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Arranging & Orchestration

How to Overdub Instrumental Tracks: 5 Tips for minimizing phasing

How to Overdub Instrumental Tracks

Overdubbing instrumental tracks is not as easy as it seems at first. However, there are things you can do to achieve a great sound while overdubbing. Here’s how to overdub instrumental tracks that sound great!

What is overdubbing?

“Overdub”, “stack”, and “layer” are commonly used to describe to act of creating a duplicate recording. “Overdubbing” means to record a voice or instrument part two or more times. The primary purpose of overdubbing is to create an ensemble effect. However, there is always a risk of phasing.

If you’ve seen a music documentary or behind the scenes footage from a recording session, you’ll likely hear these terms.

Here’s an example of a string orchestra effect created by overdubbing viola and cello between 6 and 10 times each.

Zach Dellinger, Viola & Caleb Vaughn-Jones, Cello

5 Tips for minimizing phasing while overdubbing

1. Use a different microphone for overdubs

how to overdub instrumental tracks

An easy thing to achieve a different sound is to setup two different microphones while tracking. Then, while tracking overdubs, switch between the two mics for each pass.

This can potentially help any potential phase because individual microphones have different frequency responses.

2. Use a different instrument

how to overdub instrumental tracks

Do you have two violins, try switching between the two instruments when adding overdubs. This not only for helps resolve phasing problems, but really expands the overall timbre of the sound.

If possible, even playing a violin part on a viola or cello can be great for helping to create a great overdub.

3. Change your position to the mic for overdubs

Moving around the room, close mic’ing and far mic’ing, can make a huge difference in the depth of the overall sound. In a larger studio, the room mics have a full perspective of the sound.

Changing your relation to the microphone(s) while overdubbing can help reduce phasing. The varying proximities to the microphone changes the frequencies captured by the microphone.

4. Use mutes to alter your sound

how to overdub instrumental tracks
Trumpet with a bucket mute

In addition to using multiple instruments for overdubs, mutes and other sound modifying tools can go a long way.

If you’re a trumpet player, try using a bucket mute on your second pass while overdubbing. You’ll be amazed at how this small change can really help the sound.

5. Change other aspects of your instrument/setup

how to overdub instrumental tracks
Violin bows

Are you a clarinetist and have another barrel or ligature? Try switching some of these things around to get some variation in the sound.

As a cellist, I find that even changing my bow can be a huge help. One of my bows tends to produce a darker, richer tone than the other.

How to overdub instrumental tracks: Understanding and avoiding phasing issues

An increasing number of musicians are recording music from home. Remote recording comes with many challenges. Overdubbing challenges include matching intonation, matching tone, and mic placement.

However, the most common challenge with learning how to overdub instrumental tracks is an occurrence called phasing, phase shift, out of phase, or phase difference.

What is phasing or phase shift?

When two similar or identical signals become misaligned, phase shift occurs. Once two audio signals of the same frequency are shifted by a half cycle, the signals cancel each other out. Ultimately, shift in the phase will result in a reduced output gain of the audio signal.

how to overdub instrumental tracks
Phase shift

So you may be able to see how this is problematic when overdubbing multiple tracks. The audio signal tends to

Listen: Out-of-phase (two cellos)

How to overdub instrumental tracks with minimal phasing

The basic premise of minimizing phasing is to alter as much of the audio signal as possible when doing overdubs. Even minute variations to the sound while overdubbing can make the phase less noticeable.

Stay creative

Recording music is a complex, pandora’s box. However, remaining flexible and creative keeps things fun. Aside from training your ears, learning to think on your feet is one of the most important factors of getting things done in the recording studio.

If you have more tips that have helped you with overdubbing instruments, feel free to comment below.

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