Tuning Vocals in Post

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Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Lunkhead » Fri Nov 16, 2018 2:50 pm

Vocal pitch is SOOO important to the listening experience for the vast majority of people. We're all making these songs really quickly and singing is hard. I personally don't feel any shame in throwing some general light-medium autotune on vocals, and investing some (potentially significant) time hand editing individual pitches.

Does everybody have a way to tune up their vocals in post production? Cubase has really really great tools for this out of the box. I don't know much about other DAWs or what folks are using.

In Cubase, I will generally throw the built-in autotune plugin on all vocal tracks. I usually use the male/female moderate setting, as appropriate, and maybe up it on backing vocals. I feel like you can get away with more tuning on backing vocals as they aren't as much the focus of attention.

Additionally, Cubase has a pitch manipulation mode for monophonic audio. Open this mode for a vocal recording and it will show you a MIDI roll like view of detected notes as boxes, and pitch curves for detected pitches. You can "quantize" notes to correct pitches from 0-100%, and straighten out the pitch of a note from 0-100%, as well as bring up or down the pitch on the beginning or end of a note box. So say you warbled too much you can flatten that out, or, you just went a bit flat at the end of a note and that's causing the autotune to nudge the pitch down to the wrong note, you can just tweak that up enough so it gets tuned properly, etc.

It's really great for when you've got doubled vocals. I listen through for spots where the doubles aren't matching up in pitch and go in and fix them, as much as I have time to do. (You can also use other tools to time stretch the vocals pretty easily to get doubled parts to line up in time too.)

If anyone feels like they want to improve their vocal pitch correcting in post, I'd love to try to provide any kind of helpful info I can. Maybe other folks have more info about tools in other DAWs and/or free plugins etc.

If you hate the whole notion of "fixing" vocal pitch in post, please rant about it here. :) Dissenting opinions are welcome of course.

Of course I think it's important also to work on singing better, but, man, it's really hard, and it takes a lot of practice over a lot of time, it seems like, for most of us "normals" anyway. And I don't think I'm ever going to sing like somebody on The Voice or American Idol anyway, nor does it seem all that important for me to be able to do that.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Chumpy » Fri Nov 16, 2018 3:52 pm

I also feel like there is no shame in tuning vocals, and singing is hard. I got called out for being pretty pitchy on Whiskey Drinker, and ever since then I've at the very least given my lead vocals a look in Logic's flex pitch editor (which is very much like Cubase's from what Lunkhead described) and corrected anything that was glaringly bad.

Sometimes I'll be working with a MIDI track that has the composed vocal melody. In that case, it's not just a matter of making sure that the pitches are in tune, but making sure that I'm singing it as written. That's the hardest for me. Once the melody gets lodged in my head a certain way, it's really hard for me sing it differently. I have to do it over and over again and force myself to hit the right notes. Sometimes we'll just flex it to the right note to save the time.

Logic's pitch editor is pretty great, but it's not perfect. It will occasionally add ugly sounding digital artifacts to your tuned vocals that are hard to get rid of, even if you undo all your pitch editing. You can buy this program Melodyne that does a much better job of tuning without adding artifacts, but it's an external program, and not built into Logic, so it's way less handy.

Recently I got to sit down with Ryan and learn his technique for making harmonized backing vocals. Here flex pitch is super, super handy. He'll take a backing vocal track, copy it to another track, tune all the pitches, flatten all the pitch warble to zero, and then work out what each harmony note should be on the guitar. Then we'll tune that note on the copied track to what it should be, and then listen to it against the original backing vocal, and If it sounds right we move to the next note. Once you're done, it sounds really nice (if a bit synthetic, robotic). If you want your harmonies to sound natural, you can just learn the harmony part after you've composed it using the pitch editor and sing it yourself.

Being able to adjust pitches (flex pitch) and adjust timing (flex time) are both indispensable parts of our workflow. Folks may think that if you have "talent" or have "practiced" you shouldn't have to do either of those things, but fuck that. We want to make songs that don't suck, and we'll use whatever tools are available. If your tools don't let you easily edit vocal pitches and beat timing, you should get better tools -- or I dunno, practice more or something. :)
Last edited by Chumpy on Fri Nov 16, 2018 3:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by jb » Fri Nov 16, 2018 3:55 pm

In addition to Logic's flex pitch tool, I have a copy of Melodyne, which is the gold standard for this kind of thing. It also works well.

A good song is a good song, even if you modify the performance in post. It depends on what your appetite for authenticity is, measured against the skill of the mixer/editor to make it sound authentic.

