This in-depth tutorial describes how to use Melodyne pitch correction including auto and manual correct methods, using the Melodyne Editor and understanding it's integration within a Pro Tools session.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The ability to correct pitch has become a necessary tool in the arsenal of any contemporary audio engineer. Without question, the most common application of pitch correction is in the manipulation of vocal performances. The lineage of these techniques can be traced back to the 'Vocoders' (Voice enCODERS) developed by Bell Laboratories in the 1920's. Originally designed as a method of encoding speech for telecommunication transmission, Vocoders became widely used in music and film production throughout the 1970's. This process of pitch manipulation transforms the human voice in a synthesized robotic tone. The Vocoder is currently seeing a resurgence in popularity due to its recent use by such artists as Coldplay and Daft Punk.
The introduction of 'AutoTune' software by Antares Audio Technologies in 1997 enabled further discreet pitch correction of vocal performances. It was originally intended to be very discreet and 'unseen' on the vocal or instrument performance. It might have stayed that way had it not been for British music producer Mark Taylor's work with Cher on her hit song 'Believe' (released in 1998). This was the first successful hit song that highlighted the obvious use of the 'AutoTune' effect. The criticism of some regarding this effect was quickly subdued as the song became a global hit. Fast-forward to the present day, AutoTune, as well as Melodyne, are now used to such an extent that they have become the norm rather than the exception in the process of music production
The Grammy Award winning Melodyne application was developed by Peter Neubäcker and released in 2000. Since it's introduction it has become one of the most widely used tools in modern music production. It has become a market leader by offering amazing versatility, simple and intuitive interface, and tools no other developer can match. It's impressive 'DNA' (Direct Note Access) technology enables independent manipulation of individual notes within complex polyphonic material or chords. Melodyne can also be used to create melodies from a single vocal track in order to generate convincing backing vocal harmonies, time-stretch audio, and extract MIDI note data from audio recordings. It can be run as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in within Pro Tools (or any DAW).
INTRODUCTION TO MELODYNE
In order to achieve the best results with Melodyne, the audio you wish to process should ideally consist of a single (monophonic) phrase with a recognizable pitch. Practically, this means a sound in which two or more notes NEVER overlap. A vocal sound is ideally as humans can only sing one note at a time.
Melodyne works slightly different than other plug-ins you've used in that you must 'Transfer' the audio into Melodyne. It doesn't simply live on a track as a normal insert such as eq or reverb. When you 'Transfer' the audio into Melodyne, it will analyze the passage and display it in its own editor window.
Melodyne with Pro Tools
Throughout this tutorial we will be using the Melodyne Editor version (there is also a Studio version that works as a stand-alone application).
1. In Pro Tools, locate the audio track that you wish to apply the Melodyne process to. (In my example I will be using the track labeled 'Lead Vocal'). Click on the tracks first insert point and select: plug-in > Other > Melodyne editor.
Note: You may need to show the track Inserts view if not already visible. View Menu > Edit Window View / Mix Window Views > Inserts A-E
The Melodyne editor will launch in a separate, floating, plug-in window
Melodyne File Management
As mentioned earlier, in order to use Melodyne we must first transfer our audio material into the editor. Melodyne actually records the audio from your track into the editor and stores the audio files on your hard drive, but not necessarily your project drive. This can present a problem when it comes time to archive your sessions. It is important to understand where your files are located so you are not leaving material that needs to stay with the session. Most professionals set the location for this audio recording to be in the same place as their main session files.
To set the location where Melodyne stores recorded files for the session follow these steps:
Click on the Settings Menu in Melodyne and choose 'File Manager...'
Once the File Manager window is open you will notice at the top of the window 'Project Path for Transfers'
To change the path, click on the small square icon (with three dots) to the right of the path information.
The Melodyne browser wil open, allowing you to choose a new location for the transferred audio files. In the example below I have navigated to my current Pro Tools session folder and manually created a new folder I'm calling 'Melodyne'. This will be the folder I choose to store the 'Transfer' files for this particular session. I will repeat this process for every new session, thus allowing complete organization and never losing files.
