What would modern music be without any Auto-Tune, Melodyne & Waves Tune? Even the biggest artists and sessions are loaded with these types of plugins, providing pitch correction on everything from lead vocals to background vocals, and even on to out-of-tune instruments like guitars.
They provide a level of detailed control over performances similar to great drum editing. They can be completely transparent to the point where your listener can’t even hear the effect, or they can be used as completely new instruments, but either way they’ve got a strong presence across many genres.
For those of us that don’t have access to one of these powerhouse processors, we’ve still got a few tricks up our sleeves to nail the perfect vocal take without their help.
Start With The Comp
Any good vocal producer with enough time is going to record multiple takes and variations of each line in a song. From those takes, we’re able to “comp” together a take from the best pieces of each performance.
What Is Comping?
If you’re new to the concept, it’s really quite simple. Think of each track you record as a limb of the performance, and your job as Dr. Frankenstein is to combine them all to form the perfect monster of a vocal. At a basic level, you can take a verse from one take and your favorite chorus from another, but perfectionists will go line-by-line, meticulously selecting the perfect words and phrases.
I’ve seen engineers get so detailed they comp between syllables in a word and will just from one take to another right at the start of the line to get the right formant at the start. It might sound crazy, but you can even comp your favorite breaths in between lines if you think it’ll add to the performance.
Everyone develops his or her own approach to comping. As long as you’re not chopping things off abruptly and blending things together so they sound smooth, you can get away with as much or as little as you’d like. While this might not account for all tuning issues, it certainly moves the needle in the right direction – even for engineers that plan on tuning the comped vocal after.
Create A MIDI Guide
If you’re looking for a way to find tonal issues within a vocal, a dedicated synth track with the notes of the vocal performance is a great solution. It doesn’t need to be anything crazy; something as easy as Sub Destroyer will work fine for this purpose. You just need to be able to play out or draw the MIDI notes in and you can be up and running in minutes!
As you can see in his video guide using Sub Destroyer, Nick prefers a sawtooth wave for vocal tuning when other tuning plugins aren’t available:
Hear how it’s a bit more distinguishable from the vocal than a sine or square wave might be?
Use Your DAW To Your Advantage
Whether it’s Elastic Audio in Pro Tools, Flex Pitch in Logic, or any number of other proprietary technology built into other DAWs, nearly everything has it’s own basic solution to tuning that you can adapt in a pinch.
The steps are relatively simple: isolate, adjust, commit.
There’s rarely a time or place where your whole vocal is going to be 10 cents flat, so you can just go into something like Elastic Audio and just start making changes. You need to isolate the problem first.
The best way to do this is by making cuts in your track directly around the problematic notes. This will separate the flat or sharp part into its own clip, where you can then apply as big of an adjustment as you need to.
Use your DAW’s function to raise or lower the pitch of the clip. Most of these utilities offer controls over both cents or semitones depending on how severe the issue is you’re dealing with. Be careful using semitones – a little can go a long way.
Once you’ve got everything tuned up, it’s time to give everything one last critical listen and commit to your sound. Make sure all of your cuts are properly blended and there are no pops or clicks that have been introduced as part of the process. If everything sounds natural, print your tuned vocal down to a single track and get ready to mix!
The Simple Things
Sometimes we get so caught up in great new technology that we forget how easy it is to make something sound the way we want it to. While some improvements will help with speed and workflow, it’s important to know alternative solutions for when things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to and you suddenly lose access to something you need.
Do you have any other hacks or workaround when your workflow gets interrupted? If so, come share them with us on Instagram using #joeysturgistones. We feature the best ones on our page whenever we can – see you there!