I'd rather listen to a robot that's in tune than a human that's not. And I'd rather listen to a human that's in tune than either of those.

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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by lichenthroat » Fri Nov 16, 2018 7:41 pm

I can't help but think that this might be at least partially aimed at me. I don't have any compunction about pitch correction, but I don't seem to be very good at using it. I have tried it several times, but it always seems to sound overly electronic. The only time it made it onto the finished mix was in my recent spintunes entry, where having obviously electronic-sounding vocals was consistent with the lyrical content of the song. I expect that I will eventually figure out how to use it better.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by fluffy » Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:03 pm

I love the hell out of flex pitch and use it Quite A Lot. It's also very versatile and lets you do all sorts of neat effect things, and it's replaced Vocal Transformer for me since it can also do formant modification and a whole bunch of other stuff (and also sounds better).

It's very easy to go down a rabbit hole of getting incredibly fiddly though.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Lunkhead » Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:47 pm

lichenthroat wrote:I can't help but think that this might be at least partially aimed at me. I don't have any compunction about pitch correction, but I don't seem to be very good at using it. I have tried it several times, but it always seems to sound overly electronic. The only time it made it onto the finished mix was in my recent spintunes entry, where having obviously electronic-sounding vocals was consistent with the lyrical content of the song. I expect that I will eventually figure out how to use it better.
I wasn't aiming it at anybody in particular, it's just something I think about when I listen to Song Fight. When I try to get "outsiders" to listen to Song Fight vocal pitch issues are often immediate deal breakers. Now that we're living in the future the technology has made it so those issues are entirely fixable without resorting to "extreme measures" like sounding like T-Pain or Cher. I think this came to my mind again because I just watched a demo video of improvements to the tuning features in Cubase's latest version which will make it all even easier. So I'm curious who knows how much about it and what kind of tools people have and how they use them, etc.

What software are you using? What is its auto tuning interface like?
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by jast » Sat Nov 17, 2018 2:45 pm

Regarding thoroughly bad/mediocre vocals: I still think Autotune and friends make all voices either sound almost the same, or just don't make enough of a difference to make the performance tolerable, unless you invest so much time into it that you're basically re-sculpting the vocals in post-production, intonation and inflection and all. Even then, all of the pitch correction engines I know add their own characteristic sound to the vocals which I don't much care for, either. (I like the sound of zplane's Elastique - used in Cubase, REAPER and a bunch of other tools - the least.)

Fixing a handful of small places where the intonation is off is one thing (and I'm not going to complain about that), but after that it quickly becomes a matter of making the vocals tolerable while at the same time ironing all of the life out of them. GIGO. (I'm also decidedly not a fan of tuning all the pitches to 100% correct, the way pretty much all modern mainstream productions do.)

OTOH the Cher effect came into being a fair bit after Autotune was already being used for tuning up commercial recordings - Autotune has never actually been that extreme unless you wanted it to be. That's the whole reason it actually sold.

Addendum: to demonstrate to myself, again, that I'm not talking shit, I just spent a while trying to use the latest and greatest Melodyne to modernize the vocal tuning in one of my songs a little. I needed to correct the note detection in about 30% of all notes (which is pretty terrible because manually overriding the detection is a fair bit of work). Without that, trying to almost flatten the modulation/intonation gave some ugly trills because it screwed up the slides between notes, and also it incorrectly changed the pitch of a whole bunch of notes and when I manually changed the pitch it ended up screwing up the formants so some notes ended up unnaturally bright and some unnaturally dark.
That said, I assume that in cases where the detection works better, it's probably much easier to do subtle overall mostly-automatic fixing... but, well, it doesn't work better.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Lunkhead » Sat Nov 17, 2018 4:16 pm

Now I want to read studies and papers on perception of singing quality. Think I'll start with this one:

https://www.smcnus.org/wp-content/uploa ... P-P2.5.pdf
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Jerkatorium » Sat Nov 17, 2018 6:48 pm

Chumpy wrote:He'll take a backing vocal track, copy it to another track, tune all the pitches, flatten all the pitch warble to zero, and then work out what each harmony note should be on the guitar. Then we'll tune that note on the copied track to what it should be, and then listen to it against the original backing vocal, and If it sounds right we move to the next note.
FTR we only do that for what we call a "robochump" vocal track - a quick harmony to the lead vocal line that we mostly keep very very low in the mix. We did more robochump than usual for "Everything Everything Everything" because those were just going to be guide tracks that would be replaced with Chumpy's sung harmonies, but instead we ended up using those robochump tracks in the final version (and some of that sounds pretty robotic). I only refer to the guitar or keyboard for a harmony note if something sounds off or if I'm having trouble picking out the minor third or whatever. I sing all of the Jerkatorium harmony tracks individually. Then I flex the hell out of those tracks, because my voice is crap. Flex editing is magic for vocal tracks, and I can no longer imagine life without it. But IMO it's still always best to start with a sung track instead of generating the harmonies electronically.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by jb » Sat Nov 17, 2018 11:45 pm

I don't use the pitch correction plugin, though. It doesn't work well unless I sing everything really flat with no inflection. Otherwise it's waaaaay too flippy.

