How to Mix Background Vocals Published in Mastering

When mixing background vocals, start with optical compression with a longer release, a high-pass filter, and sibilance dip, and then tune with high settings. When mixing background vocals, keep in mind that they should blend in with the lead, meaning they can be processed heavily without issue.

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Aggressive Smooth Compression

For this video, I’m going to introduce the processing, step-by-step or as a chain, but feel free to pick and choose which tips you use when mixing.

I’m going to start with substantial optical compression to smooth the dynamics of my vocal and make them denser later on. Although an over-compressed sound doesn’t work well on the lead, on BGVs, it really doesn’t have a negative effect, since they were recorded to be blended in.

The more dynamic they the more they’ll stick out and cause issues, so I’ll get about 8dB of compression, and set a longer release, then oversample by 2x.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Introduce Hi-pass and Sibilance Dip

Depending on the BGV you may or may not want your fundamental, so create a high-pass filter and move it up to about 200Hz, or a little lower if you want the BGV to be more prominent in the mix. I’ll also attenuate the sibilance frequencies, so about 6 to 10kHz.

You may also want to pull back on 500Hz to make the BGV sit back in the mix.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Tune and Double

Similar to aggressive compression, we can tune BGVs more without it being noticeable to the listener, so I’ll tune the BGVs with maximum settings. This also lets you reduce the amount of tuning on the lead since the support will be more in tune..

Metatune also lets me double this tuned vocal, so I’ll do this now to avoid using an additional processor and to further blend these BGVs in.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

De-ess Heavily

If you’re in control of the recording process for your BGVs, try to hold back on additional sibilants, since more than what’s already present in the lead vocal isn’t needed. If you’re only mixing, then use heavy de-essing to reduce the sibilants as much as possible.

If this isn’t working, you can always use clip gain to manually reduce the volume of the sibilance.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Re-time but Don’t Make Perfect

Now that I have some processing on the BGVs that control the tune, and dynamics, I’ll take a listen to see if anything sounds out of place. I’ll then cut any section that needs to be retimed and try to make it coincide with the lead vocal.

Just be sure not to edit them too closely to the lead, since subtle time differences will cause a fuller sound.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Slapback or Thick Reverb

Following the idea that I want my BGVs to be dense, I’m going to introduce subtle short reverb to concentrate a lot of reflections. A slap-back reverb or delay might also work well here for the same reason - but it’ll have a slightly different sound when blended in.

Try multiple options until you find a short time-based effect that works well for this purpose.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Introduce Binaural or Stereo Panning

For any BGVs I doubled with the Metatune plugin, I’ll use regular panning to push the signal into one side or the other - but for the ones I didn’t double, I might use binaural panning to add an extra dimension and depth to the BGV.

This gives you a lot more options when trying to find the right stereo placement and blend in the vocal.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Bus Process all BGVs

After I’ve added all of my processing to my individual tracks, I’m going to change the output of these tracks from the stereo output to a bus. Then I’ll collectively process all of my BGVs using this bus, on which I’ll add a little more compression, and maybe some eq.

This way the BGVs have a collected and uniform sound, but you still have the option to tweak any individual track as needed.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

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