- Learn how to prepare a vocal track for Melodyne
- Become familiar with some of Melodyne’s most powerful tools
- Learn how to use Melodyne to execute a well-pitched vocal
- Audio examples included so you can follow step-by-step
This article was written by John Arquette, a producer specializing in pitch correction. If you have vocals that need touching up but don’t have the time or access to Melodyne, consider using his services. He’s helped countless musicians achieve professional vocal takes on a shoestring budget.
Pitch Correction vs Autotune: What’s The Difference?
Before we dive into using Melodyne and learning about its different functions, we’ll clear up a common misconception and give you some helpful tips for maximizing your end results. Pitch correction is not autotune, and for those of you who don’t know, here is the difference between the two.
- Pitch correction is more about tuning each individual note manually, thus giving the producer more control.
- Autotune is, as its name implies, more of an automatic application to the vocals, with some parameters (key signature, depth, speed, etc.).
Although pitch correcting vocals is more time consuming than autotuning them, there are many more benefits to manually pitching your vocals versus just autotuning them.
One benefit is the amount of time spent recording can be reduced. Instead of recording tens or hundreds of times to get the pitch just right, you’ll be able to tweak the pitches while maintaining a natural sound.
If you just simply applied autotune, the vocals might not hit their desired notes, and they will most likely sound very unnatural. Also, manually pitching vocals will give your track an overall cleaner feel, unless that’s not something you’re going for.
In most cases, the more in-tune your leads, harmonies, and instruments sound, the happier you’ll be with the end result.
Set Up The Singer & Producer For Success
With pitch correcting it’s very important to have clean, isolated vocals. This means having little to no background noises with the vocal track(s). The more isolated the vocals are, even from room reverb, the better your results will be.
Watch out for sounds in the silent portions of the track, and remove them without affecting the vocals. When removing these sounds make sure you’re fading the track in and out at the tail ends of the unwanted noises so the edits don’t become obvious or too abrupt.
Most session settings are as follows: 24bit, 44.1khz. At these settings try to make sure the vocals are being recorded above -24db at least. It is possible to pitch correct vocals below -24db; however, the quality and accuracy of the program might suffer.
As a little side note, the grittier a person’s voice is, the harder it is for the program to recognize the different notes they’re singing.
The more consistent in tone (smoother sounding) the singer’s voice is, the easier the program will be able to recognize the notes they’re singing, and when it recognizes the notes you’ll have more control over the pitch.
If you are able to record the singer yourself, or you are the singer, I highly suggest vocal comping. Vocal comping entails recording several takes from the singer. Then, finding the best parts of each take and piecing them together to create a final vocal track.
When placing parts together make sure they sound natural and smooth. Utilize fading, cross-fading, adjust volumes (if necessary), and try to keep as many larger sections of the vocals intact to minimize work and increase fluidity.
Another thing I like to do after vocal comping is close my eyes while listening to the track. If everything sounds smooth, then it’s good to go. It’s easier to pay attention to the way it sounds if you can’t see where one part ends and another begins.
Setting Up Melodyne
Now that your vocal track is ready, it’s time to load it up into Melodyne. Once you have Melodyne opened on the track you want to pitch correct, there’s a button in the top left corner that reads “transfer”.
Click “transfer” and begin playing the vocal track until it’s played all the way through, then stop the audio. Now you’ll see the audio is loaded in Melodyne and can be manipulated. It will look something like this:
Determining The Key Of The Song
Before doing anything else make sure you know what key the track is in, and what notes are in that key. This will make pitching a lot faster and easier.
Take a look at this image below. This is the sidebar in Melodyne that displays the key signature it thinks the track is in.If Melodyne didn’t properly guess the key signature, you can change it by left-clicking on the note corresponding to the right key and selecting major or minor.
Understanding Your Toolkit
Our main focus will be on some of the tools here.
“Main tool” – By clicking on a note and holding ALT simultaneously you’ll have access to the timing tool by moving your mouse left or right, and the pitch tool by moving the mouse up or down.
”Pitching tool” – This allows you to manipulate the pitch, and has two additional functions. To access the additional functions either left-click the icon and hold or right-click.
”Pitch modulation tool” – This tool will flatten and center the pitch.
”Pitch drift tool” – This tool will center the pitch, but not flatten the signal.
”Format tool” – This tool manipulates the resonance of a voice, by either lowering it or raising it, without changing the pitch. I never use this tool when pitching.
”Amplitude tool” – This tool changes the volume of the voice and isn’t necessary if you’ve already prepared the track.
”Timing tool” – This tool is used to adjust the timing of the vocals. It can be very useful if the singer is occasionally off tempo.
”Note separation tool” – This tool will allow you to divide the vocal part up according to where the notes fall within Melodyne. Melodyne will automatically divide the notes for you; however, it doesn’t always divide them correctly.
The Main Event: Pitch Correction
Step 1: Identify Floating Vocals
Now that the tools have been introduced let’s start by bringing in an example clip to demonstrate the tools you’ll use the most.
The first thing you need to look for are “floating vocals”. These are vocal parts that land between two notes. If you see any floating vocal parts, that’s a dead giveaway they’re out of tune.
Also, look for parts of the vocals that land on the wrong notes in the key signature.
Step 2: Grab The Main Tuning Tool
Let’s use the main tool to move these vocals closer to their desired notes.
Left-click the note then simultaneously click and hold ALT/CMD, now the vocal clip should slide up and down. Make sure the vocal parts are as close to the center of the desired note as possible.
Here’s what it sounds like now…
Step 3: Control The Separation
For the most part, Melodyne did a good job at recognizing where the notes should be separated; however, there are some spots that weren’t separated properly or are missing separations completely.
The first highlight is a separation I would change. In order to remove existing separations, you need to select the separation tool, place it on top of the separation, double click, and it’s gone.
The rest of the highlights are places where I would add separations. Double click anywhere on the vocals, with the separation tool selected, to separate them.
You’ll notice, I separated the vocals and also moved them closer to the centre of their desired notes. Now pay attention to the red lines that go through each note and how some of those red lines are travelling very far from the centre of the notes.
Step 4: Pitch Drift
Now we can use the pitch drift tool to bring some of those red lines closer to the center. Simply select the pitch drift tool, click and hold on a note, then drag your cursor up and down until you notice the red line moving closer to the center of the note.
So now, if you compare the image above to the previous one, you’ll see the red lines are a lot closer to the center of the notes.
Depending on your pitch correcting goal, at this point the notes are mostly in-tune and you could stop here, but let’s go a step further and utilize the pitch modulation tool.
Step 5: Pitch Modulation
The pitch modulation tool can more harshly affect the vocals, so be careful to not overuse it.
Part of pitch correcting is leaving some of the imperfections imperfect so the voice still sounds natural, and not robotic or synthesized. However, if you use this tool correctly, and depending on the singer’s skill level, you will be able to achieve nearly perfect tuning and still maintain a natural sound.
This tool works just like the previous. Simply click, hold, and drag until the red lines are closer to the centre of the note.
Take a look at the finished product above. The notes are landing where they should be, the red lines are centred but not flattened, there are still some imperfections, and the separations are in place.
Now take a listen to how it sounds.
Final Results (In The Mix)
For added context, here are some before and after clips with instrumentation. Night and day difference!