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Background Vocals-s-s-s

Daily Blog - May 17th 2021

Aaah, nothing like nice, silky, airy backing vocals. Shiny harmonies to add some extra sparkle in the chorus. Until it happenssss.... 😫

Background Vocals-s-s-s

I get it, some people don't like editing and don't think that the timing of their performances needs to be super tight. 

Fair enough, I like raw and "real" sounding productions, as well and nobody should ever tell you what you should like when it comes to art.

But all that aside, there are some things that are non-negotiable if you want to make a record that doesn't sound amateur or annoying . There are some problems that are exactly that - problems. With ZERO benefit for the listener. 

One of those problems are backing vocals that are out of sync with each other or with the lead vocal.

It may not be obvious or annoying right away, but as soon as you brighten them up, compress them a bit, pan them apart for extra width, the "s-es" and "t-s" quickly become unbearable. Especially on headphones (which are what the majority of people listen to music on these days).

There's absolutely NO reason to have out-of-sync "s-es" coming from left and right, distracting the listener from the song, making the lyrics less intelligible and sounding simply annoying. 

Here's what to do about it:

  • Perform as tight as possible, matching the original timing of the lead vocal super closely.
  • Edit the performance to be perfectly in sync with the lead vocal and the other backing vocals. (Editing is not the devil. If done right it can be the difference between an awesome production that feels just great and an amateur sounding mess that doesn't help the song, at all)
  • Tame the sibilance. The brighter the vocals are, the more annoying this becomes. You can choose a darker mic for background vocals. You can roll off some of the highs. And if you want airy, bright backing vocals, you can make them shiny and then de-ess them like crazy. Even to the point of causing a slight lisp. It won't matter, as long as they are in sync with the lead vocal and as long as the "s-es" in the lead vocal are clear. If they are, you'll be fine and the backings can be bright without making you feel like Samuel L. Jackson in "Snakes On A Plane".

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

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