Why double tracking works so great on vocals?
Doubled vox are cool. Because really, what’s better than a well sang vocal track? Exactly! Two of them. Or even more. It’s one of those old, tried and true tricks that still work perfectly, for what it was “invented” for: to create thicker sounding vocals that disguises some of the minor pitch problems as well. Remember, when they came up with double tracking, there were no pitch correction devices, no Auto-Tune, no Melodyne. It wasn’t even all that easy to do edits or punch in parts or words of the whole performance, especially not when there weren’t enough tracks available for that kind of fiddling around. If you wanted a good take, you kept recording it until everyone was happy with it. And sometimes it just wasn’t enough, so some of those takes were used parallel, to create a nice double track or sometimes stack, in the case of more than two takes.
Comb filtering is your friend
There’s a certain, interesting sound to double tracked vocals, due to comb filtering: it usually sounds kind of phasey, flangey, or almost like there’s a chorus effect going on. And sometimes it was a pain in the ass to record even two takes that were close enough rhythmically, to not sound amateurish, like it was thrown together by a doped out koala. That’s why they came up with ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) at Abbey Road Studios, for the Beatles. Lennon was getting sick of having to sing stuff twice, so they simulated it with two (unsynced) tape machines playing back the same track. That little timing difference between the two was enough to create the nice doubling effect.
The Beatles had a thing for doubling
The following song is a great example of regular double tracking on the lead vocals. It can sound very powerful indeed.
The Beatles – “I Feel Fine”:
You can compare it to the ADT treated lead vocals on this tune, from the Beatles again (on the hard right).
The Beatles – “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”:
When robotic equals awesome
Sounds kind of robotic, hey? Yep. But still not as robotic as most 80s Peter Cetera or Phil Collins vocal tracks. Yet for some reason, they sound beautiful; these guys could really sing. These kind of vocals sound like there’s a very short delay and some kind of modulation going on, with some subtle pitch shifting too, all coming from digital units. It’s become quite a common trick in the 80s to have the original track in the center, and pan two versions symmetrically around it, with different pitch shift and delay settings applied to both sides. Use that harmonizer if you have it! Then you can add a sweet hall or a weird sounding nonlin reverb to them, and you’re good to go. Don’t forget the top end sheen, usually generated by an exciter. Sibilance is your friend. Sometimes.
Chicago – “You’re The Inspiration”:
Stacking – when two voices are not enough
And finally, a stacked one. JJ Cale has never been too keen on his vocal skills (which seems to be a common thing among singers, but hey), so he often used more than two takes to make it sound thick and perfect. Pretty badass, hey?
J.J. Cale – “Sensitive Kind”: