Believe it or not, it is possible to sing harmony with yourself. No surgery required:). I'm doing it in the video below.
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.
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?
I'm going to tell you how to record your voice singing all the vocal parts of a song with awesome harmony.
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 computer with a sound card, head phones/ear-buds of some kind, and some sort of microphone. Those little $4.00 PC mics are just fine to start....no really, I'm serious. As long as you have the stuff I mentioned, and you want to try this out right now, all you need to do is download the free, open-source audio program called Audacity.
If you want significantly better audio quality, you can use a USB mic like the Samson Q2U for $59.
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 unit.
You could also jump to the totally professional recording program called Reaper, which is free for 60 days and only $65 after that, which is completely insane for the quality and capability of this program! I used a Rode NT2-A large-diaphragm condenser microphone and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface for the harmony demo recordings.
If you are using a PC mic or USB mic, you can use the same headphones you use with your mobile device, you can plug those into the green (typically) hole in your PC's sound card ("hole" = "jack" if you insist on using technical terms). If using a laptop, that will be on the side or back. You may have to unplug the speakers first, which is fine. Then plug the microphone into the pink hole/jack in the sound card/laptop.
If you have a setup with a standard mic with an interface unit, you can make things a bit better by using studio headphones, such as the Audio Technica ATH-M20x headphones. These have a larger (1/4 inch) plug that can go into the interface unit.
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 ("Sounds and Audio Devices" in Win XP) from the Windows Control Panel. In Windows 10, accessing the Control Panel takes a few more steps. Just type "Control Panel" in the Cortana search box in the Task Bar, or ask Cortana via voice command to "Open Control Panel."
In XP, 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 sound card you have), and put a tick in the "Mute" box on that channel. Just close the Windows Mixer and you're ready to rock!
In Windows 7 or 10, select the Playback tab in the Sound window. Make sure there is a green check mark in your sound card. If not, select it and choose "Set Default." Then go the Recording tab and choose your microphone and set that to Default. Then while still on the Recording tab, click Properties. Now choose the Levels tab in the Microphone properties window and make sure the mic is set to about 80-90.
The video a few paragraphs below, from our "Harmony Recording Awesomeness" course, will clarify that stuff above:-P
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.
Do 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 things you can do with that recording-studio-you-didn't-know-you-had, check out our tutorials here.
Other lessons in our course The Newbies Guide to Audio Recording Awesomeness 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.
Below is an excerpt video lesson on how to do this - from our new course Harmony Recording Awesomeness.
For an example of 3-part harmony in a rock song, check out my cover of "That Thing You Do!"