How many times should you record the same vocal line for a song? How many takes do you need for a professional production? It can vary from genre to genre, and even from singer to singer. But in this overview, I will explain how many takes you should expect to record for your song and why.
How Many Vocal Takes Should You Record?
On average, you should probably record 3 to 5 takes of your lead vocals. Each of these takes should aim to sound as close to each other as possible.
After that, you may also want some vocal doubles that have different tonal qualities: I would suggest two or three doubles.
In all, that means you should record 5-8 takes of the lead vocals.
Why Do I Need to Record Multiple Takes?
There are two main reasons to have multiple takes of your lead vocals (also known as your “top line”). They are:
- Comping, and
Let’s look at both of those reasons in a bit more detail.
Comping is the practice of cutting up multiple vocal takes, picking the best parts from each take, and stitching those best bits together into one full “master” take. This technique is practically a studio standard for major labels, and it’s usage has become prevalent with independent artists as digital technology has made production cheaper.
Comping means you don’t have to get the most absolutely perfect vocals in one single take. You can mix-and-match the words or lines from several takes.
It eases the production process, because it allows you to easily replace off-notes or poorly-articulated words in a song without having to record the entire song over again for one little mistake.
Having multiple takes of a vocal also let’s you thicken the sound of that lead voice without needing extra singers. You can apply stereo imaging to extra takes to “widen” the sound of your lead vocals; this makes them sound bigger in the mix. And you want your lead vocals to sound like the biggest part of your song; they are the main show in most situations.
Thickening can also add more interest to your vocals when you record doubles in a different timbre. For example, let’s say you sing your lead vocal takes as you normally sing. But then you record an extra take that’s very breathy and raspy, and layer it underneath your main vocals. This is a quick and easy way yo add some “grit” and angst to your words…and thus create tonal interest in the mix.
Should You Record Vocals in One Take?
Yes, you can totally still record your vocals in one whole take. The idea here is not to record line by line, but rather to record multiple full takes of the same vocal part. In fact, I believe the vocals may come out inconsistent if you start and stop too often between lines or song sections.
And, even though comping is a common practice, that does not mean you have to comp your vocals. If you are happy with the sound of one take in particular, then feel free to just use that one take.
My Vocal Take Workflow
I personally don’t like comping and I don’t do it unless I absolutely have to. Most the songs I record are done in one take. Here is my specific workflow for recording vocals, if you’d like to try it for yourself:
- Warm-Up. I record a “warm-up” take to check what parts of the melody might be problem areas,
- Lead Takes. I record 2-3 lead takes until I feel like one take in particular sounds usable,
- Tonal Doubles. Then I record a take (or two) that sounds breathy and softer for layering,
- Chorus Doubles. Finally, I record extra gang vocal parts for just the chorus; these will get panned or stereo-widened to make the chorus sound bigger than the verses. And I’m a baritone, so I usually sing these parts extra-husky…or sing them farther away from the microphone and kinda scream-y.
In all, I usually do 6-7 takes, for my vocals.
After that, I will:
- cut out excessive breath noises and background sounds,
- apply some light mixing and leveling,
- listen to the rough draft of the song, checking for notes that are off-key or particular words that sound disagreeable,
- if there’s a section or phrase that I just can’t vibe with, then I will do some light comping
The majority of my takes get very little comping, maybe 2-4 edits. That’s not because I’m just an amazing singer (I’m a pretty mediocre singer most days), but because excessive editing usually wears me out and leads to abandoned tracks.
Do You Need to Record Vocals Twice?
Yes, most singers will need multiple takes to find a usable one. Unless you do a couple warm-up runs of the song first. But, if you’re going to sing the song a few times to get comfortable with it, you might as well record them as well. It’s happened to me a few times where the first starter take I recorded ended up being the nicest sounding.
Even if you manage to record the lead vocals in just one go without any errors, you should still record some doubles. That’s because the main vocal line is the most important element of a song (in most genres), so you need some extra takes to thicken, widen, beef up, or otherwise accentuate your lyrics.
Most artists will need to record multiple takes of their lead vocals, and that’s perfectly okay. Major label artists often record up to 20 takes for just one song! But you don’t need to get that detailed…five to eight takes should be enough to comp errors and provide back-up dubs.
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