Double Tracking: Taking Your Vocal Recordings to the Next Level

Double Tracking: Taking Your Vocal Recordings to the Next Level Double Tracking: Taking Your Vocal Recordings to the Next Level

Double tracking vocals is an amazing way to bring presence, warmth, and interest across a mix. This vocal processing technique is used across virtually all genres of music making it incredibly versatile and valuable for producers from all walks of life. But how exactly does double tracking work?

Below, we'll explain the ins and outs of double tracking and share some notable examples to help you make sense of the power of processing. We'll also share a couple of tips for successful vocal tracking to help your mixes stand out in the crowd. Let's take a look!

What is Double Tracking?

Double tracking is a recording technique where the same part is recorded twice and layered to create a thick, full sound. You often hear double tracking on the lead vocal, especially when creating emphasis in a particular section of a song. However, double tracking is also used with guitars, backing vocals, and many other instruments.

Buddy Holly is thought to be one of the first, if not the first, popular artist to use double tracking in his music. Inspired by the overdubbing technique of Les Paul, he double tracked vocal parts on Words of Love changing the music landscape forever:

Two tracks can hold more power than the single voice and give a melodic line additional texture and interest than if it was single-tracked.

Double Tracking (DT) versus Artificial Double Tracking (ADT)

True double tracking (DT) occurs when you manually record the same part twice in the same section of the timeline. The slight differences between the two takes can create width and nuances that are unlike any other effect. However, this technique can be understandably time consuming, as you have to record multiple takes for each desired signal.

Fortunately, you can use an ADT effect or artificial double tracking to give you a similar effect. Artificial double tracking was developed by The Beatles' sound engineers at the iconic Abbey Road Studios. Originally, the effect was created by sending the audio signal to two different tape machines. Each tape recorder received the same input, though one of the tape machines had a delay of about 100ms.

The delay between the two machines creates a sound similar to true double tracking, sometimes referred to as the Haas effect. This effect eventually gave birth to the likes of tape delay plugins, doublers, and other audio effects that can be used to create the feel of artificial double tracking.

The ADT effect tends to be a bit cleaner than the true double tracking technique, but it can still add width and presence to your mix. It also gives you the added benefit of more control over the processed track, since you're only working with one recording.

Examples of Double Tracking in Music

From The Beach Boys to Beyonce, double tracking is heard across many genres and styles of music. The best way to understand the power of double tracking is to listen to double-tracked records in action! Here are some of the most notable recordings that utilize this technique across several genres of music:

Groove is In the Heart by Dee-Lite

This groovy anthem gets a lot of its spice from bumping samples and creative vocal production. Notice how the double tracking effect goes in and out to create contrast across the mix:

Let Down by Radiohead

This classic by Radiohead combines stark panning and double tracking to give you a clear picture of the effect of double tracking:

Real Love Baby by Father John Misty

Father John Misty uses this same effect across much of his discography, but his undeniable hit Real Love Baby simply wouldn't be the same without double tracking:

Taxman by The Beatles

Rock legends The Beatles were incredibly inspired by double tracking pioneer Buddy Holly. Songs like Taxman utilized DT and ADT:

I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor

This disco classic gets its power from the double tracked chorus that adds plenty of umph to the main vocal:

Toxic by Britney Spears

Timeless Toxic creates contrast between the verse and chorus sections by utilizing double tracking:

Benefits of Double Tracking Vocals

So why should you start double tracking vocals or any other instrument for that matter? Here are some of the main reasons why producers employ this technique:

Adding Fullness and Warmth

Layering audio creates fullness and warmth. Introducing another layer provides opportunity for additional sonic textures in your song.

Creating Emphasis

Double tracked vocals can create contrast against single tracked vocals, serving as a tool to create emphasis in a mix. Use this technique to spotlight important lyrics or certain sections in a song.

Building a Wider Stereo Image

Double tracking vocals creates a sense of width in your mix. It's common to hear double tracking in the chorus of a song for this reason.

Experimentation Opportunity

Additional tracks means more ways to experiment with your mix. Plan with panning and other processing methods, auditing various types of interaction between the two tracks.

How To Double Track

There are two many ways to create the double track effect, true double tracking or utilizing a plugin to simulate the effect.

Recording Two Takes - True Double Tracking

Start by laying down one take of an instrument, vocal, or other sound source. Make sure you're happy with the recording, and then layer another live track. Use the new live track to record the same part as your prior performance. Listen back and listen to the amazing effects of double tracking.

Use a Plugin - Artificial Double Tracking

Certain plugins can give you a similar feel to double tracking, like tape delay, chorus, flangers, and doubling echo effects. You can also try doubling the single track and placing them at slightly different start times.

Tips for Successful Double Tracking

It's time to start using double tracking in your own sessions! Use these strategies to enhance your use of this mixing technique:

Play with Panning

Double tracking can add a sense of width on its own, but you can take it a step further by blending this technique with panning. Experiment with hard panning separate takes on the left and right sides or across different points of the stereo field.

Keep it Consistent

The double tracking effect can be pretty noticeable - so, if you plan on using it across an entire mix, try to do so in a predictable fashion. For instance, you might opt to use double tracking exclusively in the chorus, bridge, or on a set of words you'd like to stand out from the rest of the mix.

Know When to Use DT Versus ADT

Double tracking and artificial double tracking can have drastically different sound profiles. If you're trying to build an original track that's more prone to the special nuances of live performance, traditional double tracking is the way to go. If you're searching for something cleaner and simply want to add a little width or interest, artificial double tracking might be the way to go.

Double Tracking FAQs

Are you ready to test out double tracking in your own mixes? Here are some commonly asked questions and answers to expand your understanding as an artist:

What is double tracking in audio?

Double tracking is deliberately tracking or recording the same part twice. These two takes are then layered on top of one another to create the distinct double tracking effect.

What does double tracking do?

Double tracking is an excellent processing technique that can add a rich sound to a vocal line, lead guitar, or any other instrument. The double tracked effect often adds a certain warmth, power, width, and fullness to a mix.

Is double tracking cheating?

No! Doubled vocals or other double tracked sounds certainly have a distinct sonic flavor, but choosing to use them is just a matter of preference. You can even use artificial or automatic double tracking plugins to help you create the effect if you weren't able to track multiple takes from the studio.

What is the difference between double tracking and overdubbing?

In the case of overdubbing, you're stacking a different part on top of the sound wave layer of the previous. With double tracking, you're recording the same part twice within the same space. This is commonly done with vocal doubles or other sounds.

What song has double tracking?

There are plenty of classic and modern examples of double tracking as shown above. Some of the most famous songs that use double tracking include Respect by Aretha Franklin or Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

Double tracking is a great way to put some extra power behind a vocal part, instrument, or any sound in your session. Have fun putting this special technique to good use in your next song!

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