Sing Harmony With Yourself – Learn How to Record Your Voice on Your PC and Sing Along With It!


Have you ever been singing a song by yourself, and you could just hear the harmonies that were "supposed" to be there but were not? Every time I sing Take It Easy, by The Eagles, I get to the chorus and just have to imagine that I have Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmidt standing beside me. Without the vocal harmonies, the song just doesn't have the same punch, the same magic.


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Imagine trying to perform Kansas' Carry On Wayward Son, solo! I don't think so (actually I managed to do it...the intro anyway.  Wanna hear it?  It's right here: How To Be Your Own Glee Club – Queen Harmony Demo.)  The same holds true for Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen (I have not done that one yet:-P). There are certain songs that just cannot or should not be performed without those magical vocals. So what in the world do you do about it if you're a solo performer?

Well, for live performances, you're pretty much stuck with having to get a few other singers for the harmonies. Actually, depending on how technically savvy you are, there are little machines that can split your voice up and play it back as harmonies, but that's another thing for another article. And trust me, it is a huge pain to get decent results. Yes, I've tried it; no, I don't do it anymore;).

However, you can record yourself singing harmonies with yourself (yourselves?), right now if you want to, with tools you probably have around the home. As long as you have a PC with a sound card, an mp3 player, and some sort of microphone. Those little $4.00 PC mics are just fine to start....no really, I'm serious. If you have the stuff I mentioned, and you want to try this out right now, all you need to do is download the open-source audio program called Audacity.  If you want significantly better audio quality, you can use a USB mic like the Samson Q1U for $49.  If you already have some experience you could REALLY crank up the quality using a large-diaphragm condenser mic in combination with an audio interface.  I used a Rode NT2-A microphone and M-Audio Fast Track interface for the harmony demo recordings.

The reason I said you need an mp3 player is for the headphones or earbuds, not the player itself. Plug those headphones into the green (typically) hole in your PC's soundcard. ("hole" = "jack" if you insist on using technical terms). You may have to unplug the speakers first, which is fine. Then plug the microphone into the pink hole...I mean....jack in the soundcard.

You just need to set up a couple of things in the software before you start. Open Audacity and go to Edit/Preferences to open the Audacity Preferences window. Put a tick in the box next to "Play other tracks while recording new one." Then click "OK." Next, go into the "Sounds and Devices" window from the Control Panel in Windows. The icon looks like a gray speaker. Go to the tab marked "Audio," and in the section called "Sound recording," click on the "volume" button. That will bring up the Windows Mixer." Find the channel that says "Stereo Mix" or "Wav Out" (depends on what soundcard you have), and put a tick in the "Mute" box on that channel. Just close the Windows Mixer and you're ready to rock!

Record the melody by pressing button in audacity with the big red dot on it. An audio "track" will appear as if by magic. Start singing into the microphone. When you're done, click the button in Audacity with the big yellow square (meaning "stop"). Go back to the start of the song by clicking on the button in Audacity with the double purple arrows pointing to the left. Now you can add a harmony by simply pressing the red dot button again and singing along with your recorded voice on the first track.   Make sure you listen to the earlier track(s) on headphones while you're recording the new track of singing. THIS IS VITAL because you can't use the speakers or else your microphone will record what's coming out of them as well as your voice.  You'll end up with both the first vocal AND your harmony on the second track.  This is NOT what you want.  Each track must have only one part on it.  So when adding tracks, either turn the speakers off, or unplug them and use headphones only.

singing harmonyDo this as many times as you want to (there is no practical limit in Audacity), for 3-part or 4-part harmony. Heck, turn yourself into a choir. I once turned myself into an abbey of chanting monks!

That's all there is to it. You just sang harmony with yourself and didn't spend a dime! There are lots of things you can do to improve the sound once you're done, such as reduce the noise, pan the voices left and right, etc. If you're interested in learning about those, and tons of other great stuff you can do with that recording-studio-you-didn't-know-you-had, check out our tutorials at the Home Brew Audio website. The first several video tutorials are free, and the subsequent lessons are only $7.00 apiece. Other lessons will show you how to create a voice-over with music behind it, how to create loops, and how to edit audio, do multi-track recording, etc. The tutorial covering the stuff we did in the article is also there, in case you were wondering;).

If you want to see and hear some awesome examples of other cool things you can do in the harmony-singing realm, head on over to our Vocal Harmony Demos page. Cheers!

By the way, if you don't already know how to sing harmony, or have difficulty doing it or holding your part against other vocal parts, you should definitely check out SingHarmony.com. They use an innovative and really cool method for teaching you how to sing harmony. They use "part predominant" tracks, which means you pick a part to any song in their library (say the tenor part). That part will be in the right speaker (or headphone) while all the other parts mixed together will be on the left side. You can start with the balance turned all the way to the right. Then as you gain confidence you can gradually move the balance, adding in the other singers. If you turn the balance all the way to the left, you hear ONLY the other parts (minus your part), which is awesome for practicing holding your part by yourself. It's probably the best way to learn how to sing harmony that I know of. You can purchase part-predominant tracks of the three voices in the recording of "Helplessly Hoping from the above video from SingHarmony.com at this link: http://www.singharmony.com/search.php?ID=494.

Ken

Comments

  1. says

    You’re welcome Sam! Me too – I’m actually kind of addicted to it in a way and always have been. I want all my songs to have 3-part harmony. My song-writing partner (who is also my wife:), however, things it should be used sparingly. So she tempers me somewhat. Probably a good thing I suppose.

