This isn’t about mixing vocals, it is about recording them. They are two very different things. I will address mixing and EQ-ing some other time. But right now I will address some very basic but important and sometimes overlooked things about getting a good vocal track. A famous saying in my studio is “do it again.”
Having a background in musical theater and formal training in singing, I act as the vocal coach for my own band and for myself, though I am always learning something new. The learning never ends.
When recording your vocals take your time. Do it right. Listen carefully. Did you got the right feel? Did you capture the right mood? Don’t be afraid to create the right atmosphere during recording. If your studio is set up with lights that make it feel like someone’s office cubicle, you may well get a sound that makes you feel like you are at work or somewhere you don’t want to be singing the song, much less listening to it. It will reflect in the recording.
Set up some lights that reflect the mood you need for the song. It could be candles you need, or colored lights. Or bright whites if that’s what you’re going for. No matter what your recording space is like, with lighting, you can always create an atmosphere that will help you get the song out the right way. I keep different colored bulbs on hand for just this purpose. Strings of Christmas lights of various colors will work great too and they are usually on sale cheap right after the winter holidays.
As for gear, if you don’t have an expensive tube mic, never fear. There are inexpensive ways to get around that and get a good clean warm tube sound. ART’s Tube MP Project Series Tube Microphone/Instrument Preamp is under $80 and will really get you the warmth you need in your vocal. And it works great for other instruments as well. A handy little tool even if you already have great expensive gear. In which case, great, you are lucky and all good to go and there’s no reason to hear a recording that is less than stellar.
If you have the luxury of having your own studio, take the time to do it right. Take lots of ear breaks and don’t be afraid to just leave it be for awhile. Go back to it again completely fresh. Take off a week from that song. Or even longer. It could be that a new approach is what you need and a fresh view of the song. Ask the opinion of a 10 or 12 year old. They will be brutally honest. Ask the opinion of an 80 year old. They will be brutally honest too. But then take it all with a grain of salt.
Are you singing with the emotion that the song needs and that inspired you to write it? If not, get it back. You’ll need to try different positions around the microphone. Do want it more airy? Do you want it more gutsy? Do want it more plain? You need to ask yourself all these things and position yourself or the microphone to capture what you want.
Do you hear something that makes you cringe? Then do it again. It will probably make others cringe as well. Do yourself a favor and become a better vocalist and do it again until it’s right. Unless you are using autotune as part of your style, ditch it. You won’t get better that way.
If you constantly use cheat machines, you are only robbing yourself of the ability to improve. They can be useful, I’m sure, but there’s nothing that beats the self satisfaction of knowing you pulled off a great vocal performance without using machines. A live audience will certainly appreciate the time and effort you put into bettering yourself as a singer. It won’t happen overnight, so don’t expect it to. But it takes constant practice, just like when you learned to play that guitar, the piano, or those drums. Your voice is an instrument and needs to be practiced.
Now, if you are singing harmony parts, there’s some things that work great if you can adjust your voice. Again, it requires listening carefully to every nuance of the way the lead or other vocal is bieng sung. I will go back and listen to a part over and over again to figure out how my band mate sung a certain part or phrase and I will make my voice match that style to get those perfect sibling harmonies everyone covets. Is it a breathy whispery phrase? Then your harmony needs to match it for it to be effective and not sound out of place. An example of this would be the song “True” from my own band’s album After All.
Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/barleystation/true-1
Or on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/true/id507047384?i=507047521
Listen carefully to how the vocals and harmonies match each other and the mood of the song. That’s what makes it work. We have distinctly different voices, but in harmony it is often hard to tell who is who when they are effectively sung. That’s your sibling effect. (It’s what I call it anyway)
Learn to harmonize with yourself and your bandmates if you have them. You need to grow as a vocalist. In the studio, feel the right notes. Close your eyes. See the notes in your head. Find them, hit them, and remember what you did to get them.
You can be your own vocal coach if you can’t afford one if you are self-disciplined and not tone deaf. There are great voice teachers who often give good free advice online (I didn’t say free lessons) and have written helpful things, like Nashville vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams whose clients have been folks like Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Ben Folds, Keith Urban, and Jason Aldean.
But whatever you do, make sure you are using proper technique so you don’t ruin your voice. There are also plenty of videos that can explain it so you can understand it. Experiment with your voice but don’t mess it up.
Your voice is your paintbrush and the sound is your canvas and this is your art. Take the time to do it right!