How To Use Melodyne Like A Pro (Today!)

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Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, make sure you grab my free Melodyne cheatsheet by clicking the link above or in the description below.

So I have a song here called “Mourn,” by Dylan Owen, and I’m going to walk you through the process of tuning a lead female vocal here. So let’s take a listen to this vocal first without any tuning. So these are the raw, dry tracks.

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ In an old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always pouring rain against the window ♪

♪ I can hardly talk ♪

Beautiful vocal performance, just a little bit flat. And just a disclaimer, this was actually not like this when it was sent to me. I had to mess things up in order to make them sound worse. So if you’re listening to this whoever sang this, you should know that your vocals sounded perfect before they were sent to me. I didn’t have to Melodyne them at all.

So we’re going to add Melodyne to this vocal track. And one of the big questions I get from my students is where should I put Melodyne or autotune or some of these other tuning plug-ins? Should I put them before my other processing if I add EQ’s or compressors, or after all that other processing? I recommend you put it at the beginning of the line. So you can see here I have some EQ and compression and some other stuff on this track, and I put Melodyne as the first insert slot on that track. That usually works pretty well.

So the first thing we want to do here is set up Melodyne so that we can transfer the audio into Melodyne. So in order for us to manipulate the pitch of this track, Melodyne needs to have the track inside its interface. The first step is to turn on this transfer button here and press play, and that’s going to import the audio into Melodyne.

Now a quick note for those of you who are using Logic – the latest version of Melodyne introduced a new feature called ARA that basically will allow you to do this instantaneously so you won’t have to play the whole track in order to get the audio into Melodyne. But if you’re using another DAW, chances are you don’t have that feature yet. Hopefully it’s coming soon to people like us who are using other DAWs.

Okay so now I’m going to play this track, and we’re going to transfer the audio into Melodyne.

Okay so now you can see we have all of the audio imported into Melodyne, and you can actually see the different notes displayed on this interface here. Now there are two main ways to work with vocal tuning in Melodyne. We can either use a more automatic approach for tuning, or we can use what I call the manual approach.

So if we want to use the more automatic approach, what we would do is we can actually select all of these little blobs. So now we’ve selected the entire vocal performance, and we can press this button up here. And this will allow us to snap all of the tuning basically to the grid or the pitch send, whatever Melodyne determines to be the appropriate pitch. The pitch that was trying to be sung, that is what this is going to snap into.

Now this is a bit more intelligent I find than Autotune’s automatic mode, which generally does not do as good of a job in terms of transparency. So sometimes this approach will work, and if you’re working with smaller sections of audio, I do find this approach to be helpful. And you can adjust how aggressively Melodyne is going to correct the pitch by just turning these knobs up or down, or these sliders up or down.

Pitch drift will also determine how much we want that audio to kind of drift over a given note. So if you have a specific blob, a note blob here where maybe the singer’s singing a note, and then right at the end of the note the singer goes flat a little bit. That pitch drift setting will actually correct for that within a specific note.

So that’s one way to do it, we could do the automatic mode. But the truth is in most circumstances I find that the best approach, the most natural approach if you’re looking for tuning that you really don’t want to hear, you want it to be very transparent, I find the best approach is going to be the second way of doing things, the manual mode. Which is what I’m going to show you now.

So the first thing we’re going to do is set up Melodyne to make this process easier, and there’s a couple of settings I recommend that you choose when you’re tuning things. The first thing is I like to turn off the grid. So there’s both the pitch grid and the time grid, and if you go to the options menu and select no snap under pitch grid – and under time grid we can keep that on there, that’s fine – but the idea here is that we don’t want the pitch to be snapped to the nearest note when we’re correcting things.

So if we have this pitch grid on let’s say chromatic snap, you can see when I move this I don’t have any real option of moving things kind of in between. It just snaps to the nearest note. So all the notes are here that you can see. Whereas if the pitch grid is off, or doesn’t have that snap section, I have a much finer degree of control.

