re contributing is the upper harmonics. The notes up above the harmony.

So I cut some lows and low-mids to feature that a little bit more.

Then pretty much the same thought process. A little bit of filtering. This one I didn’t filter quite as much, and then about as much on the top, and then also cutting some frequencies here. I felt like there was a buildup around 600, so I pulled that back. A little bit of brightness, a little bit of something weird there.

Then just kind of listen.

[background vocals]

Here’s without it.

[vocals without EQ]

So we’re compressing it, kind of evening it out a little bit. Doing it in stages. We’re going to hit it on the BGVs buss as well. Then shape the background vocals as such.

Now, these next ones, these are kind of the main part.

[main BG vocals]


So I wanted these to have a little bit more oomph, so I sent them to a pair of slap delays. There’s a slap delay in my template on the left and on the right. Ones at like, 90-95 milliseconds, the other is at 105. So they vary slightly so that it creates a cool effect.

Here’s before and after the slap delay.

[main BG vocals]

Cool. So that kind of helps them just have something a little bit extra. Some slight ambience, but something cool for them. Then also the rock vocals, I did the exact same thing. You can see here, the SSL…

[rock vocals]

I let those have a little bit of the low mids, and then I treated them all as a group, but here is the delays on those.

[rock vocals w/ delay]

Cool. So kind of like a vocal slap delay. Same concept, but it gives them a little more excitement.

Now, each of those busses, for the different sections of gang vocals, are feeding into the BGVs buss where I’ve gain staged virtual channel, backed it off a little so it wasn’t too hot, and then I’ve got an EQ.

This is just me tweaking to taste. I like to use Pro-Q2 with the auto-gain on some tracks, and some tracks I don’t. This is one where I felt like it was appropriate to kind of EQ without hearing a gain boost or cut.

I wanted to hear it relative, so I found the frequencies that I wanted to control, dip out a little bit, and that was that.

After this, again, there was a little bit of a buildup. Each of these stacks having so much in the mids, it was a little bit higher than what I treated at the buss level. Around 800Hz or so, it was giving me some wonkiness.


So let me solo these together so you can hear it in context. In context to the background vocals, but then in context to the mix is what’s important. So here’s soloed.

[BG vocals all]

Okay. And then this time, I’ll hit play and leave them in, and then I’ll bypass it so you can hear they kind of fall apart a little bit.

[BG vocals all]

Okay. And then I quickly reference Warren’s mix, and I heard that he had a nice kind of verb to them. It sounded really cool, but it wasn’t dominant. I had a verb setup in my template that I felt like would work for that.

It’s the Lexicon 224. It’s setup as a very basic hall. I’ll pull down here and show you that. Let’s go Lex Hall. I have EQ cutting out low and top. Kind of the Abbey Road reverb thing.

Just make sure that the verb doesn’t get muddy, especially with vocals going into it. I don’t want to cut and EQ and get those sounding all good, and then be sending to a muddy reverb.

So I’m cutting top, letting that verb be focused around the mid-range there, and then here’s the verb.

So it’s mostly that top end. 6.6 there, and you can see the settings. You can copy those and use it in your template if you like it.

[BG vocals with verb]

Okay. You can probably dial back a little bit with the decay, but when everything is in, I don’t feel like it’s super washy, so it just gives them a little bit of shine on top with some verb, and in the context, these are going to be loud, but we’ve still got some work to do pushing up our drums and parallel compression, and then we’re going to fatten some things up with some parallel compression on the music buss as well.

Here is — let me see, did I use…? I did. I did use some Cooper Dimension. So let’s check this out. I’ll pull this stuff back in. Some stereo Dimension-D, some Cooper Dimension preset, and then the Lexicon Hall.


And if I bypass all of the plug-ins, we’ll show you that real quick so you get a good…

[background vocals]

[BG vocals, no effects]

No effects.

[BG vocals, no plug-ins]

No processing.

So one more time, I’ll bring the processing back in. You can hear it’s just dry, boring, stale, very well recorded, but now we’re just kind of mixing that in and helping them fit better together.

[BG vocals]

Cool! So I hope you dig that. We’re going to help that make more sense here in a little bit, and we may go back and fine tune the EQ once we get everything in. We get guitars rocking, drums pounding, all of that, we’ll have to go back probably and tweak that.

I wanted to show you at least the thought process behind that. I hope you dig it. We’re going to move on, and now we’re going to get into the drums.


David Glenn

David Glenn

David Glenn is a producer/engineer/musician based out of Orlando, FL. Credits include: Pablo Villatoro, Blanca Callahan (Group 1 Crew), Aimee Allen, and more. Learn more and get in touch at

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