You guys are giving me so much good advice!
I understand it is all about the performance. If I can deliver, all my signal chain needs to do is step out of the way and not interfere.
I am not a natural born singer, but have been singing my whole life regardless. A powerful performance is in me, and like with my gear, all I need is for my body (my psychological tensions) to step out of the way and not interfere with my expression. Here is partly my desire to control the environment, for as you have all noted, a good environment inspires confidence and release. I know from experience that my best takes happen when the mic is set up ten feet from my bed, ready to go. I roll out of a dream at 5am and sing when the world is still quiet and before my character armour is on for the day. Ultimately it is my freedom to work this way that will likely make me do it all at home.
I can only imagine how many amateur singers you guys have met who are keen, but after hearing what they've got, you know that all the gear and software in the world cannot help them. I am not young and optimistic like this any more. I have already been that guy, and I have failed to deliver. That was ten years ago, and I have been working this whole time on my ability to expertly connect the reed in my throat to my resonant structures, both physical and emotional.
Singing has for me been a spiritual pursuit, one of balancing the bilateral halves of my body through modified Alexander Technique mixed with the basic practice of Dynamic Tension. Mild occlusion of the left side of my throat from weakness in the left shoulder and scalenes (due to excessive right-hand dominance) turns out to have been the major physical limiting factor to my singing. Bad tone was always my problem, though I had pitch and range on my side. I am working through this by learning to bilaterally engage and hold active my cranial nerves as I engage my upper spinal nerves to sing (sub-hyoidals and brachii). There is a hack for opening our resonant and expressive structures. The imagery is a focus upon the bust acting as a throttle for the rest of the body, which is allowed to hang and passively follow the bust upward and forward (via chin tuck to straighten the back of the neck, and shoulders back and down to raise the sternum). Once I can connect to my clavicles through this descending activation, my tongue root lifts and opens my throat in that same way as in vomiting. It sounds strange, but this is the coordination in which magic can happen through the discovery of hidden formants inside the less-used musculature of the face. Beyond that, performance I find to be mythological. Connection comes down to belief in one's competence and the possibility that one cathartic moment captured in recorded song can change the course of our destiny. I do believe strongly in the songs I have written for this project.
My assumption is that there are only ever a few people on the planet who can truly deliver (and fewer who can get up and move while they sing in an integrated way, as did Michael Jackson). They are a limited resource and valuable to producers. If I keep at it long enough (and I am well on my way), eventually I will get there to some extent. Even if I am approaching 50 when I do (I am approaching 40 now), if I am one of the rare fellows who can deliver, then there will be room for me in some of the big studios and on some of the big stages of the world, even if the popular appeal of youth has passed me by. This project is a milestone so I can see where I am at objectively, based on how others receive my product. If it is good enough, it will be a demo I use to open doors. If it is not, I will learn and try again.
I am saying a lot to try and inspire confidence cause I want you guys to know that I do have my priorities straight, despite being an amateur. I am also no stranger to studios, having worked on many sessions in my local scene over the years as a guitarist and bassist. I do have the ability to put together something listenable ('clinical', as someone put it, being the one attribute I have to work hardest to avoid). My songwriting and arrangement were designed from the start such that all the elements will have their place in the mix. I recently redid all the bass-lines using a friend's p-bass just because I didn't like how my original takes with a jazz-style bass were fitting in. My questions here are so that I have everything right on the technical side, as I have less experience engineering than mixing. I do not want to end up in a similar situation as with the bass, feeling I want to redo good vocal takes because the mic or some other weak link prevents the vocals from jumping out of the speaker with the same energy I am getting from the instrumentation.
Like the p-bass, there are certain standards that rarely disappoint in studio. I came here because the Neumanns are expensive and I am less knowledgeable about the options. I will rent and audition an SM7. My only worry, now mostly dispelled, was that my preamps were not ideal for a low-output mic. I agree that my DBX is cheap gear. I use its limiter circuit as a prophylactic for my band's PA system, and I thought perhaps I could do the same in recording. Leaving headroom and compressing in the box is surely the better solution. In general I prefer to correct dynamics through eq, and do as little compressing as possible before the master bus. Some of you expressed concern that my mix will be too bright, or perhaps too aggressive with the clarity I have been going for. I do feel that I am on top of this (aka what I already have sounds good to my ear). My philosophy is relative minimalism--no wall of sound--with fewer elements, all audible in their detail, eq'd to sit well with one another, and generally unconcerned with the loudness war. The ideal is straight up performances on classic instruments that we know from half a century of great music to hold together like peanut butter and jelly. Everything beyond that comes down to competence in execution.
Now that I have clearly outlined my situation in this tl;dr post
I leave it at this and will get to work. I expect to be done before summer, and will share the penultimate mix on this thread for a final critique when it is ready. Any other advice or relevant stories from experience are welcome and encouraged. I will stay active here for the inspiration that comes from having quality consultants on hand.
May this be the year that all our projects come to fruition!