Learn from my mistake: Aligning vocal tracks

A couple weeks ago I recorded some vocals for someone I recently began working with.  The trackbed had some very slight misalignments between the drums and the rhythm guitar, because of some kind of side effect of a filter he had used during mixing.  But I recorded the vocals anyway.  I probably spent a total of three hours recording, between lead vox, lead vox double, harmony, harmony double, ad lib, and ad lib double.

The problem was that after he cleaned up the mix and removed the slight misalignments, my vocals were a few milliseconds out of whack throughout the song. In some places they were right on, but in some places they pushed the beat, in most places they dragged behind the beat.  They just “felt” wrong.

We spent the next two weeks trying to align the vocals where they should go throughout the song.  We sent mixes back and forth, me telling him to nudge the third line of Verse 1 ahead a few milliseconds but keep the fourth line where it was… to nudge the entire second verse ahead a medium amount, but push the last line forward about half that much… it was endless, and we never got it to “feel” just right.

I should have known.  Trying to nudge vocals into place when they are not recorded exactly where they should be, has been close to impossible in the past.  It has worked once or twice, but usually it takes about ten times longer than I think it should.

Finally, I ended up just re-recording everything this past weekend.  It was quite a bit faster the second time around, since I had listened to the song about a hundred times.  But think of the number of hours wasted.  Not just the three hours spent recording the initial vocals which we ended up throwing away.  But at least that much more time spent sending mixes back and forth, listening to the song over and over, picking it apart, sending emails, interrupting other work.

So please learn from my mistake:

1) If the trackbed has any misalignments, do not record.  Make sure you know exactly where the beat is.  

2) Get the track’s tempo, and make sure a metronome lines up exactly with the beat.

3) If you do find yourself tempted to nudge vocal tracks into place, put a time limit on how long you’re willing to spend doing it.  If you get to that limit and you’re still nudging, give it up and re-record.


(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn

Adrienne Osborn is a vocalist and performance coach based in Colorado.   For more free articles and tips, visit http://PerformanceHigh.net.