Flexpitch and Melodyne are different, and let you tweak individual notes. I'll also use them to line up two tracks more perfectly, to get the double exactly right, or get a harmony to line up when I forgot what the rhythm was. Super time saver, that. And if you have an awesome take but there's just one flaw in it, you get to keep that take without having to do a tedious, time-consuming punch in. If you even have the mic in the same place with the same settings to do the punch... which I seem to never have. It's like as soon as I finish the take I always seem to move the microphone or fuck up the level or something just to subconsciously ensure that I cannot get the same tone again.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by fluffy » Sun Nov 18, 2018 12:49 am

Yeah ever since flex pitch came out I have never needed/wanted to use the automatic pitch corrector except for very specific effect purposes (and flex pitch handles those use cases with way better tunability anyway, even if it isn't quite as fire-and-forget).

I love that with it I can go in and choose how much of my natural warble to preserve, and usually I only go in and tweak my pitches a little tiny bit, unless I'm going for a specific effect. And even if you are going for the complete robot flat effect (perfect pitch, 0% vibrato) it ends up a lot cleaner than what autotune/pitch corrector do, since flex pitch does a better job of detecting that a word is one specific note and maintains the pitch throughout. Also you have to work really hard to entirely remove the glissando as well, so like you're not going to get the Cher effect out of it without a lot of trouble.

Oh and another great thing about Flex Pitch is you can export the pitch series into MIDI notes which you can then feed into a vocoder or into a backing instrument or something. One nice use case for that is being able to hum a melody and have it turn into MIDI notes, which is handy when hands aren't working well enough for using a keyboard or whatever. And you can get some really cool effects out of it too by putting in a polyphonic track and getting a weird monophonic counterpoint melody out (I've used that in a few of my ccMixter remixes).

Like, these tools are just that - tools. You don't have to use them, and you don't have to not use them. They can do things other than what's intended, but what's intended is also great if you're an amateur musician who just wants to get a good-fucking-sounding vocal take without spending 15 hours on it.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Lunkhead » Sun Nov 18, 2018 1:21 am

jast wrote:Addendum: to demonstrate to myself, again, that I'm not talking shit, I just spent a while trying to use the latest and greatest Melodyne to modernize the vocal tuning in one of my songs a little. I needed to correct the note detection in about 30% of all notes (which is pretty terrible because manually overriding the detection is a fair bit of work). Without that, trying to almost flatten the modulation/intonation gave some ugly trills because it screwed up the slides between notes, and also it incorrectly changed the pitch of a whole bunch of notes and when I manually changed the pitch it ended up screwing up the formants so some notes ended up unnaturally bright and some unnaturally dark.
That said, I assume that in cases where the detection works better, it's probably much easier to do subtle overall mostly-automatic fixing... but, well, it doesn't work better.
Interesting. Care to share the vocal track so others could attempt tuning it up with their usual tools?
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by vowlvom » Sun Nov 18, 2018 8:56 am

I don't tend to use any vocal tuning, mostly because I find the process so fiddly that I could probably do four or five more vocal takes in the time it would take to tune the first one, and by that point I'd probably have nailed it at least once (or as close as I ever get to nailing it, anyway). Although maybe if I did use it more I'd start to streamline the process. Anyway, I have the cheapest version of Melodyne that doesn't do the cool vibrato stuff that I remember liking a lot when I originally tried the demo, it's definitely a useful tool to have available.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Pigfarmer Jr » Sun Nov 18, 2018 2:12 pm

Typically I just record a couple of vocal takes and keep the best one, or maybe comp one take out of several, or sometimes use ReaTune to manually fix the one or two most glaringly bad notes. But I looked today at possible pitch tuning plugins (due to this thread) and found the Waves Tune plugin in my DAW. So now I'm watching a tutorial. (It also has a vibrato tool built in that I'll probably never use.)
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by ujnhunter » Mon Nov 19, 2018 12:17 pm

