Vocal Layering: Leads and Background | Aaron Carstensen | Skillshare

Vocal Layering: Leads and Background

Aaron Carstensen, Keep making music

Vocal Layering: Leads and Background

Aaron Carstensen, Keep making music

Play Speed
  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x
4 Lessons (27m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Low Octave

    • 3. Amp Vocal

    • 4. Background Vocals

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels
  • Beg/Int level
  • Int/Adv level

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

In this class we will be looking at a few vocal layering methods that will help thicken out our lead vocals as well as create full background vocals. The lead layering found in the first few videos is a great practice to filling out a chorus and can also be used to get a wide modern vocal sound at any point in the song. In the last video we look at separate background vocals and how variation in timbre can lead to a wide professional sound.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Aaron Carstensen

Keep making music


Hi! my name is Aaron and I am an electronic music producer with 8 years of experience. I have completed my degree in electronic production from the Berklee School of Music and am currently working on my trap metal project Xstitch.

The most recent release here is my Quick Mix: Low End video tutorial. I am starting the Quick Mix series as a way to quickly showcase practical techniques so if you like the first one I'd be happy to make more.

If you've gotten any use from my lessons it would be super helpful to get a follow on Instagram, I'm most active there.

As always let me know if there is something you are stuck on or want me to cover I would be happy to make a tutorial on the topic.

Keep making music!

See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • Exceeded!
  • Yes
  • Somewhat
  • Not really
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Your creative journey starts here.

  • Unlimited access to every class
  • Supportive online creative community
  • Learn offline with Skillshare’s app

