What works for mixing lead vocals isn’t necessarily best for backing vocals, which need to complement the lead and enhance the song’s arrangement. Use StudioRack’s ‘BVox Polish’ plugin chain preset to polish BVs to perfection.
By Craig Anderton
Get this chain preset in the StudioRack plugin chainer.
Many songs don’t get real until you lay down the background vocals. Doubled vocals, harmony vocals, call-and-response vocals, choruses: all of them complement, supplement and enhance the lead vocal, while contributing to the song’s overall arrangement.
It’s important to remember that background vocals need to be far back enough to add depth and texture, while also sitting adequately in the foreground so they’re not lost in the arrangement. You definitely don’t want the background vocals to interfere with the lead vocal.
StudioRack’s “BVox Polish” factory preset chain is a background vocal toolkit. Whether you need to make the vocals prominent or demure, diffused or up-front, smooth or articulated, the Macros in BVox Polish provide those options. Although this chain works well with individual background vocal tracks, it’s also suitable for inserting in a bus that sums background vocal tracks.
BVox Polishing Plugins
BVox provides “classic” vocal processing but also highlights StudioRack’s ability to combine series and parallel processing for rich, textured sounds.
The chain starts with R-Vox, which incorporates gating (to cut hiss and hum) with compression and limiting. This kind of dynamics control can smooth out background vocal levels, so peaks don’t overshadow the lead vocal. Next is Sibilance, because combining compression with the current fashion to add treble to vocals can increase “ess” sounds. Using the Sibilance processor avoids having to do waveform editing to reduce the level of esses.
The chain then creates a parallel split to both a dry rack and Doubler4, which can multiply one voice into many. Afterward, the split returns to a single path that feeds the MetaFlanger. This uses the Chorus Light preset to create additional diffusion and ambiance.
Now that the basic processing is complete, tweak the EQ. The R-EQ 6’s default setting gives a little boost at 500 Hz, and a subtle high shelf starting around 2 kHz to increase intelligibility. However, the Macro controlling it (described later) can have a major influence on the sound.
The next processor, MondoMod, defaults to the FM (frequency modulation) effect. This adds a subtle vibrato. It can be more effective with individual vocals than bussed vocals, because, with a bus, MondoMod applies the same vibrato to different audio tracks. However, it’s still useful for bussed vocals when applied subtly.
The last step in the chain splits into three parallel paths: unprocessed, one with the SuperTap 2-Taps delay followed by R-Verb, and another with the MetaFlanger set for subtle modulation followed by an additional R-Verb.
With the default BVox Polish chain, the effect adds an animated quality to background vocals. This makes them wider, more diffused and more differentiated from the lead vocal. That’s useful, but let’s look at some potential substitutions, as well as how the Macros can customize the sound.
BVox Polish Substitutions
StudioRack makes it easy to substitute different plugins to alter the overall sound. For example, R-Vox is a somewhat neutral compressor. For more character, the CLA-2A compressor imparts the “smooth” sound associated with electro-optical compression, yet the fixed attack lets consonants through so that vocals retain clarity. For a more aggressive background vocal character, the CLA-3A can add more compression yet not really sound more compressed, while the dbx 160 Compressor/Limiter is one of the more aggressive compressor effects available. If you instead need dynamics control that can salvage recordings with dynamics and EQ issues, the C4 Multiband Compressor allows precise, frequency-selective compression due to its multiband structure.
The Doubler adds delay to increase a sense of space. SuperTap and H-Delay provide similar effects. MetaFlanger and MondoMod are unique effects, but H-Delay can also produce flanging and modulation effects.
Finally, R-Verb is a versatile, general-purpose reverb effect. For more specialized effects, Abbey Road Chambers or Abbey Road Plates give “vintage” vocal sounds, while H-Reverb offers more abstract, or dense, reverb backgrounds.
Using the Macro Controls
Much of StudioRack’s power comes from Macro controls because they can consolidate a potentially bewildering array of parameters into focused controls. These concentrate on altering specific characteristics of the overall sound.
The Press(ure) Macro has a simple role: adjust the amount of R-Vox’s compression effect. Ess Cut chooses the amount of de-essing applied to a sound. Multiply alters the level for the split that includes the Doubler4, so that you can increase or reduce the Double4’s voice-multiplying effect.
Trickle (cool name!) changes the MetaFlanger’s Mix parameter, so like Multiply, you have control over how much you want to thicken the sound. Tilt varies two R-EQ 6 parameters simultaneously by altering the high and low shelving frequencies. Counter-clockwise raises lows and lowers highs to place the background vocals more in the background, while clockwise lowers lows, and raises highs, to place the background vocals more upfront.
Space 1 and Space 2 do what they say—alter the sense of space—by editing the level going to the R-Verbs in the second and third parallel splits.
The most complex macro is Fan, which controls three MondoMod parameters. When fully counter-clockwise, Fan turns off MondoMod’s “rotation” effect. Turning Fan clockwise extends the rotation effect’s pan range, while simultaneously increasing the Mix up to a maximum of 60%. As a result, the effect not only becomes more pronounced but a more prominent part of the mix.
Note that the Macros are arranged logically for easy workflow. The top left’s three controls shape the vocals’ dynamics and EQ. The lower right’s two controls can add a wider, bigger sound, while Multiply, Trickle, and Fan are more in the “ear candy/special effects” category.
Applying BVox Polish
A unique aspect of this effects chain is how eight controls can make such a major difference; from placing background vocals more upfront to diffusing them and positioning them in the background. The 16-measure audio example “splits the difference” by diffusing the background vocals, but not burying them. The first 8 measures have a lead vocal with background vocals, while the second 8 measures apply the BVox processing preset to the background vocals, but not the lead. You’ll hear the background vocals bloom into stereo, and sound more diffused so that they don’t compete with the lead vocal yet remain distinct. They sound more…well, polished, which is probably how the preset gets its name!
Get this chain preset in the StudioRack plugin chainer.
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