Autotune plugin suggestions? Or better ideas?

March 20, 2009 5:19 PM

To pitch correct, or not pitch correct...and requests for software recommendations if the answer is "pitch correct."

Okay, here's the deal...I'm working on a project with a singer that lives on a different continent. She's given me some vocal tracks that are simply awesome, but I do have a problem with the occasional out of pitch note.

If she was local, I'd play the taskmaster and have her sing take after take after take. But with the long distant aspect, I'm VERY hesitant to make her record endless takes without immediate feedback. If we were in the same room, I would simply punch in and out and hopefully not completely wear her down. But I want this to be fun for her, and not a dreaded chore.

As much as I despise autotuned voices, I'm thinking that pitch correction on my end may be the simplest route. But I definitely want to avoid any and all autotune artifacts...I'd rather settle for the pitch issues if I ABSOLUTELY must.

So, any recommendations for autotune plugins? Is Melodyne the grandaddy of them all? Cheaper is of course better...I'd really prefer not to shell out $250, but I will if that's the best option. (I'm mixing in Cubase SL on what is becoming an antiquated PC - windows XP pro.)

What's the verdict, musichive? Is there a good autotuner out there on the cheap? Should I spring for Melodyne? Or should I risk alienating my singer by asking her to re-record?
posted by malocchio (9 comments total)

I haven't done very much pitch correcting at all, so I'm not a great source on this, but to clarify: how many out-of-pitch notes are we talking about? If it's a small handful, I'd probably skip the autotune and just make the edits myself with a basic pitch shifting utility—grab each bad note chunk, push it the appropriate number of cents in the right direction, and plaster that over the original stinker note and call it good.

If it's enough that that'd be onerous, though, search me.

I'd ask her to give you another take for each track at least, personally. That might be the easiest way to get the pitch issues ironed out, and it shouldn't hopefully be a grind for her to do that. Ideally you could even isolate the specific pitch issues you have and ask her to rerecord only those segments ("verse 2 from xxx, the chorus from yyy", etc), but if the pitchiness is more widespread than that obviously just ask for a whole take.

Are you worried about offending her by broaching the "there are pitch issues" subject? If so, just dodge it—ask for retracks on general terms: "what you got me was great, but I'd love a second take on some/all of 'em just to have more possibilities to work with" or such.

One of the problems here is if you don't know this singer well yet you may not know if she's just characteristically pitchy at certain points or under certain vocal contexts, so I suppose you run the risk of asking for retracks that are out of pitch at exactly the same points in exactly the same way. But you can't know that until you try, and again you don't have to put it to her on those terms if you don't want.
posted by cortex at 9:00 AM on March 21, 2009

Melodyne Melodyne Melodyne.

The ideal situation is to import her entire vocal take into Melodyne, fix ONLY the notes that you feel need fixing, export, go back to your DAW, and splice ONLY the corrected notes into the take.

Every autotune software has artifacts and unless you actually LIKE those artifacts (particularly a strange distortion of sibilants) don't replace the whole take. I actually LIKE how the sibilants get a little grainy, but that's just something I like.

I've used Antares , Roland V-Vocal, and Melodyne, and dollar for dollar the basic Melodyne (not the multichannel DAW-wannabe) is absolutely the best (and I include the fact that V-Vocal came free with my Sonar version -- can't stand it).

I've found it is better to fix a great take with a couple bad notes than to take a mediocre take with better pitch, for obvious reasons.
posted by chimaera at 1:23 PM on March 21, 2009

Here I go.

Since you mentioned the option of doing it or not doing it at all (though I guess by that you meant re-recording), I'll give you my opinion, and this is the opinion of a mere listener, not a professional.

To me, a track where someone sings a note out of tune here and there sounds better than a track that has been corrected electronically, but then again, I do listen to a lot of field recordings and stuff that may not follow "Western" standards. Still, I'll always prefer someone singing out of tune than someone autotuned, and despite what producers want to believe, it's pretty easy to tell when something has been autotuned.

Then there is the argument that most people won't notice the occasional note out of tune, and most people do notice if a track has been autotuned. When people realize something has been autotuned they tend to feel they are being "Milli-Vanillized" and they generally discard the singer altogether. So, my own suggestion here would be to either re-record it or to leave it as it is, but to avoid autotuning. If you are using other vocal effects it may be easier to disguise it, but otherwise, avoid it. My 2 cents.
posted by micayetoca at 1:56 PM on March 21, 2009

After sleeping on it last night, I woke up thinking pretty much what cortex has written; I'm going to ask her to re-record only the problem phrases. I'm actually surprised that I'm even considering autotuning...I've never been comfortable criticizing other people's work, and that's really the core of the issue here. But she knows that I think she's awesome, so I hope she realizes that I'm only trying to help her achieve her best.

Thank you all for your input!
posted by malocchio at 4:50 PM on March 21, 2009

When people realize something has been autotuned they tend to feel they are being "Milli-Vanillized" and they generally discard the singer altogether.

Which would be a tremendous disservice to her. Thanks for putting it that way, it really makes my decision much easier!
posted by malocchio at 4:54 PM on March 21, 2009

I was just reading SOS last weekend and was amused to learn that Cubase 5 (the brand new one) has Basically Melodyne style functionality built in. VariAudio.

I';d probably just leave the bum notes in there and not worry too much. it doesn't have to be perfect and i'm lazy.
posted by mary8nne at 9:32 AM on March 23, 2009

I tend to notice pitch correction in professional music but my brother has slipped some melodyne corrected notes past me one projects I've worked on with him. I think it's all about the amount of correction needed and how subtle a hand the producer has.
posted by magikker at 3:11 PM on March 24, 2009

Having done some recordings within limited timeframes recently, with no real chance to go back in and do overdubs, I've found that a little pitch correction on particularly egregious errors goes a long way.

Example - there was a bass part that the bass player absolutely nailed. For two weeks during mixing I was listening the to the track over and over again thinking "There's something not right here". And finally I realised "Oh crap, I've been making them play the wrong note the whole time!" Our choices were send the bass player back into the studio to overdub one note three times (three choruses), or get the engineer to use the pitch correction in DP. I got the engineer to show me what it would be like with pitch correction. Once I saw how easy and quick it was, and how un-noticeable (the difference was a semitone), well, the decision was easy.

Similarly for another song in the same session - the singer had two bum notes in an otherwise really good take. But he wasn't going to be around for a long time (i.e. in a different country), and we wanted to get it finished. So I asked the engineer if he could fix the two bum notes. In less than a couple of minutes the notes were fixed and sounded fine. If we'd left them I'd have been gritting my teeth every time I listened to the finished product and never have been able to enjoy the songs.

So I think a little bit of pitch correction is OK. I look at it as trying to give the best presentation of the song, rather than the best presentation of the performance. But it depends on what you're focussing on.

If you did do some pitch correction on your collaborator's voice though you should tell them.
posted by awfurby at 12:56 AM on April 2, 2009

Here's what I do.. Get two good* vocal takes. Import them into two separate tracks. Make the filters and effects the same on both. Pan them both to the same place. Line by line, choose which take has the better performance, and cross fade between them until you get to the end.

*however you define it.
posted by dobie at 9:23 PM on April 6, 2009

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