Transferring Audio Into Melodyne
Transferring audio into Melodyne is done in real time by playing the audio into the editor while it records. Take these steps to Transfer audio into the Melodyne editor:
1. Place the Pro Tools playback cursor at the location you want to start playback.
2. Press the 'Transfer' button in the Melodyne window. When active the button will light up orange.
3. Begin playback in Pro Tools
4. When you reach the end of the audio you want to transfer, stop playback. Once stopped, Melodyne will analyze the audio and display the visual content in the editor.
Note: After transferring audio into Melodyne, any editing done to the original file in Pro Tools will be redundant
Before you go crazy and start transferring all your vocal files into Melodyne, it's important to note a few settings that will make you life a lot easier. Due to the fact that there can be different types of audio files, there are several different analysis algorithms that can determine how your audio is processed. In order to change the algorithm, go to the Algorithm menu at the top of the Melodyne window.
The different modes for analysis are:
Melodic: Best suited for monophonic material such as a Vocal or any instrument playing monophonic notes.
Percussive: For use with audio material that DOES NOT contain pitch information and is percussive in nature.
Polypohonic: For use with complex material that consists of multiple notes or chords such as a piano or guitar.
Playback and Looping Options
The audio transferred to Melodyne can now be previewed using either the Pro Tools transport (to hear in context with the session) or internally within Melodyne (played independent of Pro Tools)
To playback audio in Melodyne (without playing back the Pro Tools session), double-click in the 'Editor' display area (the area where waveforms are displayed). Double-clicking a second time stops playback.
Just as you would in Pro Tools, you will find a need to loop playback the material in Melodyne, which means you will want to set up playback loop points. This will allow you to playback a specified range of your audio without having to constantly play / stop. To create loop points in Melodyne, click and drag with your cursor in the Timeline ruler of the editor window (shown below in dark-grey).
Loop points can be adjusted by dragging the locators (shown above as horizontal arrows on either side of the dark grey area). As we discussed before, if you wish to playback audio within Melodyne only, double-click within the Editor. It might seem a little confusing at first since you're probably in the habit of using the SpaceBar in Pro Tools for playback. Keep in mind the difference between playing back the entire session and playing back audio within Melodyne are two independent functions. With a little practice you'll have this mastered in no time.
PRO-TIP: Avoid using the 'Undo' feature (Command + Z / CNTRL + Z) to undo your edits in Melodyne. This feature is aimed at Pro Tools as it is the main application. Melodyne has its own 'Undo' feature that doesn't affect Pro Tools. Go to the 'Edit' menu in Melodyne and select 'Undo'.
Melodyne Editor Display
The 'Editor' display in Melodyne shows transferred audio as 'blobs' with overlaid 'pitch curves'. The 'blob' represents the average pitch of the audio while the 'pitch curve' line represents the actual pitch variation over time.
In the above images you can see the blob (left), and the blob with pitch curve (right)
Along the left side of the Editor window you will notice the 'Pitch Ruler' showing the musical key of the audio. The background of the editor display shows horizontal white and grey lines denoting the major or minor keys, in the same way you would see them on a piano.
The vertical position of the audio blobs against the white and grey background indicates the pitch of the content. For the audio's average pitch to be in-tune, the blob should appear centered on the white or grey lines. If the blob appears above the center position of the key this indicates the content is sharp; a blob positioned below the center indicates the sound is flat. In the image below, notice the position of the blob is toward the top of the grey line, thus indicating the note is sharp.
The most simple and basic way to start using Melodyne is via it's built-in 'Automatic' pitch-correction mode. Access this feature by pressing the 'Correct Pitch' button at the top-right of the Editor window.
Once selected, the 'Correct Pitch' window will appear offering you two slider controls: 'Correct Pitch Center' and 'Correct Pitch Drift'.
PRO-TIP: Both sliders will apply processing to the entire audio capture in Melodyne. If you want to apply processing to ONLY a certain part of the audio, make sure to select the area within the Melodyne editor window. To apply processing the the entire audio capture make sure to not have anything selected within the editor.
Correct Pitch Center
Moving the Correct Pitch Center slider to the right will center the blobs within the pitch lanes in the editor display. Theoretically, if you set the slider to 100% you will end up with audio that is in perfect tune (average pitch). Once you've determined how much 'Center' to apply to your audio and wish to make this change permanent, press the 'OK' button at the bottom-right of the window.
