This is Ben again. Hey, I've got to pipe in on the subject of doubling. I get really really excited about doubling. Mostly because it sounds SO WICKED on EVERYTHING. Here's why I think it's so great:
First, I think it appeals to the part of me that likes orchestration. I'm sort of an arranger at heart, and there's something about doubling a melody that turns that melody into a part. Something intentional and firmly established. A well-placed cog in the machine.
Second, I've gotten hooked on the way that timbres change when you double them or mix them together. Imagine the difference between a string quartet and that of a full orchestra. Well, doubling is in the same family of earthly joys, except that the studio enables you to be a mad scientist about it and try it with instruments there wouldn't normally be two of, such your voice. And when you combine two different timbres playing the same melody, it's like you've created a new instrument. I think ever since I heard this song called "Miracle" on a Josh Rouse record, in which they had this simple line being played by a really dorky organ and a really dorky synth and the two things together were MAGICAL together, I've been unable to resist stacking things up to create new sounds. (In fact, not to shamelessly plug, but if you get that David Spencer record that's coming out in a few weeks, listen to this song called "It's gonna be something good" where I'm stacking a music box, chamberlin strings, and a synth for a good portion of the song.) It's an almost culinary art. Flavors in combination. Yummy.
So let me give a little listening assignment to the general public and then a recording assignment to those of you who are making records as we speak (also known as the general public.)
Your assignment is to listen for vocal doubles this week. You'll hear them on the choruses of pop songs like crazy. I mean, once you pay attention, you're going to hear vocal doubles on just about everything. Now if you want to hear some more artistic use of vocal doubling (as opposed to doubling for poppy reasons), listen to the Beatles, Elliot Smith, or either of the last two Derek Webb records.
Now for recording. May I suggest you start with doubling background vocals? After you've doubled a part try panning both tracks to the same side (far left, for example). Now pan them opposite each other (far left, far right). You'll notice a big difference in how the sounds interact with each other when they're panned together from when they're panned opposite each other. Now record TWO MORE passes of the same part and try panning 2 tracks on each side. By now, you will be in love with this whole deal. Oh, but wait, there's more. Double the lead vocal on the chorus or the bridge. Then try keeping the lead panned dead center and pan the vocal a little to the side and mixed low. Now place them at equal volume and pan them hard left and hard right. Now try doubling either the lead or your BGVs down (or up) an octave. Try doubling the lead vocal down an octave on just one line--maybe a lyric that's supposed to have some weight to it. This is the orchestration part I'm talking about--using timbres to affect the way a melody or even a lyric comes across.
Another good place to start is with guitars. By all means, double a rhythm guitar part and pan the two passes far left and far right. By all means double lead parts. And FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, try using different guitars, different effects, and playing melodic doubles an octave up or an octave down.
Oh, you're going to have big fun. I ga-ron-tee. I'm giddy just thinking about it.