When blending vocals, heavy compression with a shorter attack and longer release will work well on BGVs, doubles, and background harmonies. If you’re trying to blend vocals but the timing sounds off, try heavy de-essing to remove sibilants causing the perceived timing issues.
For the first 3 chapters, let’s focus on blending aspects of the lead vocal.
Doubles are an important part of creating a powerful lead performance - minute differences will cause the listener to perceive the 2 signals as one, more complex signal. The easiest way to blend a lead with its double is to compress the double with a quick attack and long release.
Then lower the double’s level via the channel fader. Let’s listen to a double that isn’t blended, and then blended.
Similar to doubles, harmonies can be perceived as being a part of the lead - even if no harmonies were recorded, we can create some and then blend them in. I’ll duplicate my lead, and then use a pitch shifter to reduce the pitch by 1 full octave.
I’ll create another duplicate and pitch shift it to a higher octave - then, I’ll compress both and lower their levels. Let’s listen and notice how it sounds like the lead is more powerful.
If your lead vocal is too separate from your instrumentation, we can use an EQ to blend the 2. I’ll place an EQ on my instrumental and an EQ on my vocal, and amplify 200Hz and 3 - kHz on the instrumental while dipping these same frequencies on the vocal.
This causes masking that’ll lower the presence of the vocal. Let’s listen and notice how this pulls the vocal back in a way that simply lowering its level doesn’t.
BGVs should typically be blended with one another to create a cohesive and consistent sound. The best way to do this is through heavy de-essing on individual tracks to reduce noticeable timing differences, significant compression on a BGV bus, and then reverb on this same BGV bus.
These 3 steps will create consistent dynamics while attenuating aspects that indicate various timing in the performance. Let’s take a listen and notice how the BGVs become cohesive.
We touched on this in the last chapter when we de-essed. but sibilance is one of the biggest aspects that’ll make BGVs sound separate or stick out. Since sibilance and some consonants are transients, these transients are very noticeable when they occur at different times.
We can use clip gain to reduce these, a de-esser, or if possible, have the singer hold back on these aspects during their performance. Let’s listen to BGVs just with the de-essers on and off to understand the importance of this step.
If we want our BGVs to have a wider array of sounds, we can use formant shifts to change the timbre of the vocals and make the overall sound more complex. We can do this in an extreme way, but it may be better to shift the formants subtly.
This way they stay blended in. Let’s listen to the BGVs with their formants shifted both up and down.
A subtle instrument behind the BGVs, especially something like a pad or background instrument, can help fill the gaps in the performance. If the melody is simple, we can easily recreate it with a midi controller and then choose an instrument that doesn’t stick out.
Again, pads typically work well, so long as their attack isn’t too slow. Let’s listen and notice how this pad helps blend the BGV melody in.
Since compression plays a big role when blending, let’s cover it in more detail. Some of the best settings for compressing BGVs and harmonies are a quicker attack, longer release, soft knee, higher ratio, and lookahead - all of which will minimize transients and greatly balance dynamics.
It’s best to avoid a super short attack and hard knees since they’ll emphasize transients by introducing distortion. Let’s listen to 2 compressor settings, the first not suited for blending BGVs and the second better suited for the purpose.
Saturation can be used to blend vocals in a couple of ways - it’ll cause compression, and in the case of tape saturation, attenuate higher frequencies to reduce transients. Conversely, we can use saturation with various harmonic formations to create more complex BGVs and fill out the frequency spectrum.
If I use warm tape saturation on one BGV and tube on the other, we’ll combine harmonic formations. Let’s listen to the effect saturation has on our BGVs.
Similar to chapter 3, we can use EQ to blend just about any signal - for BGVs and harmonies, it might be advantageous to attenuate the lows past the fundamental, and leave the fundamental only for the lead. Then dip 3 - 5kHz, and the high frequencies by using a high shelf.
These settings will reduce a lot of what makes a vocal stick out. Let’s listen to these settings on our BGVs and harmonies and notice how they blend in.
When using reverb to blend in vocals, isolate the reverb to the mids frequencies, use a low to non-existent pre-delay to ensure reverberation is happening to the full signal, and increase modulation while emphasizing earlier reflections for a dense sound or later for a washed-out one.
Let’s listen to these settings on our BGVs and notice how they blend with the lead, but know these settings can be used on a lead to blend it with the instrumentation.