Before automatic pitch-correction
After automatic pitch-correction: notice how the 2nd blob is now centered in the F pitch lane.
Correct Pitch Drift
Although the audio might be perfectly centered in the pitch lane, the actual pitch of the audio might not be constant all the way through. The thin line running through the center of the blob represents the actual pitch of the audio (as opposed to the average pitch over time). In the image below notice the pitch drift line starts off high (sharp) and finishes low (flat).
By moving the 'Correct Pitch Drift' slider to the right, the variation in the pitch line will be reduced between sharp and flat. In the next image, notice how the pitch line of the audio has been "evened out" between sharp and flat.
Other Plug-In Controls
Melodyne has further controls to allow manipulation of your audio. To the right of the 'Correct Pitch' button you will see three buttons representing Pitch, Formant, and Volume.
The Pitch Knob
The control knob on the left-side is the Pitch knob, which allows you to raise or lower the pitch of selected audio. Turning the knob to the left lowers the pitch, while turning the knob to the right increases the pitch. A handy use for this feature is to audition audio in a different key entirely.
The Formant Knob
The Formant knob is located in the middle and has the perceived effect of changes the character of voices to be higher or lower without affecting pitch. You can achieve the effect of turning a female voice into a male, or a male voice into a female. Basically, it allows you to change the "character" of the voice without affecting pitch. This can be very useful when building backing-harmonies to add thickness and layers to the vocals.
The Volume Knob
The knob located on the right-side is the Volume knob. This allows you to raise or lower to volume of your selected audio.
PRO-TIP: To reset any of the knobs back to default neutral position simply Command + click / Ctrl + click, on the knob.
Manual Editing in Melodyne
Although the automatic feature we discussed above works well when you want to achieve quick results, or when there is not much pitch variation or drift, it is possible to get much more accurate results by manually editing the material using the dedicated tools in Melodyne. You can access these tools from the 'Toolbox' t the top of the plug-in window.
The Main tool is located to the left-side of the Toolbox. It is the only tool in Melodyne that has more than one function. It allows you to edit the pitch of your audio by dragging and dropping your audio blobs to the desired pitch lane as well as move the timing position of the audio, as well as changing in to a Grab function, Zoom tool, and many more. Click-N-Drag at it's finest!
Since this tool allows you to move audio around the Editor, there are a few preferences that will make your work flow smoother. Located at the top-left corner of the Editor window you will notice a small disclosure triangle. The most relevant option at this point is how you want Melodyne to move audio blobs between pitch.
Disclosure Triangle located at top-left
The main options to select regarding your Pitch Grid are:
No Snap - This option allows you to move the audio freely between notes with nothing locking to a specific pitch lane. This feature is very handy when you need to do very precise pitch adjustments by hand.
Semitone Snap - With this option enabled, Melodyne will force audio blobs to snap to semitone lanes when you pitch shift. This allows you to precisely snap audio to a specific semitone pitch value without having to worry about being off by a few cents.
Scale Snap - Due to the fact that musical composition is based on certain scales notes within those scales, Melodyne allows you to move audio blobs to the correct notes within a specified scale. This feature goes hand-in-hand with the 'Set Scale' feature where you must tell Melodyne which musical scale to look at.
PRO-TIP: If you want to temporarily disable the "Snap" features without having to deselect, hold down the Option / Alt key while dragging audio blobs.
Other Functions Of The Main Tool
Melodyne has a "smart-tool" feature, much like Pro Tools, that is simply accessed by moving the cursor to different parts of the audio blobs on screen. When you move the cursor to the top part of an audio blob you will notice it change into an icon showing two opposing arrows, it has now become the 'Note Separation' tool. If you move the cursor the the ends of the audio blob it becomes a 'Timing' tool allowing you to time-compress / expand the audio.
Separation / Timing Tool
By double-clicking on the audio blob with the Note Separation tool you can precisely slice up the audio to perform very fine edits. For example, you can split a word into it's individual syllable's and move each one independently of one another. This feature is very helpful with vocal lines that start in-tune and drift off key. The beginning can be left alone while adjusting only the separated blob.
Main Tool Key Commands And Sub-tools
When you click and hold on the Main Tool button, you will see a drop-down menu with two additional tools, the Hand tool and Zoom tool.