I know we tend to create what we call "Frankenharmonies" using the main/backing vocals of our tracks, which we'll then use as a "guide" vocal to sing the actual harmonies over. I know my brain has a super hard time trying to sing harmonies just using "Midi" piano as a backing track especially when I've just spent a bunch of time singing the actual melody over and over. Somehow hearing my own voice (pitch corrected to the harmony) helps me actually sing the notes that I'm supposed to sing. Also I find that I tend to be a little flat on certain notes and sometimes nudging them in a guide vocal to re-sing over helps me to hit the proper notes more easily. I seem to have a whole bunch of different pitch plugins, but I can't figure out how to use them... I've been using the cheapest version of Melodyne that I got a couple years ago to do that... that being said... if I didn't already have a written melody in "Midi", I probably wouldn't even realize that I wasn't hitting the exact note. :\
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by lichenthroat » Sun Nov 25, 2018 10:03 pm

Lunkhead wrote:What software are you using? What is its auto tuning interface like?
I've been using Ardour for the last several months. Here's an example of what the two built in pitch correction control interfaces look like.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by jast » Mon Nov 26, 2018 2:03 am

Yeah, Autotalent is quite decent in the realm of free pitch correctors, but IMO pitch correctors really only start getting interesting if they allow you to choose your own edits (e.g. Auto-Tune Pro, Melodyne, VariAudio, Waves Tune).

With a fully automatic plugin like Autotalent you're completely at the mercy of its algorithms - and especially if you have a tendency to slide between notes, basically taking your time reaching the correct pitch after each interval, the algorithms usually do a poor job. The only other option you have, then, is to use a pitch shifting plugin where you can automate the pitch adjustment in cents (1 cent = 0.01 semitones), e.g. Rubberband if you're using Ardour, and do individual edits with that. This is obviously even more work than if you're having a professional pitch correction plugin assist you.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Lunkhead » Mon Nov 26, 2018 9:04 am

That seems like a pretty unfriendly UI. :/ Also when I google "Ardour Autotalent" the first result is a forum which took over my browser tab with spam. :(

I'm looking at a manual here:

http://tombaran.info/autotalent-0.2_refcard.pdf

For the "Notes In Scale" (the list of notes between "Pull to fixed pitch" and "Correction strength") it says "-1" means "not in the scale", "0" means "in the scale", and "1" mean "in the scale and snapped toward". Seems slightly confusing. Do you only ever have 0's and -1's in there and not 1's? Also how familiar are you with music theory and scales and modes?

Are you on Windows or Linux? Have you tried any other autotune plugins, like any where you can feed in MIDI notes for it to tune to?

https://cymatics.fm/blog/free-autotune-vst-plugins/

Without control over specific notes, as jast pointed out, you're at the mercy of the tuner, and you will need to sing close enough to the correct pitches so that the tuner doesn't tune to the wrong notes. But with MIDI input you could give it the right notes to tune to regardless of what pitch you sang closest to.
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Lunkhead » Mon Nov 26, 2018 9:08 am

Sweetwater just posted to their blog about pitch correction:

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/prais ... orrection/
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by Lunkhead » Mon Nov 26, 2018 9:21 am

I guess they probably partly have that post up because some/all of the linked software is on sale.

For folks on Mac/Windows, the cheapest version of the Melodyne plugin is only $49 today at Sweetwater (that's $50 off):

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail ... l-download
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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by jb » Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:10 am

Melodyne recently made using it in Logic a LOT easier. It's still a tad awkward (it doesn't just work, you have to push a button to make all the notes for a track appear in its interface). But it's a lot better than previously-- you had to basically let Melodyne copy sections of tracks to work on them. I never quite understood it. But now it's cake. And that's no lie.

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Re: Tuning Vocals in Post

Post by lichenthroat » Mon Nov 26, 2018 12:19 pm

Lunkhead wrote: For the "Notes In Scale" (the list of notes between "Pull to fixed pitch" and "Correction strength") it says "-1" means "not in the scale", "0" means "in the scale", and "1" mean "in the scale and snapped toward". Seems slightly confusing. Do you only ever have 0's and -1's in there and not 1's? Also how familiar are you with music theory and scales and modes?

Are you on Windows or Linux? Have you tried any other autotune plugins, like any where you can feed in MIDI notes for it to tune to?
I'm on Linux. I have been confused by the 0/1/-1 notation. It seems like you'd only need 0 and 1, since you either want to match a particular pitch or you don't. Your explanation made a little more sense than the other documentation I've found. I have a little bit of knowledge of music theory and scales, but I often struggle with practical application of it. I've tried to get people to explain modes to me several times, but I have yet to get the concept to crystallize in my mind.

Thank you for engaging with me on this subject.
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