Credit: Joanne Cooper
I always get comments on the harmonies in my recordings so I thought I would do a step-by-step blog post on how I go about recording these using Band-in-a-Box and Real Band. Here is my workflow in 5 steps.
1. Create the song structure in Band-in-a-Box®
Here is a sample of the song structure for a recent original song of mine called “I See You”. The absolute minimum information I fill at this stage is the style, the key, tempo, start and end bars and then the actual chords. All three have been highlighted in the diagram below.
2. Record your lead vocal in RealBand
Once you have the basic song structure in Band-in-a-Box save the file and then open it in RealBand. The first time you open a Band-in-a-Box file in RealBand it will take a while to generate all the required information but thereafter, if you save it as a SEQ file, will open fairly quickly. RealBand will generate and display all of the ReallTracks.
Below is a sample of my song “I see you” in RealBand. Right click on the first blank audio track and change it to “mono” and record your lead vocal. Note; a vocal is a mono signal so it is pointless to record a stereo track.
Go ahead and record your lead vocal into the first bank audio track. Below is a sample for “I See You”.
3. Generate harmonies from your lead vocal
Now, right click on the lead vocal track. Select “generate” then select “Generate Audio Harmony” .
Select the option to “Harmonize to the chords of the song” and pull down the harmony type and select which harmonies you want to generate. I usually choose 2 up and 2 down to give you the most variety to choose from. Select the Harmony output type to be “multiple mono audio tracks” and make sure that the Audio Output Track starts with the next blank audio track in RealBand.
Slide the “Dry voice level” all the way down to “Infinity” and hit the generate button (this will ensure that the generated tracks only have the harmony and none of the lead vocal. This makes it easier to hear and learn these harmonies).
4. Learn and record the harmonies (all the way through)
RealBand will generate each of the harmonies on separate tracks.
Now comes the hardest part; to learn the harmonies. This is what I normally do for each of the harmonies I want to record.
1. Increase the volume on the generated harmony by about 10 db.
2. Mute all other vocal tracks and harmonies
3. Render to a WAV file
4. Carry the song with just the harmony I want to learn around with me for a while (either in my car or on my iPhone).
A word of encouragement on this: IT GETS EASIER THE MORE YOU DO IT! I have been doing this for a while now and I can literally generate a harmony, sing it once through and then record it.
I usually record the harmonies all the way through the song. This gives me a lot of flexibility when I start to mix.
When I am happy with the recorded harmonies, I sometimes spend some time lining them up with the lead vocal in Melodyne (but this is another huge subject that will probably be covered in a future blog post).
5. Mix the harmonies to taste
Now you have your lead vocal plus a few “sung” harmony tracks plus a few “generated” harmony tracks that you can mix in. You can export these all to WAV files to be imported into your DAW for mixing. (I do all my mixing in RealBand).
The mechanics of mixing the harmonies is another huge subject and will definitely be the subject of another blog post. For now here are a few things that I do in mixing in the harmonies.
1. Cut almost all of the harmonies during the versus so that I create a build in chorus
2. Keep “adding” more harmony layers as the song builds.
3. Copy a “well-sung” harmony track to another track (moving it 5 cents back) instead of trying to record another sung harmony. I usually pan these to opposite sides.
4. Pan the low harmonies closer to the center than the high harmonies.
5. Make sure that the harmonies are either balanced within themselves or with other instruments in the mix.
6. Only use the sung harmonies where the timing with the lead vocal is good.
7. Use the generated harmonies to “fill the gaps” where the sung harmonies are not great
8. Put some EQ to narrow the frequencies taken up by the harmonies.
9. Manually remove all the breath noises on the harmonies
10. Liberally used fade in and fade out on the harmony tracks where the timing is not great
Here is a screen shot of the simple harmonies I did for “I See You”.
Here is a screen shot of a final mix for one of my more complex vocal harmony mixes “Kumbaya my Lord”.
Of course, you can make it as complex or as simple as you want. My advice would be to start simple and build your confidence over time.
What are your tips for recording or mixing harmonies? I would love to hear them in the comments section below.
You can listen to I See You here. And Kumbaya my Lord here.
If you want a detailed step-by-step guide on how to make and perform with Band-in-a-Box backing tracks, have a look at my eBook “Band-in-a-Box 101: A beginners guide to making and performing with Band-in-a-Box backing tracks“
For more information on creating your first song using Band-in-a-Box and RealBand check out my online video course First Song with Band-in-a-Box for Windows