Now you might be thinking, well why wouldn’t I want to snap something to a grid? Well the truth is, the grid isn’t always the best approach when it comes to tuning because tuning is more of a relative thing. For example, if you have a female vocal where the entire performance the singer is just slightly under the pitch and you’re trying to correct one note, you don’t want this to snap that one note to the absolute correct pitch. If it’s a G you don’t really want that to be all the way a G. You might want that to just be slightly under that G, and that’s going to make it actually sound like it’s in tune with the rest of the performance.

So tuning and pitch is much more of a relative thing when it comes to tuning vocals in particular. And what’s going on in the rest of the track, all the other tracks in your session also makes a huge difference. So if you have a guitar that’s playing slightly sharp for example, then you’re going to want to tune the vocal slightly above the correct quote-on-quote pitch as well.

So for all these reasons, I find it very helpful to have access to these kind of finer adjustments when it comes to moving the pitch. And that’s why I recommend you turn that snap off.

The other thing that you really want to do when you’re tuning vocals is you want to make sure to listen to the vocal in context with the other instrumental tracks in your mix. So you don’t want to just solo the vocal and start tuning it in isolation, and this goes back to what I just said. So for example, if we have a guitar in our mix that is slightly sharp, and we just solo that vocal on its own and start tuning it, we’re not going to be hearing how the vocal is relating to the guitar. And so we might make the vocal sound great on its own, but then when it’s back with that guitar it’s going to sound like it’s slightly flat for example because the guitar was sharp.

So we’re trying to make the vocal fit in with everything else, and so we need to be listening to everything together when we’re making decisions about tuning. So I recommend you avoid the solo button when you’re tuning vocals, and just listen to the harmonic tracks in your mix along with the vocal. So you can mute if there are drums. You can mute those. But I do recommend if there are guitars or pianos or other harmonic instruments in your session, you listen to those while you’re tuning the vocal.

And the last thing you really want to pay attention to is you want to have a vision before you get started, a sense of what the goal is when it comes to your vocal tuning. Because there isn’t one right way to tune a vocal. And there are certain genres or styles of music where you might want the tuning to be more aggressive – for example if you’re working with pop music or EDM music, where you really want that almost robotic level of tuning where everything is pitch-perfect – or on the other hand if you’re working with a jazz song or an acoustic song where you want a lot more of that natural sound, and maybe it’s okay to have some notes that are slightly off. So you want to define what the goal is before you start. Because otherwise, there’s always this tendency to overdo it.

Okay, so now that we have all of the disclaimers out of the way, I want to walk you through the process of tuning this vocal. Now because this is a more acoustic type of sound, it’s a bit more organic, I’m not going to go for that over-autotuned thing. I’m just going to see if I can just nudge some notes here and there and make things sound a bit more natural.

So what I’m going to do here is I’m going to zoom in to the actual vocal itself, and I’m going to do little chunks at a time. So let’s see if we can start here. This is just a couple of words, and I’m going to listen to the vocal with the other instrumental tracks in my mix, and see if I can just kind of nudge the tuning of these notes to see if we can make them sound a bit better.

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ Let’s mourn all the – ♪

So this note right here is definitely sharp, or flat, excuse me.

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve – ♪

And her beginning pickup is also flat.

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

Same thing here. So all of this is flat.

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ Let’s mourn – ♪

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

And again, I don’t really care where these notes actually fall on the grid in the interface. I’m listening to the vocal and the music itself, and asking myself what sounds like it’s in tune to me? Because it doesn’t really matter what the screen looks like, and you want to get out of that way of just looking at the screen and thinking okay, it has to be perfectly in the center of this B in order for it to be in tune.

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

So that sounds much better to me. So let’s move on here and we’ll keep going through the performance. And I like doing it this way with these little loops because it makes it easier to focus on smaller little sections.