The Hand tool allows is a little tricky to get at first since it reminds you of Pro Tools. In Melodyne, the Hand tool is used to navigate the Editor window left/right in time. In place of using scroll arrows to move the window you "Grab" the window with the Hand to drag it in time. This is very similar to the way Adobe Illustrator works. You can access this tool on the fly by holding down the Command / Ctrl key on your keyboard while you're using the Main tool.
The Zoom tool allows you to alter your zoom setting for the Editor window, much the same way Pro Tools does. However, unlike Pro Tools, in Melodyne drag the Zoom tool up / down to change zoom setting. (Pro Tools is left / right)
Pitch Tools and Sub-tools
The Pitch tool is one of the most frequently used tools in Melodyne, it is a pitch editor after all. It allows you to raise or lower the pitch of an audio blob, or separated blob, by dragging vertically with your mouse. Due to the fact you are altering pitch based on hand / mouse movements, it's a very good idea to keep an eye on the pitch display area below these tools.
Notice the area below the tools indicates note Pitch in tones / semitones / cents. This is the precise location in pitch you have 'moved' your audio. This area also allows you to enter the desired pitch manually by typing it into these windows. If you know precisely where the note should be, this is a wonderful feature that saves you having to use the Pitch tool and mouse.
Pitch Modulation Tool
The Pitch Modulation tool is used to edit the Vibrato of your audio material. This will primarily apply to vocals as instruments are generally not played with Vibrato. On a side note, Mihai loves to yell at singers with too much Vibrato. Vibrato is the modulation of pitch around a center frequency, hence the tool name. To change the modulation of your audio, simply click-and-drag your cursor with the Pitch Modulation tool on placed on top of the audio blob. The changes to modulation are displayed as a percentage value below the toolbar.
PRO-TIP: A modulation value of 100% means that Vibrato is in its original state. Any value above or below 100% signifies a change in modulation either adding or reducing. To reset the modulation value at it's default position, double-click the audio blob.
Pitch Drift Tool
As discussed previously, pitch drift refers to the variation in pitch over time. An audio blob can start off in-key, but then drift either sharp or flat by the end. Unlike the Pitch Drift slider in Automatic mode which is a very crude, overall approach, the Pitch Drift tool allows you very precise control over the audio blobs. This is especially true when paired with the separate function of the main tool that allows you to slice up your audio into precise segments only affecting the desired parts while leaving naturally good material untouched. To affect the pitch drift of audio, simply click-and-drag the Pitch Drift tool up / down in the Editor window.
A word about Formants: Formants are groups of emphasized harmonics arising from things such as the shape and volume of an instruments resonance chamber; they occur at the same positions within the frequency spectrum regardless the pitch of the fundamental frequency. Yeah! Other less complex pitch-shifters, such as Samplers, transpose the formants along with the fundamental frequency, creating an unnatural effect of the vocals. By transposing up, a singer will sound as if they just inhaled helium (or a chipmunk), while transposing down would create a darker, masculine effect.
When selecting the Formant tool, a horizontal line appears in the middle of each blob (DO NOT confuse it with the pitch drift line - the formant line is straight and solid, not squiggly). By dragging the formant line upward, Melodyne creates a more feminine, "lighter" sound. If you do the same to an instrument, it might make a guitar sound like a ukulele. By moving the formant line down, this creates a darker, "masculine" sound, as is you were giving the sound a larger resonating chamber. This could appear to make instruments such as a violin sound more like a cello.
The amplitude tool allows you to change the overall amplitude of an audio blob simply by clicking-and-dragging with your mouse. In terms of vocal production, this feature is very handy as it allows you to balance the overall level between blobs. Due to the punch-in happy nature of most modern vocal recordings, there are often times when the "right" vocal comp was pieced together from several days worth of recording. Sometimes, the singer doesn't carry the same "amplitude" between performances, even though they are hitting the right notes.
Before Amplitude Tools adjustment
After adjustment with the Amplitude Tool
This tutorial should give you all the information you need to get started using Melodyne. As with any "Tool" keep practicing and developing you own techniques to complement your own unique style. Although it may seem fairly daunting at first, you'll be making singers sound good in no time.
To find out more about Melodyne's creator, Peter Neubäcker Click Here to watch a mini-documentary.
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