Things in music can get confusing once you start adding a lot of plugins that do different things. Some plugins interact weirdly with others, they sound terrible, or maybe they wind up even sounding great. There are guidelines that a lot of people follow for signal chain placement, but in many cases it’s up to individual preference.
Generally, the rules, so to speak, are merely a jumping-off point for you to get started. The same thing cannot be said for Melodyne, however, which almost always has to start at the same point every single time. So where should you put Melodyne in the signal chain then?
Generally speaking, Melodyne should always be the first plugin in your signal chain. You want Melodyne to transfer the cleanest audio signal possible, that way you don’t highlight any artifacts or sounds created by things like EQ, compression, or other effects.
And this is pretty much the way that it is for Melodyne because it’s a pitch correction and audio editing tool. If you know anything about guitar pedals, for example, it’s often the same thing. Pitch shifters almost always work the best at the start of the signal chain, that way they’re first in line for receiving the guitar signal. It just makes sense once you think about it. In the next section, we’ll talk a bit more about this…
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Why You Should Put Melodyne At The Start Of Your Plugin Chain
There are a few reasons why it makes the most sense to put Melodyne at the start of your signal chain, regardless of what you’re doing. One has to do with how Melodyne actually works, and the other one has to do with the nature of the plugin – audio editing and pitch correction.
1) Freedom to Take Effects/Processing On And Off the Audio Signal
Go ahead and put Melodyne after all of your plugins before you’ve transferred the recording, and what’ll happen is that you get a signal with EQ, compression, and all other effects on it that’s printed into Melodyne. The effects of the plugins can’t simply be turned off anymore, because they’ve been printed that way into Melodyne.
Obviously, we don’t want this because what happens if you want to take the compressor off the signal? Well, now you’ll have to turn the compressor off, and then re-transfer the whole recording over again. Everything will be lost, and you’ll have to start fresh.
Another benefit to having Melodyne at the start of your signal chain is, as the sub-heading suggests, to be able to put effects on it to see how it sounds. For example, if you really wanted, you could go ahead and mix your vocal track as you normally would, but then put Melodyne on it after and start tuning the vocal.
As long as you put it at the start of the plugin chain, you’ll transfer a clean audio signal into Melodyne because it’s getting to it first before all of the other plugins.
2) Pitch Correction and Audio Editing Tools Always Come First
As I was saying at the start of the article, pitch correction and pitch shifting tools nearly always sound the best when they’re at the start of the chain, simply because they’re getting the cleanest audio signal.
For pitch shifters and other effects, you don’t have to put them at the start, because you could put them elsewhere to get an entirely different sound.
But in most cases, if you want a pitch shifter, pitch correction, or any other pitch tool to work best with the signal, it’s best to have an uninhibited, unaltered, clean version of the signal that hasn’t been adjusted by any other dynamics processors or effects.
As I write this, I think of the DigiTech Whammy Pedal (a pitch shifter) which I’ve written about on Traveling Guitarist. That pedal always sounds the best right after your guitar in the signal chain. If you put it last, you send a heavily affected guitar signal into the pedal and it just doesn’t work as clean as it could otherwise.
I think a useful way of thinking about Melodyne is as if it’s not even a part of the processing chain. Rather, it’s a pre-mixing stage, the editing stage, before you actually start mixing.
3) Melodyne Takes Audio From Another Source – It Doesn’t Record It On Its Own
Melodyne doesn’t really record anything at all. It’s a tool that you either transfer audio into from another source, or you import the audio in via drag and drag if you’re using the stand-alone version. This means that once you’ve transferred the recording into Melodyne, you now actually have two versions of that recording.
As an example to illustrate what I’m talking about, if you really wanted to, you can print the entire recording into Melodyne and then just delete the original recording on which it’s based. The track will continue playing because Melodyne has a copy of the audio in its interface and database.
These are stored in your Transfer folder somewhere on your hard drive (you can find out where exactly in my other article). That said, you shouldn’t delete the source audio. You always want to keep a copy of the original track just in case you make a mistake or something goes wrong.
Now that I think about it, this is probably why Melodyne works the way that it does in terms of duplicating the signal and sending it to the Transfer folder. That way you don’t delete the original audio which would be inconvenient and fairly annoying.
2 Tips for Using Melodyne In Your Signal Chain
1) You Can Also Use The Stand-Alone Version of Melodyne (So There’s No Chain At All)
Some users here and here state that they like to use the stand-alone version of Melodyne for processing vocals, and I like the stand-alone version too, but not for mixing. I love using the stand-alone version when I can because I like how big the interface is and everything just seems to work a bit smoother. There are also more controls.
However, I don’t like editing and tuning vocals without the context of the original mix. Maybe there is a way to still edit the vocal in the context of the mix while using the stand-alone version.
One thing you could do, I guess, is press play and then monitor the recording in your DAW and in the stand-alone version at the same time. Make your changes one by one, and then export the file as a new project and insert it into your DAW once you’re finished.
2) Some People Recommend Light Compression or EQ Before Printing Into Melodyne
With everything stated so far, it may seem like an about-face to suddenly say something else, and I understand that. Allegedly, Celemony also says you should put Melodyne at the start of your plugin signal chain if you’re going to use it.
However, there are people out there who say it’s not a bad idea to use maybe a bit of a de-esser, EQ, or compression on the audio signal before sending it into Melodyne. Personally, I don’t do this, but it’s something you could try. Give it a shot and see how it works.
Other Melodyne Articles
- How to Add Vibrato in Melodyne [SUPER SIMPLE]
- Can Melodyne Fix Bad Vocals? [ANSWERED]
- Why Can’t I Hear My Audio in Melodyne [ANSWERED]
- How to Change Key in Melodyne [SIMPLE]
- Melodyne 5 – The Best Autotune Plug-In For Garageband
Important Things to Note About Signal Chains and Melodyne
1) The Same Rule Doesn’t Apply So Much For Antares Auto-Tune
On the website, Universal Audio states that Auto-Tune should be applied after light dynamics processing like de-essers, EQ, and compression, but before modulation, time-based, delay, reverb, distortion, spatial, and similar effects. As I’ve said, this is unlike Melodyne, as Melodyne is more of an editing tool, rather than effect.