There are many tools available to today’s producer to fix and fine tune vocal or instrument performances in Digital Audio Workstations. The most known one is obvious one is Autotune by Antares, but there are many other plugins and softwares that can enhance not just pitch, but timing, phrasing and even tone. Autotune has its place for its “fast” ability to work in a fast pace environment but as seasoned producers will agree, in record production is not about fast, but about how good.
The most important quality a plugin or software needs to have is its inaudibility. I would not want anybody to know that the singer might have needed a little help to hit that note or that he rushed a line and I had to move and nudged it into place. There shouldn’t be any sonic change when pitching a note and it also should consider the center of the pitch and not the vibrato as its reference to detect pitch. Almost all of these applications have the ability to fix pitch well, but one software that handles all things equally as well and better, combined in one app, is Celemony’s Melodyne.
Melodyne’s capability to move each note precisely by hand, separate your samples by choice, adjust the vibrato and pitch drift (how notes connect) and its multi-track layering and visual component make it every professionals choice. Quantizing audio is now a standard feature in most DAW’s but Melodyne handles the movement and “crunching” of each individual clip with little artifacts added to the signal. Is is not flawless but if you take your time and deal with everything by hand, the results can be mind blowing. Being packed with all these features can also be a drawback. Most producers won’t have the time to deal with editing a lead vocal for an hour, if their other option is to insert the Autotune plugin to receive a acceptable result in minutes and move to their next task.But, if you are a perfectionist like myself, you would never touch Autotune unless you want to use it for an effect.
I’ve had many conversations about how artists used to sing better before we had tools to fix it, but the fact is that the listeners ears have also developed and fine tuned to better recognize accurate or inaccurate piches. Listeners were used to hearing a little flatness here and there but for close to a decade they have been spoiled by perfect vocal recordings and are now more perceptive to the small pitch offsets that used to be normal.
One trick I like to use it to tell the artist that none of my plugins are working and that we have to get the best performance we can. It challenges them to dig a little deeper. The subconscious mind will always tell the singer that the take was “okay” because it can be fixed. Forcing them to independence from plugins and softwares and to give their best, making them understand that it is a tool that should only be a last resort to fix or an incredible tool to improve an already great performance, will improve the focus of any artist.