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Intro: What's up, everyone? Today I want to do a lead vocal layering and background vocal tutorial. Um, So what exactly that is gonna be is? I'm gonna show you how to kind of thinking out your leads on, Let's say a chorus. The chorus hits you want, you want a bigger sound. Um, and then if you want to go even further, you want to kind of get this nice, like background vocals? Ethereal, Maybe. Maybe not exactly mirroring the lead. Um, but they'll fill out this track. That's what we're gonna be making. Um, as per usual. You don't have to have able to do this. I use able to in. It's just what I use. You can use these techniques anywhere. Um, I've talked a little bit about stereo with and, um, vocal processing and other tutorials. Um, so there's gonna kind of borrow, not borrow. It's going to refer to things that I went over, but this is definitely its own tutorial. Um, and it's it's I think it's gonna be really good watch. Uh, cause this kind of stuff is super subtle, and that can be hard to pick out yourself. Um, but it will change your track. You know, it's gonna be the a big difference in the feel basically and feels so important. Um, so if you continue on, I'm gonna show you what track we're working with. And we're gonna jump in and and ah, gets a nice, nice, full vocal sounds. 2. Low Octave: All right. So there's gonna be Ah, technique number one. Um, so this I want to play a bit of this track. This is a nice acoustic track I got going with an artist who came in for production. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna play a bit of the master on the reason I'm gonna play some of the masters because I don't want you to get caught up in, like, poor audio fidelity. Not that it's the initial product. Doesn't sound bad. It's just I want you to see where it's going. You know, I'm saying because every piece of art starts off kind of rough when you're getting all the pieces down. Um, but I want the techniques to be in here finally, you know? So let's play a little bit of this course going from my You are now, you know, if you hear that example that compared with the out part, the course has more energy. Um, part of it is a registered jump. He's saying higher in his register. You got that grit in his voice and it was really loud when he was recording it. Like in the room, like physically it was loud. Um, so the first lead vocal layering technique I want to talk about is, um, just a lower active. So the the reason I'm pointing this one out specifically is because, um, I was working with the different a separate artist, and I had to say, Hey, man, let's record a lower active so that we can fill out the course. Um, and I wanted him to sing it and not do it synthetically because Overy, as you heard, it's a stripped down acoustic track. Um, and the will play a bit with the pitch correction, which is synthetic sounding, but, um, I wanted him to really do it so that we could have a solid foundation of just, like, real people voices and not just taking the the lead, vocal and pitch shifting it, you know? So let's listen real quick. Mm. Now you gonna go going from my, uh I can stop. I can't stop it. I say so. First thing you do here is that that patient correction is super heavy. Um, the reason I did super heavy pitch correction is because this is a background vocal I do not want and and it's a layer. I wouldn't say this is a separate part. This is a layer. So I do not want the pitch to distract from. This is the song. You know, I don't want you to be listening to the lead and be like, What is that, like, off pitch thing in the background? You know, saying off pitch vocal like, Is that what is that? It's gonna be distracting. Um, and another thing isn't as a, you know, engineer is you need to decide what is worth the most of your time. So I put a bunch of time into the lead vocal. I have the processing in a different tutorial if you want to get into that. But I put all my time into the that lead vocal pitch, correction time and getting everything locked down perfectly transparently. Um, and then this low active is going to be It's not worth, um, to me. It's not worth the time to go in and get it perfect, because it's it's gonna be eaten up by the mix. It's just it's just a padding below. Um, and the reason I'm hesitating, saying this is because I never want to say do a bad job. You know, um I'm just saying it wouldn't make a difference. It truly would not make a difference if you went in and locked it down perfectly. Um, it's gonna be so quiet in the background that it's not gonna It's not. You're not gonna be able to hear the difference between a super locked down pitch and like a perfectly tuned perfectly, um, pieced, You know, um, vocal. So the other thing you heard is Let's see, Let's get an example real quick. Now you go, Uh, here, You hear how how it it drops out and that what that is is because Because I had the vocalists sing a separate version It's not gonna be perfect and so perfectly in time with the lead. So what I did is I I grabbed I pressed control E If you're If you're curious about what what I'm doing, um, on this, like small scale control Lee, I split it, split the track. And then what I did is I basically grabbed a fade. I looked. I lined up this spot where I see where his lead is ending, and then I kind of faded it in a similar way. And so what I'm doing is basically I'm matching this to the lead. And and, as you heard, it has ducks in the pitch and it sounds are not pitch. It has ducks and volume when I solo it, but I'm tucking it below the lead. And so this is the same thing. I'm not saying do a bad job. I'm saying Get these these these elements tight and not distracting and supplementing the lead. Um, when I worked at a studio for a while, the biggest thing I learned is is that with audio editing like your fades and all this stuff, I don't have to be perfect because it is. It is a at drop of water in the in the sea. That is the song, you know, and if it and if it that drop sounds distracting on its own. But it sounds good in the mix because you're not getting weird notes that hold through, Um, and overall, you are benefiting the mix. That's that's the important thing. I'm not saying doing bad job. I'm saying overall benefit the mix, um, on that on that big scale, because if you get locked up in the microscope and try to do the perfect job. It might not fit song. That's what I'm saying. Um, so we have that we got it to pitched. We got it timed so that it just sits below. Another thing I did is, um, I'll just go over quickly what the chain is. I did ds ing on it because I don't want the essence to pop up. I pulled a lot of low end out of it. Um, and what this is Hill, etc. Now you go on, uh, young from my, uh, I pulled those the low mids, some of the mids. I pulled some mids out. Let's look. Yeah, right below one k and then a big drop off at 200 hertz at What I'm doing is these parts of the voice are going to be