Audio engineer Scott Hirsch makes a vocal comp (or compilation take) out of five recorded vocal takes using playlist style multi-layer editing in the Pro Tools Playlist Editing view.
- [Instructor] The first and arguably most important step towards producing a lead vocal is deciding on the final take. Here's where you're gonna use all your producer and editing skills to select the most compelling performance for the final mix of the song. Now, it's quite possible that the singer nailed a complete vocal performance in one of the takes. If that's the case, all you have to do is find that take and use it. More likely, though, you'll have to search through more than one take to make a composite best-of take out of a bunch of options. This is called a vocal comp.
Depending on your production style and the individual singer, you might need to go word by word, phrase by phrase, line by line, or verse by verse to find the best stuff. Let's look at how this is done in Pro Tools, since we'll be using playlist editing to make this happen. Here I have an Excel spreadsheet where I made some notes during the original recording session. This is a roadmap of the takes I thought were working at the time of the recording. Keeping track this way can be helpful when it comes time to make the comp.
So in Pro Tools, we recorded four complete takes and a fifth version of the first verse. Now, here we're only seeing one of the takes. To see all of the takes together in Pro Tools, we can pull down the wave form view menu and choose playlist view. And here we get to see all of our takes together. Now remember, we're gonna be making a vocal comp out of all these takes. So let's go ahead and make a new playlist for our vocal comp to live in. So I'll go over to the track header and on the track pull down menu, I'll choose new and we'll name this Ld Vocal.COMP and there's our vocal comp place where we can pull all of the best parts of these takes into.
Now, going by my roadmap, I have a note that I like the fifth take for the first verse. So, anytime we wanna hear any of these takes in isolation, we can click on their respective solo button and this doesn't solo the vocal itself in conjunction with all the other tracks in the song, but rather, it solos this take or this lane to hear as the one part of the vocal sound we're hearing during playback. So in other words, if I solo this track, I'd be hearing this fourth take.
If I solo this track, I'd be hearing the third take and in this case, I'm gonna solo this track to hear the lead vocal from the fifth take which is our fifth add-on verse that we did as a final thought. So, let's go ahead and listen to the song while auditioning the fifth take for the first verse and make sure our choice is still valid. Here we go. ♫ Give me a kiss before you say goodbye ♫ But make it quick before I start to cry ♫ I know it's gonna hurt and so it should ♫ I wish you'd stay ♫ If you only would Okay, so I still love it.
Let's choose that for now. So once I wanna make this part of our comp, it's as simple as once you have the selection made, you just click the up arrow and it moves that selection into the hero track or the final comp track here. So we still have to deal with what happens before the first verse, which is the intro. So we can go through and audition some of the other takes to find which one we like best. So, let's see, I'll choose, I'll just kind of work backwards. I'll choose this take, which is our fourth take and I'll move back to the beginning of the song.
(instrumental music and humming) So I'll already think that's a little strange. I want to try out this third one, which I have a note that I liked when it went down. So let's compare this. (instrumental music and humming) So I know I like that part. Let's hear the rest. (instrumental music and humming) Very strong.
That sounds great to me. So I'm gonna choose that for our intro. Again, select it, click the up arrow and it moves into the comp area. Now, my next note is that I liked the first take for the pre-chorus. Notice I've made markers through the course of the song and it helps me figure out where the different sections are. So the pre-chorus, I have a note that I liked the first take, so I'm gonna go ahead and listen to that and one thing to be aware of is you don't want to listen to just particular sections, one at a time. You wanna really hear how each section flows into one another, because you're comping from different takes, you wanna make sure that the emotional content flows from take to take.
So I'm gonna go ahead and grab what I have written that I liked and then I wanna go ahead and just listen to the outro of the first verse into the pre-chorus. So I'm gonna go ahead and uncheck any of the take lanes here so that I'll hear whatever's on top. As long as none of these are solo, we hear the top most track. So here we go. ♫ I know it's gonna hurt and so it should ♫ I wish you'd stay ♫ If you only would ♫ Don't you worry about me So that seems to flow really well, energy-wise.
♫ I'm tougher than you might think And for the chorus, I have a note that I like the third take, this purple take. So I'm gonna go ahead and select that and pull that in and let's again check it out, the flow between these two. ♫ I'm tougher than you might think ♫ The storm is right over my head Again, that flows really nicely. ♫ That's okay ♫ I will dance in the rain So that's the process for really just going through and if you need to listen again, if you didn't take good notes during the recording, you wanna make sure you listen to everything, compare it, you can do this in real time, by the way, as you're playing, you can just go through and say ♫ How could you hate Literally, just listening down ♫ The moon then call it down To all the different takes at any time and choose all the best performances to pull in your final vocal comp.
And once you've completed that process, you have your final composite take and you've chosen this in terms of the best performance that supports the song in the best way possible. As you can see in my case, it's been culled from all the different takes at various times in the song. And once you have this ideal comp take and it flows and sounds great, you've completed the most crucial step towards producing a great vocal. We'll now turn our attention to work on refining this edit, supporting the lead vocal with backup vocals and mixing it into the song.
Audio engineer Scott Hirsch starts with comping the vocals—combining the best performances into one final vocal master take. He explains how to edit out breaths and other noises and fabricate a doubling effect for additional texture and vibe, and then brings in some plugins into the mix—Antares Auto-Tune, Melodyne, and iZotope—to tune vocals and create more interesting soundscapes. In the "Mixing" chapter, Scott enhances the sound of the vocals with EQ, compression, reverb, delay, and automation, adding life and motion to the song. The final track demonstrates everything you can do to maximize the effectiveness of vocals with Pro Tools.
- Comping takes in Pro Tools
- Editing breaths and noise
- Doubling and tuning vocals
- Experimenting with iZotope's Stutter Edit
- Processing vocals with EQ and compression
- De-essing vocals
- Using reverb, delay, and modulation effects
- Automating levels and FX in Pro Tools