With so many people looking for an easier, more portable way to record, it was only a matter of time before digital audio workstations (DAWs) found their way into an app format. Today, we’ve got tons of different ways to record a quick vocal on our phones – with some artists even using their stock Voice Memos app. They then take these recordings, hand them off to a mixer, and let them work their magic to clean everything up and sounding better than ever.
Of course, a lot of hassle could be saved if you were able to make your voice sound better without having to send it off to a pro, right? Having the ability to completely tune a vocal by hand in these mobile apps isn’t quite possible yet – but with the tools at your disposal, it might not matter. Until we get full ports of the biggest and best vocal processing plugins, here are a few approaches to making your voice sound better using the apps available right now.
The Classic App: GarageBand’s Extreme Tuning
Looking for that classic AutoTune effect right from your phone? Many producers these days don’t even bother with the finesse of massaging a vocal into place – they go for the AutoTune effect. You know the one I’m talking about that T-Pain made famous and we’ve heard variations of in half of the Top 40 hits released ever since.
With Extreme Tuning in GarageBand for iOS, you’re able to take a vocal that you recorded right on your iPhone or iPad, insert the effect, then dial it in with pitch control and distortion. For the best results, Apple also recommends setting the Key & Scale of the song in your Song Settings menu.
The limitations of Extreme Tuning are apparent to anyone who’s used tuning software like AutoTune, Melodyne, or Waves Pro – you don’t have nearly as much control as you might in one of those programs. Instead, you need to find a balance between the available settings to allow the app to tune in real-time as the song plays.
Combined with other processing in the app such as EQ, compression, reverb & delay, even a subtle amount of tuning in GarageBand can be an effective approach to making vocals sound their best inside of an app.
New & Improved: Spire
Despite its introduction to the market nearly 6 years ago and an amazing creative development team (iZotope) behind it, the Spire app flew under the radar for many pros and home recording enthusiasts until recently. What started out as a 4-track recording app for iOS with basic functionality has recently grown into a full-fledged mobile DAW complete with record, edit & mix functionality. Pairing it with their wireless Spire Studio interface unlocks even more potential.
But we’re here to talk about better vocals - and that’s where Spire Pro really starts to shine. Pulling from the innovations iZotope has made with their RX (audio restoration), Nectar (vocal production), and Ozone (mastering) softwares, Spire Pro users get a whole collection of extra features aimed to maximize their results including:
- Background noise removal
- Plosive cleanup with virtual pop filtering
- Built-in tuning, formant shifts & other vocal-centric effects
- Personalized soundchecks that avoid clipping and shape tone automatically
Top Rated App: Voloco
Similar to Extreme Tuning, Voloco is a real-time app that’s fully capable of tuning vocals, but its extended features are what really make the app stand out from the crowd. Not only can you get classic automatic tuning, but the app also offers harmony & vocoder effects for someone looking to get creative with his or her mobile vocals.
Voloco has nearly 35,000 reviews with a 4.8 out of 5 star rating on the app. With a clean interface, simple controls, and easy export options, it’s easy to see why.
Best Results: Record & Export
This may seem obvious, but if you’re truly looking to get the absolute best results from your vocals, there is no substitute to learning how the tuning process works on a computer with enough processing power to give you vocal editing capabilities. Having this skill set will inevitably carry over with you when the day comes where fully mobile tuning and mixing is a reality.
For those that are brand new to the world of audio production, you don’t need to break the bank getting set up to do this. A simple laptop or desktop (even one that’s a few years old) will support a basic DAW and tuning software. Check out our tips on building a home studio on a budget to see just what you’d need.
Once you’ve got the equipment for mixing, you’ll want to research the available computer apps for tuning and find the one that seems most intuitive for you. I’d recommend starting with the three listed above (AutoTune, Melodyne & Waves Tune). All three offer different tiers depending on the features you want and trials so you don’t have to spend money until you’re sure it’s the right fit.
For most beginners the basic versions are going to work just fine. If you’re looking for the least expensive option – Waves Tune LT is just $29.99, although with a bit less control than the other options.
Great Sounding Vocals Are More Than Pitch
I mentioned it briefly with GarageBand, but it bears repeating: vocal tuning alone does not create a great sounding vocal. Professional mixers combine dynamic processing and time-based effects (a “vocal chain”) to get the results you hear in your favorite songs. Without a vocal chain, vocals often tend to sound under-produced and amateur.
If you’re looking to take your vocal productions to a truly professional level, come check out The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook in the JST VIP section of the site. Inside, you’ll get the secrets to every vocal producer’s toolbox and learn how they’re structuring their songs around the vocals for maximum results.