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The Art of Pitch Correction
Using melodyne, auto-tune evo, harmony processors
So many people are down on pitch correction these days. Its easy enough to see why. The commercial music houses have bombarded us with auto tweaked vocal performances, particularly in hip hop music, following the success of T-Pain and Lil Wayne and others. Yes a pitch corrector can be used to mask, to some extent, that a famous bad girl vocalist cannot really sing on pitch and dance nearly naked in front of 10,000 people at the same time. Of course we all know you could do that, because you are so talented. I myself have a 6 octave range and have perfect pitch so i don't need this stuff. But I know some of you need a 'lil help.
LOL. C'mon now. Let's break it down. Very few people have perfect vocal pitch and intonation even if they are lucky enough to have perfect pitch. And no one has a 6 octave range. Just go record some vocalists and try to make a world class production. You either have spent big bucks on the vocalist, are extremely lucky, or are touch-up editing in auto-tune or melodyne right now. Of course you'll read about big name producers decrying the use of these processors. That's all just phony elitism, and when a newb raises his nose (sniff) on pitch correction software, you might not know this, but you are the last dude in the room and the joke is on you. Everyone says they hate these programs and what they have done to music. Here goes: "Ahem. To preserve my artistic integrity, I refuse to use _______" Fill in the blank. "Synthesizers" "samplers" "computers" "digital audio", "MIDI", and now Auto-Tune and Melodyne! Hehe, if you go back far enough you could find people scoffing at Les Paul for the "electric" guitar! AutoTune and Melodyne are innovations just as important as a technological innovation leading to a new musical instruments. Embrace it for what it is, not for what yo homies, fam, peeps or crones say. (Of course a vocalist may opt not to use it to keep their voice self-tuned!)
You would not blast a carpenter for using a new type of hammer? A sculptor for their choice of exacto knife? So lets clear your mind of all the pompous egoistic drivel. Pitch correctors are tools, and you can do a lot more with them than mimic T-pain, (which is probably the ONLY use a critic sees). You know, you don't have to make her voice sound like Cher. "Oh you do that effect just like _____ did!" Happy? That's all you'll get. Everyone else will say, "oh another stoopid auto-whatszit song". You are right. You should not use a pitch corrector.
I have to admit I get a little passionate when people refuse to see innovation. I have used Auto-tune since its software debut. I became a convert to melodyne back in 2009. In April of 2010 I upgraded to the latest Antares suite and was quite impressed. I also upgraded to the Melodyne Editor which includes the new polyphonic DNA (Direct Note Access). So I write this will the latest of the latest. I use these tools in every song with vocals. Bet you can't tell on most (unless i was being obvious of course). i think there has never been a better time to get in the game.
The Art of Correction
Now lets focus on the Power of these tools. Example: I have a vocalist over and we work hard tracking all day. They leave and there I am looking at the notes in Melodyne or AutoTune. (I have both BTW). Oh, the power. She sang an Eb to end the chorus but if I change it to Db it really opens a sense of mystery/joy/beauty and takes the piece where I want it to go. You know you can change every note in a vocal melody as long as you don't drift too far. Strip out the vocal, make a new melody, then write a new song to that melody. Likewise I might find that changing the backing chord from a major to a minor 7th might add a flavor I did not hear before and completely change the song for the better. This is a composer's tool unparalleled in history. Sure you can do similar editing with MIDI and sampling, but direct pitch correction is much simpler and faster!
Unusual pitches, warps, stutters. You can go places no one goes. DJs doing chop N screw FX on turntables really opened our ears to the strange world of re-pitched vocals. Now they are mainstream. Go listen to Ke$ha's Tik Tok. Screwing around with pitch definitely helps Ke$ha maintain audio interest. In fact, I am willing to bet that one vocal note in the hook with high vibrato was auto-tuned and it made the song a chart topper. Just one note dudes. OK, I was not there. So I don't know for sure they used Auto Tune, but i can tell you I can make that sound with Auto-Tune. That Note somehow resonated in the audio brain of our culture and we bought the song millions of times. Or check out Lady Ga Ga, Britney, Madonna, Beyonce'. You can bet their engineering team uses every trick that works to keep your blood moving. Its not just "correcting" notes, its using re-pitching in a way that is culturally tasteful, erm. "cool". Raise the pitch on a female vocal and you have a cartoon-like Japanese anime' sound, very cool in the right context. And you online folks will readily note, we are constantly abstracting our identities online. You do know my real name is not "Tweak", right? lol. Use a pitch processor to virtualize your audio voice. Its cool. its happening. Its today. And there is room to grow here. This is the art of pitch correction/manipulation/generation.
