If you’re a music fan, you’ve probably heard people lament the technological advances in the music scene over the last 30 years. People often complain about autotune and Melodyne (usually they use the two terms interchangeably) and other things they deem as being unnatural and covering up for poor musicianship and performance ability.
I’m not really in the position to make a value judgment on who’s great or who isn’t, or whether any of this stuff is true or not, but ultimately, there is some truth to the idea that a lot can be done to improve a vocal performance. As a matter of fact, a lot can be done to improve all of your recordings. But can Autotune or Melodyne really fix a bad vocal take?
Generally speaking, Melodyne can make a bad vocal recording sound decent, but it’s better for making a great performance excellent. Through pitch correction, pitch drift, modulation, sibilant balance, amplitude, and timing tools, a lot can be done to improve a bad vocal recording.
There have been many YouTube video demonstrations online that show what can be done with a tool as useful as Melodyne. Once you familiarize yourself with how it works and what it’s capable of, it makes sense that it’s an industry standard at this point that so many people use. It’s really quite amazing what this plugin can do once you learn how to use it. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest improvements you can make to improve a bad vocal take.
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Can You Fix Bad Vocals with Melodyne 5?
The video shown above is a great tutorial on what can be done with Melodyne. The guy from Moonic Productions goes out of his way to intentionally record a terrible performance as a way of showing what can be done with the plugin. And ultimately, the result is that what he has created is at least passable.
In the end, he leaves us with the idea that if this is what’s possible with a bad performance, what would happen if we used this very same tool on a performance that’s just good or even an excellent one? I’m going to show you six tips that I consider the “meat and potatoes,” so to speak, for improving a bad performance with Melodyne.
How to Fix Bad Vocals With Melodyne 5 – [6 Impactful Tips]
1) Individually Correct Each Note WITHOUT Snapping All the Notes To Grid
While holding Option on your keyboard, you can grab the notes and drag them to whichever pitch you’d like, even between notes if you really want. This can make things sound a bit more natural and less perfect, that way you retain the human quality.
By default, however, Melodyne will grab the notes and drag them according to a specific pitch – very similar to GarageBand’s “snap to grid” function that’s part of its editing features (my guide on those).
That all said, if you really wanted, you could hit (Command + A) on your keyboard > select Edit > Macros > Correct Pitch, and then snap every single note exactly to the grid if you really wanted. Especially since Melodyne 5 upgraded the software to separate non-pitch sounds and pitch sounds (consonants and vowels).
Ultimately, I think most would agree that going into the Melodyne 5 interface and editing each one individually is how you’re going to get the best, most natural-sounding vocal performance in your recording. This is probably the best way of reducing harsh sibilant sounds too which I’ll talk about later.
As this helpful YouTuber explained, using the Edit > Macro > Correct Pitch feature will perform more of an autotune effect (referring to Antares Auto-Tune which is another type of pitch correction you can use) because it’s automatic and applies to everything.
If you have a bad vocal performance, this is going to be the way to really fix everything that needs your attention, all while retaining the human quality you’re probably after. Another way to improve a bad performance is with the Pitch Modulation and Pitch Drift Tool.
2) Use Pitch Modulation and Pitch Drift to Fix or Add Vibrato
And with both of these tools, you can adjust the amount of vibrato, you can even out the pitch to make it sound less pitchy and all over the place, or you can invert the way the vibrato sounds. By that, I mean you can change whether the vibrato goes up or down in pitch during its regular vibrating pattern.
Rather than dragging the note to an entirely new pitch like what was shown in #1, with this, you can attack the degree of oscillation within an individual note. A bit wordy, but what I’m trying to say is that you can add or take away vibrato with this tool.
I probably should’ve mentioned this first, but you can also even out the notes that way the pitch doesn’t drop off at the end of the performed note which is a common tendency among singers that aren’t the best.
In effect, this brings a bit of balance to the performance in a way that no other pitch correction can really do in a natural way. Details like this are the reason why many people use Melodyne over other pitch correction tools.
