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Tips, Tricks and Help

Tips and Tricks

bvg12In this article, we will demonstrate and specifically show you several specific examples of how to produce and arrange background vocals in a modern pop song. In today’s musical landscape, we are witnessing one of the most eclectic and diverse array of songs to ever be on the charts at the same time. As of January 20th, 2013, we have artists such as Pink, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, A$AP Rocky, etc… and that’s just in the Billboard top 20. While there might be differences in the “genre,” there are a few fundamental musical components that each one of these songs have in common: Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony, the three fundamental components of modern music. While Rhythm and Melody usually get all the glory, Harmony, specifically in the role of Background Vocals, can take an ordinary song and turn it into an anthem. Background Vocals can enhance the listener’s experience in a way the Lead Vocal could never do on its’ own.

Before we get into the hot ‘n heavy, I do have to point out the creative application and placement of Background Vocals can differ based on the specific genre. In music, harmony is defined by the use of simultaneous pitches or chords and often times referred to as the “vertical” aspect of music. There is no real “right” or “wrong” way to produce background vocals, as so much is dependent on the production style and taste involved; however, in listening to any modern song on the charts, you can quickly pick up that there is a lot going on, which usually means quite a bit of work editing in Pro Tools. Luckily for us, this type of work and associated workflow is what Pro Tools does best.

Recording Background Vocals (BGV’s) is pretty straight forward as is all recording in Pro Tools- set up your microphone, create some new tracks, and viola! Grammy Time! Sound simple enough, keeping in mind that you have planned out what the background vocal lines will be and your vocal talent has rehearsed their parts. Pro Tools can’t help you with a singer that doesn’t know the lines. Once you have the creative part ready to go, it’s time to create some tracks in Pro Tools.

The art of hand-writing sheet music is becoming easier with the advances technology has made in assisting in this process. In this article, we'll discuss some basic techniques for using the "Score Editor" in Pro Tools to arrange and print sheet music with proper notation that musicians can easily read. There are a few guidelines that are very important to understand first for the process to initiate properly. First, you must know the key of the song that you are intending to score. It is also important to know the key of the instrument you are printing for, as many instruments are tuned to different keys. Most trained musicians can still translate even if you print in "Concert C"; but it is most appropriate if their parts are transposed to the key of their unique instrument.

Setting the Key in Pro Tools


  1. From the Key Ruler, either click the "+" from the side column of the rulers view, or right-click on the ruler at a point at which you would like to add a key change. It is possible to add key changes throughout the session, and transpose MIDI data accordingly, but that is a topic for another day. Right now, let's just get the key of the song inserted at the beginning of the session.

Before we begin, we created a session that you can download and listen to after you read this article, and use as a template for other songs. This template can assist you in creating SideChain Compression in your own mixes. You will find this link at the bottom of this article.

Compression is a very commonly used technique in Hit Dance Music for making various instruments within a song swell up and down. They usually swell down when a kick drum, or beat hits, and back up in between the space between hits. I’ve created a session that you can download and use to listen to, and use as a template for other songs, if you like. This a quite simple process that will go a long way in dance music, so buckle your seatbelts and keep your hands and feet in the car throughout the duration of the ride. Here we go! And if you like what you see below, feel free to join me for a hands-on Pro tools class in person at ProMedia Training.

First, I created an instrument track,


And then inserted Boom on it:


I’m going to use it as a trigger, or sidechain, for the other tracks that need to swell or pump. By programming a quarter note bass drum pattern, also known as “four on the floor” to musicians, this will be the source of the other tracks to swell between. Here’s how I did it. You can follow along, or download the session, which is already done.

There is a lot of back and forth in music about “genre” and “sub-genre” mainly because everyone likes to think of themselves as different from everyone else making music. Truth is, most of us are looking for the same thing- radio play. If you haven’t noticed, radio is still the primary medium that most of us hear our new music. Getting played on the radio equates to money, mullah, dinero, cheddar, cake etc.... Furthermore, it means that the more our songs are played on the radio, the higher up the Billboard charts the song will climb, hopefully landing in the Hot 100 and Top 40. Look at the Billboard charts today and you will see music and bands from every genre imaginable: dance, hip hop, country, rock, whatever it is you want to call it; but Pop Music is what it truly is. Now that we have that out of the way we can start looking at what most of these songs have in common.

If we start listening to what a lot of the Top 40 songs have in common, it becomes obvious that there is a lot of presence in the vocal sound and tone. Listen to songs by Usher, Carrie Underwood, Lil Wayne, Five Finger Death Punch, Kylie Minogue, and even Justin Beiber, we start to see how present and “big” the vocals of these songs sound, right in your face! The sound is telling you “this is something to pay attention to”. DISCLAIMER: Even though we are talking about vocals, this same technique is also utilized for instruments as well, such as guitar, drums, key’s, etc… This “popular” sound utilized by top producers today is accomplished by vocal layering and placement techniques. Let’s look at some basic principles to help you with layering.

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