One of my favorite parts of studying creative pursuits (art, music, production) is leaning into the appreciation for other creatives. People who have made the process so self-expressive that it's easy to hear a certain vibrato and know who's playing guitar or see a brush stroke and identify the artist.
There's also certain characteristics to everyone's voice that reminds me of a fingerprint or iris in their eye. It's unique, human and wonderful.
The combination of those two elements: how someone uniquely creates and what individualizes them biologically – seem to be what we connect with when hearing a vocal. I try to keep all of that in mind when producing vocals. It's likely the most emotional and human-nature driven part in a song we can connect with. We use our voices to communicate in speech and it only gets louder, softer – more dynamic – and more expressive when we sing.
Like a great photo, it's a delicate balancing act of trying to capture someone in their best light, from the best angle, but still have them recognizable and connecting with all that makes their voice naturally compelling.
It's also like a recipe; a mix of techniques and ingredients to help each singer, sound the "best" they can and connect with their audience. One part confidence and comfort in the process, one part hearing the tone, timbre and pitch to adjust to what they are trying to convey, and another part getting the equipment to flatter what's already naturally engaging and what the song is trying to say.
If that sounds complicated, it is and it isn't! It's different, as different as our voices are, with every person but fortunately it's also a self-revealing process. It's experimenting until our ears perk up. They know! You can sometimes narrow it down to a simple "this-or-that" A/B process. Try a vocal take in a dark room, isolated like a person on a dark nightclub stage or right next to the production equipment, like a relaxed rehearsal working through parts. Try singing a song all the way through, live, with an instrument in hand (if the vocalist is also an instrumentalist) or overdub each verse, maybe each phrase, focusing on all the subtleties of notes, pronunciation, inflection and emotion as you go. Sometimes it's a mix of several processes.
Because of their importance, to me it seems like vocals are in the category of "whatever it takes" in the production process. It's always a fun and rewarding process to just try to capture the beauty that's already there and the vision an artist has of where they want to go.