In the first two parts of this guide (Pt 1 & Pt 2), we showed you how to capture a great vocal sound and a fantastic vocal performance. Now that you have the vocal recorded, how do you process it to ensure that it can compete with the very best tracks out there?
Comping A Great Lead Vocal
Comping a vocal can be a laborious task, but it is an absolutely vital part of the recording process. To go back to basics for a moment, when you recorded your vocalist, you will hopefully have captured numerous takes of them singing the same line. Comping is the process by which you go through all of these takes and assemble the very best lead vocal take that you can from them. You need to decide when recording how many takes of each line you want to capture. If you record too many takes, the comping may well take you forever to get finished as you pick through every word on every take to choose the best. However, if you record too few, you may reach the comping stage and find that you don’t have enough good quality stuff to comp a lead vocal that you are completely happy with. As a general rule, you can probably record fewer takes when working with a great singer, you’ll need more when working with a weaker singer – you’ll have to work this out for yourself though, on a case-by-case basis.
When going through the takes, don’t just listen for takes that are in tune (we can fix tuning later on!) – look primarily for performances that have character. A characterful vocal performance will really stand out, and add something to your track, so try to always bear this in mind. What are your particular singer’s quirks? Are they worth bringing out in the lead vocal?
There are various functions particular to different DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) that can speed up the comping process – for example ProTools’ ‘playlist’ system (see illustration below). They are too numerous to name them all here, but it’s worth investigating your own software to see if you can find any shortcuts.