Q. Is phasing affecting the sound of my double-tracked vocals?

Published in SOS February 2010
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I've been reading about how you have to be quite precise in matching the distance from source to mic when multi‑miking guitar cabinets, and something occurred to me. If this kind of phase alignment is so important in this instance, how can we avoid such issues when double‑tracking a vocal, given that the singer inevitably moves their head around? The singer in question here is me, and I tend to move around a fair bit when singing! I've noticed when lining up and trimming my doubled vocals in the past (and on my current song) that some words sound 'different' when combined than others, and by different I mean 'worse'. Could phasing be the underlying cause, and if so, is there anything I can do to rectify this?

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Via SOS web site

SOS contributor Mike Senior replies: Yes, if you double‑track very closely, you'll inevitably get some phase‑cancellation between the two layers, but that's not a problem; it's an inherent part of what makes double‑tracking sound the way it does. However, the potential for phase cancellation between the parts won't be nearly on the same scale as with the two signals of a multi‑miked guitar amp, because, firstly, the waveforms of two different vocal performances will never match anywhere near as closely; and, secondly, the phase relationship between the performances will change from moment to moment, especially if you're moving around while singing. Furthermore, in practice a vocal double‑track often works best when it's lower in level than the lead, in which case any phase‑cancellation artifacts will be much less pronounced.

For these reasons, nasty tonal changes from double‑tracking haven't ever really presented a major problem for me, and if they're regularly causing you problems, I suspect you might be trying to match the layers too closely at the editing stage. Try leaving a little more leeway for the timing and see if that helps for a start — just make sure that the double‑track doesn't aniticipate the lead if you don't want it to draw undue attention to itself. Similarly, try to keep pitch‑correction as minimal as you can (especially anything that flattens out the shorter‑term pitch variations), because that will also tend to match the exact frequency of the two different waveforms. In fact, if there are any notes that sound really phasey to you, you might even consider shifting one of the voices a few cents out of tune to see if that helps. Anything you can do to make the double‑track sound less similar to the lead can also help, whether that means using a different singer (think Lennon and McCartney), a different mic, or a different EQ setting. You may only need the high frequencies to provide the double‑tracking effect, and these are unlikely to phase as badly as the low frequencies.  .


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