very present. So that's why I eat cute. How I did. I didn't want this vocal to be very like president. Wanted to pad the lead, but I don't want it to fill up too much below it because I don't want it to be a separate part. I want it to be a part of the lead part of the lead. That's what The layering, what we're doing, The layering. I compressed it pretty short attacks. So I really wanted to lock it down a little bit of saturation to bring out that grit. Um, and then I spread the width on the stereo with this parallel. Cheney que I go over this in another tutorial. What this is is a subtle e que stereo split that pushes things out. Um, and so what I'm doing is I have the lead. What I when I processed the lead, I gave it nice stereo. Um, I didn't do a double. I just did use some, um, other techniques to spread out the lead. So instead of it being like this, like one finger length, it's like now a few finger lengths lied in the stereo field. And then what this this is doing is adding a few more finger lengths, you know, insides. So I'm hugging this vocal so that I get this like the center is sounds full. So that's the low active, um, the next tutorial, I'm gonna talk about a different technique that is synthetic, so you don't have to record anything different. I added it because I felt like it needed a little bit more when the chorus hit. So continue on the next video 3. Amp Vocal: All right, So this second technique is kind of a double, I would say, um, what I did here, let me play a real quick so it's heavily distorted. Um, and it's got stereo with on it. And so what I did here is pretty much, um, copying, you know, I copied over the the lead. You know, it sound. It's the same part. That's what I'm getting at, and I'll show you what I did exactly. Um, so I got rid of my, um I got rid of my reverb. See my vocal doubler. Get rid of those. And listen, who now you gonna go? So what I did now I'm gonna show you go into six audio. So I'm going to re record the ah lead vocal without reverb and without stereo on it cereal with on it. Uhm I'm going to record it into a new track. So on a pick that real quick So I have my lead vocals were here. This is my new tracks. Six audio is my new track that I just made that I want to be recorded on. So I'm gonna go to the audio from section if you're If you see this screen, You press tab to go to this, this other screen you're going to go into. Where do you want it to come from? I wanted to come from my lead vocal right here, so I wanted to come from my lead vocal. Great. Now I'm gonna arm the track for recording, so it's ready to be recorded. So I have this all set up. So there's two ways of doing this. You can just come in, start where you want things to start and press the record button. Do you don't from my And if you here we have a nice new re sample of this. Now you go. Great. That's exactly what we want. Um, the other method you could do is just press come into the clip view and press. Ah, this record button. So you have a making a slip of it? If you look here, we get the clip up. Same thing you're just not recording it into the arrangement. You're according into a clip. Um, I'm gonna delete that, you know, as always, you know, let me know if you want me to go into something more in depth, this is not super. That's not really what the focus is right now. Eso what this was. So the reason I did this amp chorus is because I thought the low octave was nice. I would talked it low. I didn't want the low octave to be the only other layer on this. I wanted to add the amped up like, really distorted chorus, um, to kind of be another layer. If you think about the more things that are playing is the less focus each individual thing will have, it's almost like blurring something. So I'm kind of a blurring these together, So let me look real quick that the chain. So this is same timing as well. Um, I didn't bother moving. One technique is Teoh double something and move it like a couple milliseconds later. You know, that's up to you. If that's what you want to dio. I didn't do that. I did a different stereo effect that I knew I could control the phase better. Um, so the chain on this one I used the pedal this is able to attend. Um, the reason I picked this distortion is because I thought it would be fun to try it out. It turns out it sounded good. I like it. You can use you knew, amp it distort it. I want the important factor in this is I wanted it to sound different enough that it wasn't going to have weird phase issues with the lead, you know, because I copied this. Exactly. You know, that can make things. You know, that phaser sound? Um, when you copy something. Exactly. I wanted that. I didn't want that. You know, that's bad. So what I did is I put, like, heavy distortion on it to make it pretty much a different sound. And then I pulled the base. You know, I adjusted the eq you a little bit if you look, I pulled the base all the way down. Um, and then I turned the dry wet all the way up because I don't want any of that clean original sound because I want this to be different. That's what I'm making this different. Um, and then the same thing. I did a different e Q. And if you stereo enhancement effects. So in the last video, I did a split e que So I paralleled the EQ. You did the e que adjustments, and it kind of gave it a little bit of a push to the sides. What I did is I did. Ah, this is also in another tutorial. I did. Ah. Ah, delay. Like a 100% dry wet delay split. Um, and then I'll show you what this does. And this is a more aggressive. It's a very aggressive, um, stereo split, and you have to be really careful with it. And that's why I wouldn't do it if you didn't have Ah ah, you know, on a stereo imager. Kind of visualize er so let's see. So it looks like I did. I did record it in the version I did. I did record it with, um, I resembled it with the stereo enhancement. That's fine. If you look here in short, in quick terms, what this is is it's it's it's essentially going out of phase, which is a bad thing. Um, but the reason I'm ok with that is because this, to me, is my It's another just little flavor, you know, I'm saying not everything can be perfectly always in phase and everything, you know. Um, so if you imagine I had. The lead vocal is central, the low active. I pushed a little bit out, and then this am vocal, I pushed even farther out. And so it's almost like a pyramid of, you know, that lead vocals, low active camp chorus and what this is doing is just thickening out that center. Um, so that one's a little bit quicker, cause we went over the, uh, the we didn't have to edit it. You know it. No editing. It's a pretty quick fix. I wouldn't rely on this. Um, but it was just something I was like, Let's throw a little bit like a little bit of salt on there, you know? Saying just spice it up a little tiny bit. Um se summary Q. I just want to pull that low end, multi band dynamics a little bit locked down on that. Yes, so that one's downs downs a quicker technique, but it's not necessarily a better technique like quicker isn't always better. Um, I would encourage you to use this, um, technique. Probably one of the last ones. This is just like, little bit push. Um, like I said, don't rely on it. Um, if you really want a full fall sound A unique full sound. Eso next tutorial. I'm gonna switch from lead layering to actual background vocals. Eso continue under that. 4. Background Vocals: All right, So this is gonna be the next technique. Um, this is gonna be with the actual background vocals, Not a lead layer. Um, this song called for some nice background vocals. You know, it did add, I think it had a lot. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna play that chorus the section where the actual the biggest , um, background vocals come in. So here, let's listen to the master again. No. You? No. So you hear those. You hear the news in the background there? Like there. Like a Really Just, like, up, up high, Kind of like texture. Um, they're not really. They sound like they're kind of behind you, and they sound kind of like, wide out here. They're more ethereal. They're not like, ah, person on the my going who you know, because that's not what we want. We want to create a feeling, and we want to create a nice, just like extra flavor to spice up the last chorus. Um, just a variation. Kind of, um So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna sell these out real quick. I mean, so the group I have, So if you hear there's a lot of reverb. It can be tempting. So here's the thing. Here's the thing. It can be tempting to record one background vocal, just one guy going, Ooh! And then putting a dumping a bunch of reverb on it. It will pull it back. It's not necessarily reverb does not fix it. That's what I'm like. Reverb is not always the answer. Honestly, the farther I get into audio, the less I use reverb. And I think like that kind of happens because you realize it's washing things out. Um, so this is a really good technique. This is, ah, layering backgrounds. So this this background, the section is four different vocals, and I'll start now. So low amount, and we can see what's happening. Uh, so that's the first vocal that is the artist I had in this. This is his song that's him singing the the background part. What I did is so that's panned. That's Pan left, and what I did is once he was gone and I was working on the song, I added my own and then I panned that right, So if you look here, I have 30 his 30 left and minds 30 right about and enable tuna goes to 50. So pretty far out. It's, you know, um and the reason I wanted to do one of his vocal in one of mine vocal is because we're two different people. And so that's the important thing is is these sounds are different. We're seeing the same thing, but are vocal Tambor and and how we sang it, I purposely he kind of say it like, I think a little harder. Yes, So he's saying it like in falsetto like, Ooh, um, And then when I did, I want to sing it different, even more so I went who, like super breathy and so that these sounds aren't gonna have phase issues. If you if you first of all if you copied your own vocal and pan it left and right, it would just be louder. Nothing would be different if you pan left and right, the sounds that are too similar. They'll start to do that Chorus Faizi gross sound. Um so the same thing with that You know that layer that lead layer I did all the way distorted because I wanted to be different. I sang it. I did different vocalists, um, and different sing singing vocal styles so that when I pushed these out, it's gonna it's gonna enhance the stereo field. And instead of just sounding weird so here, let's let's listen so you can really hear they sound wide. It sounds good. It sounds wide, um, and same thing I wanted. I didn't want it to just sound like there's a couple of people singing back there, so I added more so let's see. So I did low active and then these were, um, panned less so let's listen real quick. So it's down it down active. Yes. So I almost like changed this when I went Ooh! And then this other one, I kind of like Do you know, like, whom almost harmed more? Sorry, that last one. I just saying the wrong note, but meeting I saying the same notes with different um, I saying, like more in my face a little bit. Let's listen again. Yeah, it was like super nasal Lee, and, like against you can hear the pop filter buzzing. Usually, that wouldn't be a good technique, but I wanted them to be very different, so they're not clashing with each other at all. They're occupying their own space and enhancing the stereo field. So let's listen to all of them again. It's nice and full this. It's the same thing. It's looked with the lead. We made the pyramid that way with the background vocals undoing Pyramid that way so that they kind of like lock into each other. I'm and take up the whole field and it sounds really nice. And here let me pull the river real quick. That's what I want you to hear without reverb. It still sounds good and wide It just the reverb to me was just pulling it back a little bit more, and I wanted it to hang on. I wanted to give that tail. I used the reverb for its character, not try to hide something. Um, another thing I did is I put the side chain compression on um, so I sighed, Change these background vocals with the, um let's see with the lead so that let's play the whole section real quick. No, you So this is a good example of such like useful side Shane compression. Besides, just like E g m bump, um, the background vocals are seeing something different than the lead with the layers. Didn't I Didn't with the lead layers. I didn't want any side Jane compression because I want them to pad the vocals with these background vocals that are different. I want him to have their nice space take up their space, get him is full and nice Aiken sound and then kind of tuck him back when the lead singer sings so that they pull back a little bit and leave room. You know, it's like adding that room. Um, so I'm really happy how these turned out, you know? Ah, so yeah, it's it's important, I think, in conclusion it's important. Teoh, even in a simple song like this, really pull Ah, get get ah, some extra layers in the chorus to add at energy at size. Um, and then, you know, make sure when you're layering things like background vocals that may you don't always have to do a harmony just seeing things differently and get a bunch. It takes and kind of like, push him out and get that Like Philip, the stereo field is gonna make your production sound way nicer. Um, yeah, so, as always, if you have any extra questions I did like in my more advanced story ALS I rushed through some of the knobs. Um, but I always have this open every tutorial. I say if I missed something that you're confused about or you want clarification hit me up and I'll be glad to either explain it to you or make another tutorial. So thanks so much, guys. And have a good day.