3) Use the Sibilant Balance Tool To Attenuate Harsh “t” “k” and “s” Sounds
Now that we don’t have to separate each note manually and then use pitch correction, Melodyne clearly communicates to us which part is the non-pitch audio signal and which part is.
In other words, if you were to pitch correct sounds that aren’t meant to be pitch-corrected, like “t,” “k,” or “s” sounds, you would get the most awful sound. If you think about it, an “s” sound doesn’t really have a pitch. It’s just the mouth noise that’s made before the vowels come out.
Melodyne, by default, won’t pitch correct those sounds anymore, moreover, you can use the sibilant balance tool to actually attenuate those sounds.
So, as I was saying before, rather than using something like a de-esser to attack frequencies across the entire recording, you can instead use the sibilant balance tool to eliminate the frequency right in the bud. This is incredible if you ask me because it pretty much totally eliminates the need for de-essers.
This issue isn’t so much of a problem with bad singers per se, because it can affect everyone equally, but either way, this is a tactic that you can use to drastically improve the sound of your recording, bad singer or not.
4) Adjust The Volume Of Notes That Are Too Loud/Quiet With The Amplitude Tool
If your singer doesn’t have much control over the dynamics of their voice (too loud or too quiet), a compressor is a good thing to use. But the thing is that if there is a specific note that needs attenuating, but not the others, you would probably be best to either use automation (my guide on that) or Melodyne to attack that specific note.
Melodyne makes this incredibly simple because you just have to click on the amplitude tool like what’s highlighted in the image above, and then drag on the note to decrease its size (or increase it if you’d like). A similar thing can be done with the timing as well which I’ll show you how to do now.
5) Use the Timing Tool to Fix Off-Time Notes
You could just use the quantizer function to snap notes to the grid, but Melodyne gives you the ability to stretch out notes in a way that’s more natural-sounding.
This can be used to really attack the timing of specific notes while also being able to really dive into how the note is actually performed in terms of timing and how it relates to the other instruments and BPM of the track.
In other words, if your singer is too soon or too late, sure, the quantizer can move those notes around, but usually, it’ll be at the expense of another note. With Melodyne’s timing tool, you can stretch it out a bit, retract it if it went slightly too long, or even change the attack. Pretty cool stuff.
6) Use The Formant Tool To Attenuate Harsh Frequencies
Admittedly, this is a tool I haven’t used very much, but it can be used to fix a recording where there is too much of one frequency range. You select the formant tool like what’s highlighted in the image above, and then use the formant tool to increase or decrease the frequency.
More Melodyne Articles If You’re Interested
Important Things to Note About Using Melodyne 5 On “Bad Vocals”
1) Make Sure to Use the Melodic Algorithm For Vocals
There are approximately 6 different algorithms that Melodyne uses to process your recordings, and for vocals, it’s best to use the melodic algorithm (in most cases, from what I understand).
It’s not uncommon for Melodyne to sometimes use a different algorithm than what it’s supposed to, so you just have to go up into the settings to change it to the proper algorithm.
If you try and use the wrong algorithm to edit your recordings, you probably won’t get as far. I know that if you use the Polyphonic Sustain algorithm in GarageBand, the Melodyne window is so small that you can barely see all of the blobs on the interface.
On the other hand, if you’re using a DAW with Audio Access Access (ARA), you’ll be able to change the size of the Melodyne window, which is something GarageBand can’t do. I’ve heard Pro Tools can’t do this either, but yet other DAWs like Logic Pro X can. But I digress, I’ve got one more point to make.
2) Many Other Dynamics Processing Tools and Effects Can Greatly Improve A Vocal Take
There are many other things you can do to greatly improve your vocal recording, including equalization (EQ), compression, reverb, delay, and a de-esser. These are probably the most common tools used on vocal performances in the mixing phase, but it’s not uncommon to also see things like saturation as well.
Additionally, some people like to add effects like chorus on the vocal and other modulation tools, depending on the genre, style, and purpose of the music. As you can see, a lot can be done to make a mediocre vocal track sound decent in the end, but it’s always best to start with something that’s actually great, that way you can make it excellent.