Vocal layering, also called vocal stacking, is the process of recording vocals on top of each other to create a fuller effect. Vocal layering naturally happens when we as singers combine with at least one other voice to form a duet, but vocal layering in the studio recording process usually refers to singing the same phrase for multiple takes and stacking them on top of each other.
Vocal stacks are usually done 2-3 times to highlight key phrases, but some producers like to get five or more takes to mix together, creating a really rich sound. Vocal layers are often used in combination with panning effects to increase the fullness of the phrase. Panning involves changing the output of sound to the left or right speaker on a scale.
Many vocal layers are recorded in harmony with the original layer. Harmonies take the fullness and impact of a phrase to the next level in a song. Vocal harmony layers can include one or more harmonic alternatives and can emphasize keywords from the original vocal or follow each word while maintaining the harmony.
When adding layers to your song that include harmony, be sure that your harmonies fit your song's scale. It's also good to start small with just one harmony layer instead of adding several if you are just starting out.
When layering harmonies, you can also play with the volume of the harmony lines. Phrases with harmonies in most songs have a lower volume on harmony notes to make sure the melody line isn't getting overshadowed. This isn't a rule, but it usually works well for the listener.
Related Post: Great Songs To Practice Harmonizing With
It's popular in pop and R&B to add layers in unison with the first take, but many listeners don't notice the octave layers that are often added as well. Most music theorists don't consider an octave as harmony, but I like to think of adding a layer that is an octave above or below the lead, the most simple and effective harmonic layering.
Since the point of layering is to add fullness to the vocals, octave layers are the perfect and most effective ways to get a full sound, no matter what the instrument is. Octave layering is often done in instrument lines in production as well.
While you don't need to worry about harmonies when layering rap vocals to make certain sections stand out, you can still play around with your vocal layers' tone and emotional energy in a hip-hop song. Rap songs often use vocal layers to get a strong phrase across, emphasize the hook, or mimic the process of having many thoughts going on in the rapper's head simultaneously. It still gives the same rich and full effect as sung vocal layers, so don't skip the layers and backing vocals in your next rap song.
The best place to add vocal layers is your chorus. The chorus section of a song is the section that needs to stand out the most, so it's a popular choice among songwriters and singers. When you add layers to the chorus, this helps listeners recognize that this is the part that should get stuck in their heads.
Layering keywords in your pre-chorus and post-chorus also works well for the same reasons. You may want to avoid layering the full phrases in these sections to make sure the chorus is the most climactic point in the fullness of vocals.
Vocal layering key phrases or words are also popular when recording bridges and verses. Some songs work well, having the full phrases layered, so it depends on your style, genre, and message. You'll get a feel for what works best with trial and error.
Vocal layering is sometimes found in the intro and outro of a song as well. This is a great way to grab or keep a listener's interest at the start of a song and before it ends.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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