Polyphonic correction has arrived
The latest version of Melodyne is a huge innovation. One whose effect on popular music is not yet exploited. Pitch correction software normally works with monophonic melodic lines, like a single vocal. The melodyne editor now actually can change and correct notes inside a chord on a piano or guitar. Auto-Tune does not have this yet. The implications are enormous. Entire musical performances can be re-pitched and rescaled. A recording professional could actually change all the recorded backing instruments to better performances and then work the vocal into exotic, unusual, creative scales tat really make the song stand out.
Which is Better? Auto Tune Evo vs. Melodyne Editor
Don't think Auto tune is better because its more of a household name. People use the term like it was Coke. "Lets get a coke" when they mean lets get a cola soft drink. When someone says 'lets Auto Tune it" they often mean, lets apply pitch correction software. Here's my take on the pros and cons.
But first, Auto-Tune Evo does have an automatic mode which is effective for tweaking a professional vocalist who might only be a few cents off. The "Graphic" mode of Auto-tune shown above allows fine editing of details. I find it a little harder to use and having more pitch artifacts than Melodyne Editor.
The Melodyne Editor has the advantage of a simpler layout. I find it easier to manipulate with the mouse. It also can now process polyphonic material, which Auto-Tune can't do. Finally, I believe Melodyne sounds more natural.
That sums up the major differences as of this writing. Of course this is one guy's opinion. You might get better or worse mileage.
You can use both software plugins to create harmonies. Antares has a Harmony Engine that is a separate purchase that works much like a hardware harmonizer. Melodyne lets you copy phrases to different pitches so you can actually work the harmony in a single editor. This allows for exacting harmony creation. Other ways are simply to copy the audio track and applying different settings to the plugin.
I definitely prefer the Antares Harmony engine for creating a background vocal track. Its easier, and results are immediate. However, when called to do an intricate 3 part, where each line compliments and contrasts melody, I will take the more analytical approach with Melodyne, where I can move notes around a listen carefully for what I want.
Other Uses of Pitch Correctors
Sound developers will find they can tweak their samples to be exactly on pitch, which is absolutely essential if you are making commercial sample collection. You can sample your impossible to tune instruments like wooden flutes, violins and cellos which are hard to play perfectly (unless you hire a real player), old drifting oscillators on analog synths...ok you get it. Melodyne can actually go inside your near perfect classical guitar solo and retune the G string that went a few cents out after that string bend halfway though a once in a lifetime performance. Even producing a droll podcast interview, raising the pitch of the voices just a half pitch will make the dialog sound more "lively" by "younger" speakers.
Both Auto-Tune and Melodyne give you exacting control over Formant. With this control you can increase or restrict the perceived size of the vocal cavity making the utterance. You can make "thin people" sound heavier, and make deep voiced heavy people sound 'impish".
Is it cheating?
Only you can answer that for yourself. I will simply tell you this is a musical innovation, and just like sampling, synths, or earlier, microphones, compressors, reverb and delay you can either use them or be left behind. Don't buy elitism because someone supposedly cool said it. Embrace the tools and make something cool with them.
Before you pull the trigger on a pitch correction product, check your sequencer. Both Cubase and Logic of excellent pitch correction utilities, though not as complete as the two products featured here. Another alternative is the "elastic audio" sampler in the V-synth series by Roland which lets you "play" the melody on your keyboard. There are also decades of hardware pitch correctors (The original Antares Auto-Tune was a rack mount hardware device), some coupled with harmonizers. Prices are definitely down on these and down to stay. But for those of us who want complete control and the convenience of software pitch correction, what you need to know is right on this page.
Have fun and prove them all wrong.
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