3 Double Tracking Techniques for Songwriters

By D I Hughes, Spire Contributor | December 10, 2018

double tracking songs

The art of songwriting is challenging, rewarding, and exciting in equal measures. Whether you're a budding bedroom guitarist or a fully-fledged gigging musician, songwriting is a journey paved with endless rewards. But, as rewarding a pursuit as songwriting is when it comes time to record, even the best idea or arrangement can come out sounding flat, and frankly, it’s frustrating.

Fortunately, a simple yet effective technique called double tracking exists, and you can experiment with it on your home recordings or demos, breathing new life into your sonic creations without eating into songwriting time.

Double tracking is a recording technique in which a musician sings or plays over an existing part to create a stronger, fuller, richer or more nuanced sound.

While traditionally, double tracking or doubling up your parts consists of simply replicating a section of music, there are other savvy tricks you can use to take your arrangements to another dimension—like using iZotope’s free Vocal Doubler plug-in. In this post, we’re going to explore three simple methods. However, before we do, let’s take a look at two double tracking examples to put this tried and tested technique into perspective.

Double tracking examples

These two very different but equally accomplished songs both benefit from double tracking, doubling up pivotal parts to add sonic depth.

The breakthrough track of this UK-based heavy rock duo, Royal Blood, “Little Monster” benefits from a wonderfully defined wall of sound that makes the entire track sound huge. In this case, the double tracking comes from a carefully crafted bass rig setup with an octave pedal that allows Mike Kerr to play two tones at once. When he plays the monstrous verse riffs and drills down into the chorus, the dynamics go through the roof, making the silent interludes all the more powerful as a result.

While the double tracking, in this case, comes from the bass rig itself, it’s an excellent example of how much power and warmth doubling up large sections of music can add to your recording.

The soft, subtle and some would say, sultry, tones of Bon Iver are mesmerizing—and the balanced use of double tracking here really bring these elements to life. Throughout this song, both the main vocals and the acoustic guitar part have been double tracked, with each part being panned hard left and hard right, respectively. What this does is create a dreamy stereo effect while making the driving elements of the song richer and inviting to the ears, adding a hypnotic quality to the arrangement while giving the other instrumentation in the song a brilliant platform on which to dance around. Here it’s clear that the balanced use of double tracking defines the recording, bestowing it with the kind of audible magic that really makes it stand out from the pack.

3 double tracking techniques

Now that you’re acquainted with the concept of double tracking, and you’ve heard its power in action, let’s delve into three definitive ways of doubling up your parts.

Each of these sound clips have been recorded with my Spire Studio to put the power of doubling into full perspective.

1. Simple harmonies

For this snippet, I added a mild dose of Acoustic Shaper reverb, a Spire recording effect, to add ambience to the overall sound of both tracks. I placed the second track—or harmony—slightly lower in the mix for tonal balance (you can find the right balance with some simple trial and error).

Here, I played track one in the key of G (G is the root note of the part) and to create an ambient power chord-type effect, I played the exact same part, or shape, but started it in D (or with a D as the root note). Once I was happy with the final result, I panned one track to the left and the other to the right to create a broad stereo sound.

This simple harmony method can be transposed into any key on almost any instrument as long as you use the right intervals in terms of key, e.g. if the original part is in A the harmony part should be played in E; if it starts in C, you should play the harmony part in G, and so on.

Essentially, The idea here is to use the idea of harmony using the principles of double tracking to create a fuller, richer recorded sound. That said, not only does this double track technique add a certain warmth to an arrangement, by trying the same harmonic approach with full chords, you will add layers on dimension to your recordings.

2. Double octaves

One of the best things about double tracking is the fact that when you lay down a riff or part and then use a new track to record the exact same part over it but an octave higher, the results are amazing (see tip two of our inventive bass techniques guide).

Now, imagine adding a third track using an even higher octave.

In this clip, that’s exactly what I’ve done and by panning tracks one and two hard left and hard right, and placing the third track ever so slightly off center and rolling its volume down a little in the mix, the riff has into life, bestowing it with more dynamic depth and sonic power as a result.

This particular technique is best used on riffs of groove heavy musical parts to accentuate the notes and add sudden power to hand-picked moments of your musical arrangements.

3. Off-time, out of line

The most interpretive double tracking tip of the bunch, the Off-Time, out of line, approach (as I like to call it) is an excellent way of breathing new life into your records while letting your creativity run wild.

In this clip, I played the original descending bass part with a little Acoustic Shaper added to the mix for ambience, panning it almost completely to the left. For track two, which I panned almost completely to the right, I added a ‘Verb 65 to the mix to give the part some extra bite.

Now, to make this section of music a little more busy, percussive and interesting, both sparingly and methodically, I placed track one on loop and experimented with the sound. In the end, I played the second part very slightly off time to add a percussive element while resolving (or signing off) the part with a handful of notes that ascended rather than descended, creating melodic contrast.

By looping sections of your music to experiment and practice with this approach, you’ll be amazed at what you come up with—give it a little time and you’ll create endless amounts of musical magic with the Off-Time, out of line method.

Final Thoughts

The subtle and simple art of double tracking has a great deal of scope when it comes to adding vibrancy to simple recordings and demos.

By using these three definitive double tracking techniques to your advantage, testing various parts of your arrangements to see what make the most impact while letting your creativity lead the way, you’ll transform your tracks into living, breathing works of art time after time, after time.

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