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Depth by doubling. You can hear it in almost any song. Big, booming guitars and wide chorus vocals are just some of the most popular times that double tracking and fake doubling are pulled out of the trick bag and dropped into a mix.
If your mixes sound hollow, empty, lifeless and small, you may need a bit more depth. Try one of these techniques and see if they work for you.
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It’s very rare that you’ll record a song that doesn’t have any sort of double tracking in it. This is one of the most popular effects out there, and yet it doesn’t require any of the extra signal processing that effects like reverb and chorus require.
Record the same riff, progression or vocal twice. The second take should use the first as a guide so they both have the same sense of timing and play like two guitarists playing in unison (except with the same guitar and guitarist).
This creates two very similar sounds—so similar you can tell it’s the same guitarist playing the same riff on the same guitar—but with enough difference in the various harmonic overtones and the waveform itself that they’ll produce a rich, doubled effect, like one massive guitar playing.
Guitar Take 1
Guitar Take 2
Now, the guitar sound will be a bit louder in your mix and you’ll be able to hear the sound of two different guitars playing at once, but as they are there’s not a whole lot of added depth.
Guitar takes together
The differences in the sound become apparent when you pan them. If you have identical audio on two tracks with each panned hard left and hard right, you’ll hear no difference to having one track centered, of course, but with these slightly different tracks the difference is huge.
So, pan your top track to the left and the second one to the right, and you’ll get this huge sounding, very wide stereo image:
Guitars double tracked and panned
It’s up to you how far you pan them. When I’m doing double tracked guitars, I like to swing each out 100% panned. When I’m doing vocals I prefer to blend them together a bit more with 50% pans.
Spend some time mixing the two guitars to get the most pleasing result. While the two tracks are very similar, they are still different and one may be louder or slightly quieter than the other. Try and get a nice, even match.
Because they’re so similar, though, it takes close listening and time to get that match right.
If your guitarist has some uncanny ability to generate two very similar waveforms, you might not hear that much of a difference. It’ll be there by necessity, since you simply cannot recreate an identical waveform like this, but it might be a very minor difference.
If that’s the case, you can try varying the left and right guitars a bit. Maybe cut a little bass from the left and a little high from the right; there will be a greater difference in the sound, making it easier to tell the difference, and at the same time the cuts are complimentary and the sounds combine more easily.
There are many ways you can differentiate the sounds. Have an experiment and find out what works for you.
I like to run my double-tracked instruments through an aux send so that once I’ve found the perfect mix, they stay perfectly mixed. I can change the volume of the instrument relative to the rest of the mix while leaving the relationship between the double tracks the same.
This also has the benefit of allowing you to compress, EQ, or otherwise affect the sounds as a single identity, which can help to blend them together a bit more and provide a more unified sound.
Quick Tip for Stereo Mic Placements
If you’ve used stereo micing, there’s a little trick you can try if you want a really wide sound. This can be overkill for simple songs, and it requires skill and patience from the performer since accuracy is important.
Record your instrument twice, as you’d normally do with double tracking. This will leave you with four tracks—two takes, with two tracks per take from each microphone. Now, cut one of the microphone tracks from each take, but make sure you don’t cut the same mic from both. If you’re using an SM57 and U87, delete the SM57 recording from one take and the U87 take from the other.
Now, take the left over track from the second take and drag it up to the empty track from the first take. You’ve now got one stereo take with double tracking on each microphone.
Finally, repeat the process so you have two “main” double-tracked takes, with both comprised of two double-tracked takes. This does require accuracy and you need to keep each take pretty close, but the extra width can sound great when this is done right.
Doubling by Delay
If you can’t go back and track a double, there’s a “fake” doubling technique you can use. It’s definitely worth doing your double tracking properly if you can, since this method doesn’t sound as good and is to be used only when you need a wider sound, but can’t possible go back into the studio for tracking.
It involves making a copy of the original waveform on another track and shifting it forwards by somewhere between 5 and 25 milliseconds. The whole point of double-tracking is to create a similar waveform with slightly different harmonic characteristics. If you copy and paste a waveform and play them both at exactly the same time, all you’ll hear is the one instrument sounding a bit louder.
If you shift the waveform by a tiny amount in milliseconds, you emulate this slight difference in harmonic quality. A point in the audio 5 milliseconds earlier or later is going to sound very close to the starting point, which is why this works.
The danger here is that you’ll run into phasing issues, so be careful about the placement and just test the sound and shift the waveform until there is no phasing and the sound is wide.
Some people think this sounds even better than double-tracking. Most people think it’s a measure of last resort, but have a listen for yourself.
Not what I’d call the best way to create depth, but very handy in an emergency. You could probably use a delay plug-in if you don’t want to shift audio regions around on such a small scale.
Doubling by Pitch Shifter
I read about another interesting technique a few years back for live singers who wanted to increase the depth of their sound. They simply split the signal between a direct line to the front of house mixer and the second signal went through an Auto-Tune device before going back to the mixer. The Auto-Tune device was set to shift the vocal by a very slight amount, so the actual shifting of pitches was almost imperceptible, but the waveforms were made different enough that the sound was doubled up.
Again, true double tracking is best in the studio, but this technique can also be applied. Duplicate your track and add a pitch shifter or auto-tune plug-in that simply changes the pitch by 10 to 20 cents.