♪ In an old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

♪ In an old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

♪ In an old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

♪ In an old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

So all I’m doing here is using my mouse to drag these up and down until the vocal sounds like it’s in tune. Now you might be watching this and thinking well Jason, how are you hearing all these little things? I just, I don’t know if I can hear the difference in what you’re doing. And this is where it gets a little bit tricky, because I wish there was an easy way that I could just give that to you. But it comes over time, and if you can’t hear all these subtle details, don’t worry just yet. As you spend more time tuning vocals, you’ll start to hear these subtle nuances a lot more easily. So don’t get discouraged if you can’t hear all of these fine adjustments that I’m making, just stick with it and it will get easier for you.

♪ In an old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

So one thing I want to show you here is we have this note right here where she kind of wavers a little bit.

♪ – old cafe ♪

♪ Where – ♪

We hear her kind of vibrato, but it’s a bit too much for me. So there’s a tool in Melodyne if we right-click on the note itself and go over to the pitch tool section here, and then go to pitch modulation. Now we’ve selected a tool that will actually allow us to manipulate how much vibrato is in this note itself. So if I click on this and then drag down, we’re actually turning down the vibrato. So let’s take a listen again.

♪ – old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

♪ – old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

See if we can turn down a bit more.

♪ – old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

Maybe a little bit more.

♪ – old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

Cool, so that sounds good to me. I don’t want to take all of it out. Because again, we’re going for that more natural sound. But it just sounds a bit cleaner when we have that specific adjustment made. To me it doesn’t distract me as much.

♪ In old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

Now on this second note here, she actually drifts up a little bit at the end of the vocal phrase. Now in this case it’s not bothering me that much, but I wanted to show you another thing that you can do in Melodyne to correct those types of things.

So there’s another tool here called the pitch drift tool. And again, how I’m accessing this is I’m right-clicking on that note, I’m going over to the pitch tool section, and then I go to pitch drift tool. And that will allow me to correct this. So you can see I’ve dragged that down, and so now we’re not seeing as much of that rise at the end of the vocal phrase itself. So let’s take a listen to this whole thing again.

♪ In old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always – ♪

Cool, so that sounds a bit better to me. So let’s keep going, and we’ll move forward to the next phrase.

♪ – pouring rain against the window ♪

♪ I can hardly – ♪

♪ – pouring rain – ♪

Same thing here.

♪ – pouring rain against – ♪

♪ – pouring rain against the window ♪

♪ I can hardly talk ♪

♪ – pouring rain – ♪

So this vibrato up here is a bit much for me, so I’m going to use that pitch modulation tool and turn some of that down.

♪ – pouring rain – ♪

Turn that up a bit, it’s a bit flat.

♪ – pouring rain against the window ♪

♪ I can hardly talk ♪

Same thing here, the vibrato. She also kind of drifts up on that word a little bit, so let’s turn that down. So I’ve used the pitch drift tool to control that drift at the end of that note. So now she hangs on that note a bit more, and I used the pitch modulation tool to control that vibrato a little bit. So let’s keep going.

♪ The way we always used to ♪

♪ So I just can’t ♪

Now one other thing that you can do with Melodyne is you can actually adjust the timing of the notes themselves. So in this case, I feel like this section she kind of rushes just a little bit.

♪ The way we always used to ♪

♪ So I just can’t ♪

Now in this specific performance, I probably wouldn’t address that – because again, we’re going for more of a naturalistic sound. But what you can actually do is if you select certain notes, you can drag them forward and backwards – whoops sorry I guess you can’t do that – you can drag specific notes. Actually let’s do this, we’ll turn off the time grid, and now you can do that. So that’s what I was trying to show you guys before. So you can actually, if you have the time grid off, you can actually drag things forward and backwards here. So we can drag this backwards a bit in time.

