Vocal comping means effectively picking the best vocal performances from your recordings. Keep reading to learn how to comp vocals like a pro.
Whether you use Ableton Live or not, this step-by-step tutorial will help you assemble the perfect vocal performance.
That way, you can record as many takes as you want, then combine your favorite parts later.
Why comp vocals
If you're not a professional singer, recording vocals can be challenging.
The secret to getting good results is to record multiple takes — then figure out which ones will be used.
That became easy with Ableton Live's new comping feature.
You can loop any section of your song and sing it over and over until you feel like you got some good takes.
After recording, select the best phrases — sometimes even single words from certain takes — and create crossfades to connect everything seamlessly.
Comping Vocals step-by-step
When I choose the best vocal recording, I don't expect perfect pitch or timing.
I just want the takes with the right feel, articulation, and attitude that matches the lyrics.
Tuning and timing issues can be fixed later.
But the emotion has to be there from the beginning.
How to visualize each recording on a separate take lane
Right-click on the track you used to record and select "Show take lanes."
By the way, you can't have automation mode turned on, or the take lanes won't be available.
Disable automation mode during your vocal comping.
Auditioning the takes
Turn on Loop Mode, click the speaker button on each lane and listen to all of them, one by one, taking mental notes of your favorite takes.
You could listen to an entire verse or chorus section if your vocal track was recorded by a good vocalist.
However, I like to listen to each phrase individually before moving on to the next.
Once you find a section you like, highlight it and press Enter.
That will move the highlighted section to the Main lane, which contains the vocal takes you're keeping.
You can also use the Draw mode by hitting "B" or clicking the pencil icon in the corner.
That allows you to move takes directly to the Main lane.
This is way faster than the previous method once you get used to it.
There's also a secret swapping trick.
Select the section you want to audition, hold "Cmd" on a Mac or "Ctrl" on a PC, then use your keyboard's Up and Down arrows to quickly swap takes.
The takes are sent to the Main lane as you press the arrow keys.
You must create crossfades between the different takes you chose to avoid clicks.
To speed up this process:
- Select the crossfade's area;
- Press "Z" to zoom in;
- Move the fade handles to a section with the least amount of waveforms — creating smooth transitions in silence or low noise sections;
- Then press "X" to zoom out and resume the selection of takes.
Vocal Comping Backup track
It's good practice to create a backup track — that has saved me from losing progress several times.
I misclicked with the pencil tool and selected the wrong takes, which replaced the ones I had chosen.
Since I only noticed that mistake later, I had to go back and listen to the takes again — and redo the whole section of a song.
I always keep backups now.
Copy the Main lane to another track every now and then to keep a backup of the chosen takes.
The natural vocal doubling effect
To create a natural doubling effect, select two or more takes of the same sections, move the audio clips to different tracks, and play them simultaneously.
To avoid artifacts, select the clips and turn the Warp mode OFF.
For some reason, by moving these clips to another track while Warp mode is ON, some artifacts become audible.
Vocal comping effect chain
While choosing your takes, you may want to turn on auto-tune, volume rider, or compression effects.
Your takes will sound closer to the final product, which makes the selection process easier for some producers.
When you're done comping, delete the effects — nothing will be lost from your recording.
Some people do better jobs comping when they use this auto-tune trick. Some don't.
I find it helpful.
Before, I was getting rid of good takes with the right emotion just because my ears rejected the tuning being off.
That shouldn't be a problem nowadays since it's easy to correct in Melodyne.
So try it and see what works for you.
Compression and vocal riding also help because we're biased to like the louder takes better. We love loudness, right?
So if you record the perfect take, but you weren't as close to the microphone as another one that sounds worse — but louder — there's a chance you will mistakenly think the louder take is the best.
The compressor stops you from doing that.
The settings don't matter. After the vocal comping, you'll delete it from the chain.
When it's time for mixing, you'll get a chance to compress it differently.
It's worth mentioning you can comp any recording — not just vocals.
Even MIDI recordings.
Now it's your turn to try vocal comping
After reading this entire post, I guarantee you have the knowledge to comp great vocal tracks now.
And since you're working with vocals, check out this article on how to create cool vocal effects.
For more in-depth music production guides, visit my website.