HOW TO: 10 Methods of Melodyne Madness

Try these tips that have nothing to do with vocal pitch correction
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Melodyne is known for its natural-sounding pitch correction, but it can do a whole lot more. These ten tips can be done with the Editor version, and when indicated, also with Melodyne Essential (a basic version that’s bundled with some versions of Cakewalk Sonar and PreSonus Studio One Pro, but also available for sale separately). The principle behind all these tips is that Melodyne can manipulate both pitch and time—but no law says you need to apply these solely to vocals.

1. AUTOMATIC DOUBLE- TRACKING FOR VOCALS (ESSENTIAL)

Fig. 1. Melodyne can do convincing ADT effects by introducing slight timing and pitch variations. Melodyne can do very convincing ADT effects. Before applying any pitch correction to a vocal, copy it. If you plan to do pitch correction, apply correction only to the original vocal. Then, open the copied vocal in Melodyne, and play with the Correct Pitch Center slider and Quantize Time Intensity sliders. Start at around 50 to 60 percent, and adjust for the most convincing ADT effect (Figure 1). The slight pitch and timing changes really sound like two vocals. When mixing ADT vocals, centering the two vocals creates more of a chorusing effect, while spreading them about 30 percent right and left opens up a more spacious soundstage.

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You can take this further with the Editor version: Make a few subtle formant changes, and/or choose Edit > Add Random Deviation for additional pitch and timing change options.

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2. THE HIDDEN SPLIT TOOL (ESSENTIAL)

You might assume that because there’s no Split tool menu in Essential, you can’t split notes. Wrong! Hover over the blob where you want to do the split, then raise the cursor just above the blob until it turns into a Split tool. Double-click, and the note will split. This also works as a shortcut in Editor.

3. HEAVY DRUMS (ESSENTIAL)

To add some meat to wimpy drum sounds, copy the drum track, then insert Melodyne in the copy. Choose Percussive mode, then drop the pitch several semitones. Mix this about 6 dB or so below the main track to start, and behold—instant drum corpulence.

You can also “tighten” drum sounds, particularly kick and toms, by raising the copied pitch several semitones. And to really get your kicks, make two copies of a kick track. Tune one up three semitones, and tune the other down two semitones. You’ll have a full, tight kick. Vary pitch more if you dare, but note this can loosen the timing.

4. BETTER BACKGROUND VOCALS

When you’re doubling or tripling your voice, alter the vocal’s format to add timbral differences. Select all notes in the vocal, choose the Formant tool, then click in one of the notes and drag up or down. Usually, one semitone of format change is sufficient; more than two will tend to sound gimmicky. However, I’ve used up three semitones on isolated words for emphasis. Just remember to click on the note and drag to change formant—don’t click on the bar representing the formant shift, or you’ll have to re-select everything all over again.

5. BETTER BASS SAMPLING

Multisampling is the usual solution to re-creating the sound of instruments played with different dynamics, but it’s a hassle to do all those samples—especially when you can hear the splits between different velocities. Fortunately with bass, there’s a workaround that often sounds more natural.

Fig. 2. The left image shows a close-up of the initial bass note pitch attack; the right shows the same note after flattening the pitch change with Melodyne. When you hit a bass string harder, the biggest timbral changes are a brighter sound and a higher initial pitch (because the pluck pulls the string sharp before it settles down to pitch). Synth engines can create these characteristics with velocity- controlled lowpass filtering (use a gentle filter slope) and pitch envelope set for a short decay, but a problem occurs if you pluck the string hard so you can obtain maximum brightness at the highest velocities: You’ll have a significant initial pitch variation that won’t sound realistic at lower velocities.

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Solve this problem by opening the sample in Melodyne, then flattening the initial pitch change with the Pitch Modulation tool (Figure 2). Now you can control the initial pitch envelope solely with the synthesis engine.

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6. ENVELOPE-CONTROLLED FLANGING (ESSENTIAL)

Melodyne makes a great flanger. Copy the track you want to flange, open the copy in Melodyne, choose Percussive mode, then select all the blobs in the copy. Set Pitch Grid to No Snap. Click on one of the selected notes, and drag slightly off pitch. You’ll hear note envelope-controlled flanging.

If you have Editor, take this one step further with the Edit > Add Random Deviation function. Pitch Slight maintains timing but creates flanging/timbre variations; Timing variations create the effect of altering a flanger’s initial delay time.

7. VOCAL LEVELING WITHOUT COMPRESSION

The lazy path to creating consistent vocal sounds with an inconsistent vocalist is to throw on compression or limiting, but here’s a way to simulate a more consistent vocalist—which means you won’t need to add as much dynamics control.

Fig. 3. The highlighted blob used to be the same level as the one to its right, but now its level has been brought up to be consistent with the other blobs. Open the vocal in Melodye, and choose Percussive mode. (This technique also works in Melodic mode, but Percussive mode makes it much easier to compare relative note levels.) Then choose the Amplitude tool, and click/drag on notes to adjust levels (Figure 3). Audition the results often—you don’t always want everything to have the same level. Often, you can also use the Split tool to separate breath noises, sibilants, and plosives from the vocals, and reduce their levels.

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8. THE CHORD PROGRESSION CREATOR (ESSENTIAL)

Fig. 4. Open a part in Melodyne, and choose Percussive mode. Each chord will appear as its own blob, so you can grab a blob and transpose it to experiment with chord progressions. Here’s another fun Percussive mode tip. Record something like a straight rhythm guitar part, but stay on one chord throughout. Now open that part in Melodyne, and choose Percussive mode. Each chord will appear as its own blob, so you can grab a blob and transpose it to experiment with creating different chord progressions. Although the results probably won’t be a “keeper” in terms of fidelity, this is an easy way to experiment with chord progressions when songwriting. (see Figure 4).

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9. THE OCTAVE DIVIDER BASS (ESSENTIAL)

Let’s face it, octave stompbox dividers don’t sound all that great… so, the bar isn’t set particularly high. But Melodyne can create decent octave-below effects: Create a copy of your bass track, choose Percussive mode, select all, and drag down one octave. For best results, use EQ on the cloned track to take off most of the highs and boost the bass. This technique is particularly helpful when you need to play the bass in a higher range than you’d like to accommodate a particular key, and want some more low-end authority. You don’t need to mix in too much of the octave signal to add some fat.

10. PITCH UNCORRECTION (ESSENTIAL)

Finally, remember that the human ear is not always a fan of perfection. I recorded a vocal that just didn’t seem right, but its pitch—and the track underneath it—was perfect. And that’s what wasn’t right: By flattening the pitch just a little bit (remember to turn off Snap to Grid), the way the note resolved was just that much sweeter when the vocals hit the next note. I don’t know if B. B. King ever did bend that flatted seventh all the way to the tonic… but if he didn’t, I think I know why.