♪ The way we always used to ♪

♪ The way we always used to ♪

♪ So I just can’t ♪

Maybe it sounded better before, but you get the idea. You can actually use Melodyne to control not just the pitch of the notes themselves, but you can actually use it to control the timing as well.

So this whole thing is pretty flat, let’s turn all of these up.

♪ The way we always used to ♪

♪ So I just can’t ♪

♪ The way we always used to ♪

♪ So I just can’t ♪

So let’s take a listen to this track before and after now, and we’ll take a listen to what our tuning has done before. So we’ll start before, and then I’ll flip Melodyne in.

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ In an old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always pouring rain against the window ♪

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ In an old cafe ♪

♪ Where it’s always pouring rain against the window ♪

♪ I can hardly talk ♪

It does sound much better. And it sounds pretty natural, so I’m not hearing a lot of the tuning itself, which is the mark of a good tuning performance, unless you’re going for that more aggressive kind of autotuned sound, in which case I think Autotune is actually a better tool for that. I find Melodyne to be very useful when you want a transparent, natural form of pitch correction that you really don’t hear.

So there’s a couple of things I want to show you that might make your tuning job easier here. So sometimes what will happen is Melodyne will actually incorrectly group two notes together under one specific blob. So I don’t have an example of this here, but let’s pretend the singer sang two notes here, but Melodyne has it grouped all together under this one blob. So if you’re trying to adjust let’s say one specific note in that two-note blob, you can only move both of them at once, and that can be kind of limiting.

So sometimes what you’ll have to do is you’ll have to use the note separation tool. And if you right-click on the blob and then you go over to the far right and go to note separation tool, then click that, and then just double-click in the middle. Now you can see Melodyne has separated these two blobs. So there was one blob before, and now there’s two. And so now what you can do is you can adjust each section of that blob independently. And that’s pretty helpful if you have a blob that contains more than one note, or if you actually want to adjust one half of a specific note differently than the other half. So maybe the tail end of a note is just a little bit sharp, and you want to turn that tail end down a bit without affecting the first part of the note, that can be very useful.

Now the last thing that I want to show you here is a bit more of a creative thing that you can do with Melodyne. So there’s a control here called formant that will actually allow you to adjust the timbre or the tone of a vocal performance. And you’ll hear this effect a lot in EDM or more electronic music where you want that more manipulated-sounding vocal that sounds kind of like a chipmunk sound or like a very low deep sound. So if you want to create this effect, what you can do is you can select all the notes, and then right-click and go over to formant control. And now we can actually manipulate the formant of these specific notes.

So let’s say we dragged the formant up. And now if we take a listen –

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ In an old cafe ♪

So it sounds like a chipmunk effect. And we can go the opposite way as well.

♪ Let’s mourn all the time we’ve killed ♪

♪ In an old cafe ♪

– for a more deeper sound. So that’s more of a creative effect that you can apply with Melodyne. Obviously outside the realm of traditional pitch correction, but it can be really cool for little vocal stylings and effects.

So I hope you found this helpful. And if you’re ready to dive deeper, I recommend you also download my free Melodyne cheatsheet by clicking the link above or in the description below. And that cheatsheet’s going to walk you through the exact process that I recommend for achieving the most natural, organic sound when it comes to using Melodyne, so this way you can avoid all the artifacts and glitches that often happen with tuning that will make your vocals sound amateur. So if you want to download this, again it’s completely free. Just click the link above or in the description below.

And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – do you think using Melodyne is cheating? Should we all just accept the sound of our own natural voice instead of trying to tune it with all these tools? I’d love to hear your reply, so leave your answer in the comments section below.

And for more mixing tips and videos like these, check out my YouTube channel right here or go to BehindTheSpeakers.com.

About Jason Moss

Jason is an LA-based mixer and the founder of Behind The Speakers. He's a graduate of New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. His how-to articles have been featured in leading industry publications by Berklee, TuneCore, SonicScoop, The Pro Audio Files, and Disc Makers.