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Intro to Vocal Tuning: AutoTune vs. Melodyne

Vocal Tuning

An important process in modern music production, occurring in multiple stages. Both while recording and after recording in the vocal production or mix stages. Vocal tuning can yield great results both on outstanding seasoned vocalists as well as novices. Only exception is if the artist is going for a raw sound, live recordings, and genres of music like jazz or blues where it is not desired.

Vocal tuning is difficult and requires multifaceted music skills and experience. It’s not something that you will just suddenly know how to do if you buy Melodyne. Vocal tuning is also something that is overemphasized by singers and artists that lack experience and vocal training needed to execute the songs they are trying to create.

The purpose of this article is to demystify some of the misconceptions about Autotune and Melodyne which are the two most popular vocal tuning software tools available today

I’m not a good singer, nor am I a music prodigy with perfect pitch, etc. But I have worked in studios doing vocal production and have also been recording singers and rappers for the last twenty years. I’ve just figured out how to use all this stuff from trial and error and being thrown in the deep end. There’s no one set workflow. I just wanted to make this to clear up a lot of confusion for my students and friends that ask me questions. I really hope it helps you create better music faster, avoid some mistakes that I made, and maybe save some money.

Autotune vs. Melodyne

AutoTune is a real-time pitch correction plugin, that literally corrects pitch while it is being sung or played back in the DAW. It is an incredibly powerful tool for recording, songwriting, and mixing. Antares has numerous different versions of AutoTune as well as subscriptions, and other plugins for vocals. They are constantly updating, improving, and changing the name of their AutoTune versions, so it is confusing to everyone. You absolutely do not need the full-price version to get going. In fact, I find the EFX & Live versions to be better for some projects because they do not take up as much CPU, which can be a huge hassle when tuning a lot of vocal tracks.

I frequently use autotune when tracking vocals and writing music. One common misconception is that you can just slap autotune on a vocal after the fact and it will be tuned up. This is not true. Sometimes the plugin reacts weird to certain notes and inflections and does not sound right unless you track through it from the get-go. Singers that want to chill and write music and not stress so much about hitting perfect notes will appreciate having autotune on when writing. Any type of music that will be autotuned I would suggest having it on all vocal tracks when you record.

Autotune and Melodyne need to be on the individual vocal tracks and cannot be put on busses, groups, or auxes. They also need to be the very first thing in the signal chain. One other misconception is that AutoTune and Melodyne do the same thing so you can just have one, and I disagree. They both do very different things are commonly in conjunction with each other. The pro version of AutoTune has a graphical editor that looks similar to Melodyne, but they are different tools. They are both incredibly useful and powerful, and you can’t really go wrong buying one or the other or both.

Melodyne is a vocal tuning and editing plugin that unlike AutoTune does not work in real time and needs to scan a previously recorded vocal before it can do anything. Melodyne also comes in multiple versions and can get expensive, but luckily most people don’t need the expensive version. DAWs are starting to integrate Melodyne in the GUI now which is drastically improving workflow, because using Melodyne can be very arduous and lengthy.

Newcomers think that you can just scan the vocal and select all and just tune everything up automatically and it does not work that way. Vocals are very complex and Melodyne rarely ever scans everything perfectly. Melodyning requires know-how, manual editing, and music/singing skills. Melodyne also has powerful timing editing, sibilance, and volume editing features to completely polish your vocal. It takes time and experience to learn how to use all the different tools. It is well worth it though. You can fix minute vocal issues that will make singers shine in the context of the song. You can also completely screw up the vocal if you don’t know what you are doing.

Here are some main takeaways:

1. Make sure you understand scales, harmony, keys, modes, and music theory for the genre of music you are working in before you expect to do Vocal Tuning.

2. Start singing, recording yourself singing, and other people singing very regularly so you have a lot of material to work on. It takes experience.

3. Do research on the exact subscriptions and plugin versions and features do to see what fits your needs best. You don’t need to buy the expensive version.

4. For a really polished vocal you may want to record with autotune, and then add an instance of melodyne before autotune on all your vocal tracks during the mixing stage so that you can melodyne into autotune.

5. Try to make sure you have all the final vocal takes before Melodyning.

6. Autotune is generally used for real time tuning, most extreme examples are T-Pain vocals, but it widely used in all genres these days. Recommended for people doing songwriting sessions, urban music, recording sessions, and people that aren’t interested in spending a lot of time mixing or doing vocal production.

7. Melodyne is used for mixing/editing/de-essing vocals that have already been recorded beforehand and require nuanced and incidental adjustments. Essential for people that do mixing and vocal production and want to work on pop, rock, all genres, and projects that require detailed adjustments and fine tuning.

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