My absolute favourite moment in music production is when I get to record the first guitar double. It never gets old. I see doubling as a tool to add thickness to a recording, and as such, I think of it as fitting in with other tools that help increase a production’s density. These are three of the most common thickening techniques used in modern recording:
• Instrument Doubling – An instrument’s part is played and recorded twice, often panned to separate places.
• Vocal Doubling & Stacking – A vocal is sung identically and recorded more than once but kept at similar pan positions. In the case of vocal stacking, which is often used on background vocals, multiples of every vocal part are recorded and the position of the panning becomes a mixing decision.
• Sound Replacing/Augmentation of Drums – Drums are recorded but then drum samples are added to the main drum elements (kick, snare, and sometimes toms). Though this may not seem like a true double, the process adds sounds with the same timing so I think of it as being in the same family.
In every case, precision is key. The doubled sounds should be as identical as possible because we’re trying to create one sound out of many. The effect is lessened when we can hear the separate ingredients within the effect.
The reason these techniques add breadth to a sound is because they increase each sound’s complexity, therefore increasing its sonic space. I use the term “sonic space” as a non-empirical way of visually representing the area that all the elements of a production can fit into. In the case of doubling guitars and panning them left/right, we are increasing the sonic space in width. When doubling or stacking vocals, we’re adding gain and (usually) positive phase shifts. And with drum sound augmentation, we’re filling out the frequency spectrum by adding samples with complementing frequencies.
The trade-off is poignancy. No matter how accurate you are at getting a carbon copy of the original take, there will always be small differences. These differences will blur the precision of the original performance’s intent, if only marginally. Your job as a producer is to evaluate which side of that trade-off you want a particular instrument to be on; exactness versus thickness.
This trade-off is also the reason why recording triples or quadruples often equals diminishing returns. If the results of your thickening efforts still aren’t immense enough for you, you’re probably better off massaging your sounds and experimenting with your mic set-ups. Phase cancellation could be the culprit.
For me, the addictive nature of doubling usually ends in over 100 Pro Tools tracks. Over the top? At times. But even if I don’t end up using all of those doubles in a mix, at least I get to experience each of those epic first notes in unison.
*Ryan McCambridge is a freelance audio engineer, writer, producer, and **programmer, usually working out of SlipOne Digital Studios in Newmarket, ON. McCambridge has taught audio production at Ryerson University, **heads the audio blog Bit Crushing, and is also the frontman of Torontobased **band Recovery Child. To find out more, go to www.bitcrushing.com *or www.recoverychild.com .