  2. says

    Nice effect there Ken and what a lovely voice … love a bit of CSN&Y … those really were the days :)

  3. Ed Verlie says

    awesome, could you please post just the guitar part as well? I’m excited to try your technique.

  4. Jet says

    Beautiful music you’ve made there. You have an amazing voice. :)
    How did you record it without wearing headphones though, as mentioned in your tutorial?
    Thanks!

  5. says

    Thanks Jet. That’s a really good question. The answer is that the video was recorded sort of like a music video and/or musicals, etc. I recorded the singing – with headphones so I could hear the guitar (and other voices on the harmony parts). Then I made the video after it was recorded while listening to the already-recorded music over the speakers. THAT singing was only recorded on the video camera, which also would have picked up the stuff coming out of the speakers. Then when editing the video, I deleted the audio track from the camera and replaced it with the audio from the already-recorded music. Did that make sense?

    If I hadn’t been making a video of it, I WOULD have had headphones. And so will you. For folks who don’t know why – it’s because each track you add (like harmonies, extra guitars, etc.) needs to be free of any other audio so it is all alone on its own track. If you don’t wear headphones, you have to listen over the speakers. But then the stuff coming out of the speakers would get recorded onto the harmony track too (through the microphone), which is obviously NOT what you want.

    Thanks for the opportunity for me to clarify that, Jet!

    Ken

  6. Kathryn Floyd says

    Hi, Ken. I participated in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir IV, but had to make my recording online because every attempt I made to record it to my computer resulted in delay between video and audio. As I am not the experienced or techno-jargon-savvy recording engineer you mention, I have no idea what the problem was/is. Will your tutorials help me find a way around my previous problems?
    Thanks

  7. says

    Hi Kathryn. I just watched the TED Talk of the virtual choir and was really impressed. What an awesome idea. But to answer your question, I don’t think you’d need to get a full tutorial course just for this issue (though they are good for learning the basics of good audio recording, but then I’m a bit biased;)). I can give you a couple of ideas right here as to why it happened and how to solve it.

    I’m assuming you were recording with a mic plugged into a computer’s sound card? If so, you will get “latency” because those mic input jacks aren’t designed with precision recording in mind. If you use a USB mic, the problem should go away. And if you go to an even better setup – an audio interface unit (connected to your computer via USB, usually) with a large diaphragm condenser mic plugged into the interface, you also shouldn’t have a problem. Just make sure you choose the ASIO device from the “Audio Device” options in your recording software. BTW, ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) is the preferred way to get audio into your computer because it’s so fast and was basically designed to solve the very problem you’re talking about.

    If you’ve already tried one or both of these methods and somehow still have the delay issue (I can’t think how you would, but I never discount what can go wrong when computers and devices are connected), you can open your video editing program (not sure which one you were using) and literally drag the audio track left or right to match the video. You can do this in Reaper (my preferred audio recording software, which just happens to let you edit audio as well!) if you don’t already have a video editor that shows separate audio and video tracks (like Vegas Movie Studio or a number of others).

    I hope that helps. If not, let me know and we can maybe figure it out.

    Cheers!

    Ken

  8. matt says

    Great video ! I will follow your instructions on how to do this but first, can you tell me what type of camera you used to film yourself and how you actually combined the sound and video ? And maybe tell me how you put the video on youtube ? :) Sorry for all the questions, i just have literaly no clue, i really want to do this !

    Thanks for helpings guys like us Ken , from Matt.

  9. says

    Matt,

    I used a Canon Vixia camcorder. I recorded the audio separately. Then I used Vegas video editor and removed the camcorder audio and inserted the previously recorded audio on the video. It was basically recorded like a music video. I hope that helps.

    Ken

  10. says

    Hey Ken …

    WOW….Pretty amazing stuff YOU can do … AWESOME VIDEO … amazing what can be done these days at home.
    Someone had referred me to you .. Google online … sure enough HOMEBREW was there.

    REALLY look forward to receiving your next ‘words of wisdom’; as I would consider you to be a ‘Mentor’ in the recording studio.

    I had worked in radio after going to college and taking radio broadcasting course.
    Worked in the field for about 15 yrs and was laid-off work for the first time … replaced by AUTOMATION (Computer) … FRIEND AND FOE lol

    Had worked on the side voicing scripts for local small video/audio recording studios looking for someone experienced reading a script. It took some time to learn how to speed read a script and known where to put emphasis on certain words or the delivery

    Looking to get back into V/O industry … already have people waiting for the call that I’m setup and ready to start recording at home and send off by email.
    This is where YOU come in Ken …. I need to learn how to use Audacity on home laptop
    Already have most of the equipment (older mics, like a AKG D12E (Silver/Black) and regular directional microphones and headphones and a real oldie M-AUDIO FireWire Solo Interface Box (Silver/Grey)
    I really enjoyed reading the article on the LATEST USB Interface … need link if possible to order.

    Thanks Ken

    Gary

  11. says

    Thanks Gary! The USB audio interface I use is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. I’m in the middle of a long industrial voiceover job right now – eLearning. I’m using that interface and a Rode NT2-A. Truth be told – for voiceover, I’d rather get myself a Sennheiser MKH-416 (yes, a shotgun mic!), and a Shure SM7 dynamic mic.

    Thanks so much for your words! And good luck with getting back into it!

    Ken

  12. says

    Takitta – no there is no app to do the videos. Nor is there an app that lets you do full harmony parts like this. I believe there are some apps that will create harmonies, but not well enough to to control each part (would only do like a third above or below a target note). Also, even the best harmonizing software (for use on non-mobile devices) still sounds a bit unnatural. No, I sang and recorded each part. Then I created the video by actually filming myself.

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