Are you interested in recording your own voice on your music, but don't know where to start? Or are you starting to receive vocal recordings from vocalists and don't know what to do with them? This is the most important step in working with any vocal for music, so stay tuned!
When you first record or receive a raw vocal for your music, there are some steps involved in getting it from the booth to a polished, final product in your track. One of those steps involves tuning the vocal. Even great singers such as Ariana Grande and Mariah Carey use tuning to help make sure their recordings are as polished as they can be, so don't think it's only for bad singers or that it will make you sound unnatural, unless that's what you're aiming for.
Lets run through some of the plug ins that will be used and how you can use them!
This is the classic tuning plug in that most everyone has heard of, even outside of music. You can really abuse it to make your vocals sound almost robotic, like T-Pain, by completely increasing the Retune Speed and decreasing the Flex Tune knob. However, for many artists who don't wish to dramatically alter their sound, this plug in is still extremely useful. When you turn down the retune speed, the lower you decrease it the slower the plug in will tune your vocal, resulting in a less noticeable/abrasive sound. Similarly, turning the flex tune up more also preserves more of your original voice, by allowing more of your natural fluctuations in notes to come through.
Experiment by turning on formants mode in the top center / slightly right of the plug in. This can help make a more natural sound, and if you adjust the formant up or down it will effect the timbre of the voice. You can also automate this to create specific effects in specific parts of the track.
A common workflow I find myself using with autotune is to put a gentle autotune in the beginning of the chain, and then use Melodyne to surgically edit the tuning and formants, then do a slightly harder autotune after that. The reason for this is that if you put a harder autotune straight on the track, and the vocalist is too off key in a certain note, it will actually auto tune it to the wrong note, meaning you'll have to tune it harder with Melodyne to pull it back, creating a very unnatural sound. So by using Melodyne before doing stronger tuning, especially with vocalists who are less on key, you can make sure everything is in the ballpark first. There are many free alternatives to AutoTune if you don't have the means, such as Melda MAutopitch, Logic's native Flex Pitch, and others. Below, we will discuss Melodyne!
The second primary tuning plug in that you'll want when working with vocals is known as Melodyne. This plug in offers a more surgical approach to tuning vocals. First, you'll need to record in your track into Melodyne by hitting the "transfer" button in the top left and then playing the track. Once you have recorded in your vocal, you're ready to start.
There are whole courses dedicated to learning everything about Melodyne, so I will just go over the basics here. The tools you'll be using are the 6 icons in the top center of the plug in, as pictured above, the one that looks like a regular mouse cursor and the 5 directly to the right of it.
The mouse cursor is the main tool, it lets you do mostly everything but is not as precise as when you pick the specific tool for the job. The one to the right of that is the pitch tool, which lets you move the notes up and down in pitch. Hold the options button (mac) or alt (windows) for more precise editing. The drop down menu here includes other options to adjust the amount of pitch modulation or drift, which are basically just how the vocalist is expressing or fluctuating the note. You can increase it for greater expression or decrease it to remove unwanted fluctuations.
The next tool to the right is the formant tool, which is used to make the formants higher or lower. Sometimes, I notice that adjusting the pitch of a note can make it sound weird, and by offsetting the pitch adjustment with a formant adjustment in the opposite direction, you can sometimes preserve the timbre while still putting the note in key. The next tool is amplitude, which lets you adjust the volume of each note. This is a useful way to control the dynamics before you put it through a compressor, so the compressor doesn't have to work as hard.
The next tool is the time stretch tool, which lets you adjust the timing of notes, drag them longer, or shorten them. The final tool is the note separation tool, which cuts the notes into pieces. This is useful because sometimes Melodyne will combine notes into one blob that are actually two different notes, and the resulting display will show the average of the two notes and not an actual representation of the pitch of that note. You will need to listen for these issues as you go through and make sure that you separate any notes that are being combined like this so that you can tune them accurately.
Hopefully that wasn't too dense of a read on Melodyne, it is a rather complex tool! But it is one that no vocal producer can be without. Using these two plug ins, you can do wonders to a vocal track, they could make a singer out of you even if you thought you could never sing!
Now you should have everything you need to tune a vocal, and all that will need to come next is practice! If you want to really ace this skill, seek out vocalists to work with to get practice on! If you are a vocalist or know a vocalist who is looking for help with this, I would love to consider working together if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until Next Time!