Don’t let your backing vocal mixing be an afterthought. Backing vocals can define the quality of your mix.
Looking back at my last 20 years of mixing, I’ve seen worship teams with anywhere from one to five backing vocalists. Backing vocalists can sing in different ways for supporting the song and/or the lead vocalist. Let’s get down to mixing…
Before jumping into the top seven, let’s first look at where backing vocals can sit in the mix:
—Behind the lead vocalist as a means of supporting the verses or chorus. They’re singing the same words but aren’t as loud as the lead singer. They might only sing the chorus or specific parts, but they are in a supportive roll for adding depth to the mix.
—Counter melody. Much like supporting the chorus, they might be singing a different melodic line.
—In place of the lead singer. In this case, the backing vocalists take over during a chorus and the lead singer doesn’t sing. Did I mention song arrangement is an important part of performing music?
In mixing backing vocalists, you need to consider their role (arrangement) in the song and their placement in the mix so their role can be fulfilled.
The Big 7
1) Less volume. Most of the time, the backing vocalists are supporting the lead singer. You don’t have four lead singers, you have a lead and three backing singers. While there are instances of multiple leads, that’s another story.
Therefore, their volume needs to be less than the lead. How much less? I can’t assign a magic dB number but I’ll say it should be noticeable.
2) Roll off some of their high frequencies. As well as reducing their volume for lead support, you want to place them in a reduced frequency range, just as you would any instrument in your mix. You don’t want to cut out their highs completely, but by using a shelving EQ on their highs, you can make the lead stand out.
Remember, backing vocals should be blended together while not sounding like a doubling of the lead singer.