I'm a fan of a lot of 70s and 80s "overproductions", although at the same time I'm also a really big fan of really dry, really clear recordings where you can hear every single thing in mix without things sounding artifically "big". This contradiction is difficult to maintain or justify, but it's just what I like. I absolutely refuse to use sample replacement or autotuning unless it's for a specific effect. To me, If we have to go that route to get the sound we're after then we didn't track correctly. I don't care what so-and-so uses to get his albums sounding amazing, I want to hear reality and not some artifically airbrushed debutant with fake tits posing in front of a green screen, even if that reality has a few blemishes.
I just recorded and mixed an album by a band that has four singers in the band and their hallmark is definitely their vocals. I had to pull out all of the stops for these guys to make them happy with the vocal tracks for the album and here's a few that we used.
1. "Queen vocals" - After watching the Classic Albums DVD of Queen's Night at the Opera, the guys were really interested in singing together around one mic even though we essentially had unlimited tracks available to us. For some songs we did takes with them singing together in harmony, and for others we had them all sing each singer's part of the harmony together for even bigger stacks. We also did a session using this technique in the living room of the guitarist's house which was a big resonant room with a lot of natural ambiance.
2. Background Vocal Thickener - For any vocal tracks that we wanted to sound extra lush, we would mix them down to a stereo track and put a small room reverb with no predelay and a very quick decay and compress the hell out of it. This resulted in a very 80s sound of overcompressed and over 'verbed vocals, but tucked low in the mix and EQ'd properly it added a nice lush texture to the vocals. I used this to some degree on every single track because it worked out so well.
3. Double double, you're in trouble - During vocal tracking I made sure to try and get a double of every single vocal track we felt was a keeper. Any time we wanted someone's vocal to sound a little bit bigger, we'd toss in the double. Sometimes we'd squash it, sometimes we'd radically EQ it, sometimes we'd toss it through a Leslie, etc. We didn't want the sound of a doubled vocal, so we'd edit it carefully to make sure the timing locked up between it and the main vocal. Most of the time these were tucked in the mix and weren't obvious doubles, but occasionally we'd go for the obvious double too. Just matters what you're looking for. An additional benefit of having the double was that you had another take in case someone didn't like the timing or feel of the main keeper track, we could always swap in the double to see if it worked better in the mix.
4. The joys of editing - In the cases where we didn't end up with usable doubles we just edited repeated sections (like copying and pasting the second chorus under the first chorus, etc). If there weren't any repeated sections I would try and fly in vocals from the pre-productions demos we did. Which brings me to my next part...
5. No more "beat the demo" - Luckily for us, the bassist and guitarist of this band had home studio setups and since I wasn't available for most of the time they had allotted for preproduction, they were able to record the songs for the demos. For the most part the tempos were the same and the production value wasn't too bad on them. In a couple cases, some demo vocals actually ended up quite prominent in the final mix. We had a bad case of demo-itis early on with these songs and many of us were quite resistant to attempts at changing parts during tracking, which isn't always a good thing. However, one benefit was that we were able to use our favorite magic little bits from the demos without sacrificing sound quality.
6. My good friend Leslie - Just about everyone involved in production/engineering has heard the story about "Tomorrow Never Knows" and John Lennon wanting his vocal to sound like the Dalai Lama on a mountaintop, so Leslies on vocals aren't a new or unknown trick. One of my favorite musicians is Kevin Gilbert, and there was an interview with him where he was asked if he had any "desert island gear", things that he just can't do without in the studio. He said, "I'd be lost without a Leslie, I sort of use that a lot for processing." I just kind of nodded and said, "Hmmm..." so when this album project came around I started noodling with it on my own, just experimenting and seeing if I liked the results. I certainly did and so did the band, so there are lots of Leslie vocals on the album, which they now are never going to recreate live :D I had an old Leslie available, but not knowing that much about miking them and having some noise issues with it, I tended to use the Leslie simulator in Native Instruments B4 a lot more than the real thing, mainly for ease of use.
7. Overusing effects - In the 70s and 80s, a lot of new effects were coming out and people tended to overuse and abuse them. So, try getting something where it sounds good and then crank it up to 10 and see if you like it in a mix. Sometimes good sense tugs at you and says, "Yeesh, should we really use a Leslie on 90% of the tracks?" but to blazes with all of that sense! Do it! Overuse it! It's fun and you can always tuck it or yank it from the mix entirely later on. And you just watch and see if it does end up buried or on the cutting room floor, everyone will make comments about how they miss it or want a mix of the song for themselves with all of that overboard crap pushed up nice and loud!
8. Mellotron - I've been absolutely nuts for Mellotrons all of my life, from Strawberry Fields through Tony Banks and Rick Wakeman to again, Kevin Gilbert, I absolutely love the sound of Mellotrons. I prefer them to any sample and sometimes even over the real thing (of whatever sound we're going for), but I especially love to trick the ear by layering real violins/cellos over Mellotron string sounds. Where this comes in with vocals is whenever we had any big vocal oohs or ahhs going on, I'd tuck a layer of a Mellotron choir underneath them just to see what happens. Sometimes it would sound cheesy and fake and sometimes it would just lift the track up in the right way. Even if you don't like Mellotrons, using choir sounds from keyboards or samplers might do this for you. One little interesting thing that I haven't gotten a chance to try yet is the Jimmy Jam trick of sampling oohs and ahhs from your singer(s) and triggering them with a keyboard. You or your neighborhood keyboard wizard may come up with some arrangements that you might not have come up with otherwise.
9. The most important thing: Make sure that the inflection, pronounciation, timing of consonants and sibilants line up in your vocal tracks. The real key to making things sound bigger and more lush than they actually are is to make the backgrounds sound like one track, not a collection of twenty. It's just like a string section or an orchestra; if they're really good and playing together well, they sound like one massive instrument and not a collection of many. It's the difference of playing a chord on a guitar and having six guitars play each individual note of the chord... they impart a completely different sound.
10. Make sure your singer doesn't suck. Okay, I only really did this one so I could have a nice even ten