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Spotlight And Analysis: Isolated Vocals On Popular Recorded Tracks

Analyzing some of the effects and other techniques at work

By Bobby Owsinski March 9, 2012

This article is provided by Bobby Owsinski.

This week we’ll feature isolated vocals on some big hits by major artists.

Gimme Shelter

Here’s a track that I featured a couple of years ago that was taken down by the record label shortly after it posted. It’s another version of the isolated vocal from The Rolling Stones’ great “Gimme Shelter” that’s a mindblower. On it we hear Mick Jagger, Mary Clayton and an uncredited third voice singing the song like you’ve probably never heard it before.

Here are a few things I noticed.

1) What jumps out is how thick and long the reverb on the vocal track is. The verb is delayed so it stays out of way of the lead vocal a bit, but there’s a lot more of it than I ever remember hearing on the record.

2) The other thing that jumps out is the third harmony vocal on the choruses in between Mick’s lead vocal and Mary’s high part. Never heard that before, but I like it.

3) It’s interesting to hear how distorted everything is, especially on Mary Clayton’s parts when she begins to belt it out.

4) Mary Clayton’s part in the bridge is still great, no matter how many times I’ve heard it before. What a performance. Gives me chills!



How Will I Know

Next is a 1985 song by the late Whitney Houston called “How Will I Know,” which was a huge MTV hit that helped push her to superstardom. Eventually Whitney went on to sell an incredible 170 million albums during her lifetime, far more than most people realize. Here are a couple of things to think about as you listen to this vocal track.

1) You can hear the compressor work a fair amount. There are a few parts where her breaths are exaggerated where you can hear the compressor pushing up the level. You can’t hear it in the track with the music though.

2) The reverb is pretty long and there’s really a lot of it on the vocals. It’s a good sounding verb that’s filtered so it doesn’t have a lot of highs or lows so it fits the track well.

3) Whitney doubles herself in the choruses, sometimes very closely, sometimes not so much. It’s a popular technique that many producers and vocalists use frequently.

4) You can’t hear many of the actual punches, but some of the vocals are pretty are pretty much on top of one another, which happened a lot back in the days of limited tracks due to the limits of magnetic or digital tape.

5) Note the long delay on the vocals in the bridge, which sounds like it’s about a full quarter note and timed to the track.



Any Way You Want It

Now let’s look at the vocals from a Journey hit from their 1980 Departure album called “Any Way You Want It.” The song only hit #23 on the charts, but has since found great favor among advertisers, being used on commercials by Heinz, McDonalds, Ford, State Farm and Samsung. Here are some things to listen for:

1) The vocals have a very long verb that sounds like it has a slight (20ms) predelay on it. The verb is a little on the bright side but still fits the track well.

2) There’s a timed delay also on the lead vocal in addition to the reverb. Listen to how band-limited it is. Hard to tell if this was the result of a tape delay with a worn out tape or one of the then-new digital delays that were intentionally filtered, but either way, there’s not= high end at all on it.

3) The harmonies are very tight – maybe too tight, in that it sounds like they got one perfect then just flew the rest of them in on all the other spots in the song as needed. That’s no big deal today since you can easily cut and paste in your DAW of choice, but don’t forget, this song was recorded way back in 1980 in the days of magnetic tape. You had to do this kind of thing manually, which was a process we called “flying it in” back then.

4) Steve Perry’s voice is wonderfully glorious, soaring to the heavens as always. That’s why it so unusual to hear a flat note that was left in at around 1:20. Obviously it didn’t hurt the popularity of the song any. I can’t say I ever heard it before listening to the isolated vocal track.


Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blog.

About Bobby

Bobby Owsinski
Bobby Owsinski

Music Industry Veteran and Technical Consultant
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. To read more from Bobby, and to acquire copies of his outstanding books such as The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, be sure to check out his website at


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