Realistically, there are very few artists that have perfect pitch. Even if they do, it is unheard of for a lead vocal not be pitch corrected, though it may be just the tiniest amount. These tools are not a safety net for sloppy vocals and should only be used to do small corrections in tuning. Don’t ever think you can fix it in the mix. Auto-tune and Melodyne pitch correction are there to help fix your mistakes, but if you’re off-key completely then the altercations will be noticeable. However, if the vocalist is focused and on key, and the pitch correction is done properly, you won’t even be able to tell. Pitch correction is a wonderful tool that can make an amazing vocal performance sound even better than it originally did.
Vocal tuning is electronically manipulating the pitch of the singer’s performance so that it is in tune with the other instruments in the recording. Melodyne is a Grammy award-winning pitch correction software plug-in that was invented in Germany by Peter Neubäcker. He first started developing the concept back in 1997 after asking himself “What does a stone sound like?” That one question sparked his curiosity so much that he began his journey researching until 2000 when he founded the company Celemony. Since then, Melodyne has become a sound editing staple for audio engineers. Although mainly used for vocal tuning, it can also be used as a tool for creativity in sound. If you don’t have the Melodyne plug-in, you can download a 30-day free trial here.
Melodyne editor is the newer version of Melodyne which offers a very distinct and powerful tool called DNA or Direct Note Access™. This is what allows you to get into detail and edit a single note in a polyphonic context. Which means that if you’re playing a song with any instrument and you realize later that you were playing it in the wrong key, you can then go into Melodyne editor and alter specific notes to change it to the right key. Melodyne has 3 versions: Melodyne essential, Melodyne assistant and the complete version, Melodyne studio.
Melodyne essential is best suitable for beginners. It is the most affordable and least complicated version of Melodyne. It offers Melodyne’s Main Tool for the basic editing of pitch and timing. More so, there is Melodyne assistant which is a step up from Melodyne essential offering the full Melodyne toolkit for editing monophonic and rhythmic audio material. It’s important to note that you can always upgrade later to any of these versions just by paying the difference. The Melodyne editor is the one that includes the ultra-precise DNA feature, but still only offers this editing for a single-track. Melodyne studio is the most expensive version of Melodyne because it offers the DNA tool for editing on an unlimited number of tracks in the same session.
Melodyne in melodic mode can alter pitch, timbre, amplitude, and timing. Here’s how it works: You input audio into Melodyne and from that point on, you are monitoring your vocal clips from the Melodyne plug-in, not from the clips in the edit window. Meaning that it is it’s own new audio file that you are working off of in real time in the Melodyne plug-in, not the real-time audio file listed in the daw. In the parts of the timeline where audio has been transferred into Melodyne and notes are visible in the editor, you will hear the audio coming from the plug-in. You will not hear the audio on the ProTools playlist. Conversely, in those parts of the timeline where no audio has been transferred to the plug-in or in which there are no notes visible in the editor, you will hear the audio coming from the ProTools playlist and not Melodyne. Melodyne has no way of knowing when something changes in the ProTools track, so if you change your compilation in ProTools, you also need to reload that audio into Melodyne.
The general workflow for Melodyne goes as follows:
Melodyne is object oriented so you will see objects in the software that you can manipulate. If you need to correct pitch or quantize a vocal, you can quickly do so by simply selecting the objects you would like to apply this to and clicking on the macro button by the tool bar. Simply hover your mouse over the tool if you are unsure which is which.
When using the correct pitch macro, correct pitch center will determine how close to center pitch note will be pulled. Pitch drift will determine how much variation in a note is considered close enough to center pitch to be left alone. The quantize time macro quantizes audio like midi and automatically works the moment you pull it up. The pitch transition tool allows you to control the glide between one note and another.
At the beginning or middle of a note, double-click to quantize pitch to the nearest suitable semitone. At the end of the note, control the pitch transition to the next note. Double-click to turn the transition on or off. These sub-tools which are used for pitch modulation (vibrato or drift) are not context-sensitive. Double-clicking on a note removes the vibrato or drift altogether or restores it. The note separation tool can be used by creating a note separation above or below a note where none exists. Otherwise, double-click to delete or move one. If the Alt key is held, segments can be created or reunited. The latter presupposes, of course, that they once belonged together.
Use the formant tool at the beginning or middle of a note to alter formants. Keep in mind that this is only possible in the melodic playback algorithm has been selected. Double-click to restore formant beams to their original positions. If you use the formant tool at the end of a note, you can control the formant transition to the next note.
When used at the beginning and middle of a note, the amplitude tool will alter amplitude. You can double-click to toggle between muting or unmuting notes. When used at the end of a note, the amplitude tool can control the amplitude transition to the next note.
The time tool can alter the position of a note if the Alt key is held without snapping. Double-click to quantize to the next suitable time unit. At the end of the note, time tool can alter length. When the main tool is used at the beginning of a note it can alter position, in the middle of a note it can alter pitch, and at the end of a note it can alter length. When used above or below a note, you can create a note separation where none exists. Otherwise, double-click to delete or move one. If the Alt key is held, segments can be created or reunited. The latter presupposes that they once belonged together.
Melodyne defaults to saving the file in your session plug-in setting folder, but you can change this in Melodyne preferences. To print your Melodyne edit, create a new track and set the input to a bus. Next, set up a send on the track to print. Make all plug-ins on that track inactive. Print the Melodyne audio to a new track, and you’re done!
Tuning vocals is a key factor in producing a quality vocal track and Melodyne is a staple in doing so. Once you understand the workflow and different tools used in Melodyne, you can quickly and effectively tune your vocals. There is a version of Melodyne for everyone depending on your skill-level and budget. Keep in mind, there is no post-processing that can compensate for a bad vocal performance. Utilize your studio time wisely, and the post-production will be a breeze. Feel free to check out our tips on vocal recording techniques to ensure quality vocal recordings. We hope you find these tips and tricks useful for tuning vocals in Melodyne! Don’t forget that you can try Melodyne editor for free for 30 days here!