I discussed vocals before on this blog and said that we should overcome vocal sampling, but not in general. So this time I wanna take a look at the other side and tell of a couple of my cheats and tricks for creative vocal editing.
Vocals are great, arguably the most unique instrument. Paired with a decent instrumental they can make a song stand out. No matter if you use self-recorded vocals/rapping or some sample, it can all elevate your track to the next level if not two levels up. Often enough though, there are issues with self-recorded vocals and samples.
Sound quality, pitch, noise, isolation – these are all things to look out for when working with vocals. What do I mean with this?
Let me give you a rough example: I’ve collaborated with a couple of great singers already (e.g. in my latest album Heart Trip Vol.2) but the most weren’t professionals and neither is my recording equipment.
So although the recording might sound great overall there could still be some issues with pitch if the singer hits one note a bit flat (or sharp). Or there could be small timing mistakes, especially in sections with lots of words in them. You’re probably not a pro-producer with the best mic either so you’ll have to deal with background noise (that typical white noise ‘fizz’) as well.
If you’re using a sample from an already existing song there might be some background sounds from the instrumental or maybe the sound quality is not perfect since it’s a very old song you’re sampling from or whatever. There are all kinds of issues that could appear along the way.
So how tackle all these challenges and are there any cheap tricks to make a vocal sound cooler?
Your DAW as a fundamental tool
Let’s say you’ve loaded a file or recorded directly into your project. You listen closely and start to notice timing errors and parts in which the vocalist just doesn’t quite hit the pitch. Now actually before you start loading up Autotune and whatever plugins there are to edit the track, your DAW can probably correct these details without any additional software. Many music production softwares have tools to edit pitch and timing without having to cut the recording up and edit every piece separately. Go for a search on the internet and get to learn all the hidden features your DAW has to offer. As I use Reaper, I’ll briefly show you both tools for pitch and timing correction.
Pitch: Double click your sound item and find the ‘Take Envelopes’ option. Select ‘Pitch’.
Now you can draw and edit an automation within the item.
Timing: If you hit Shift+W on your sound item, Reaper creates a new kind of time stretching point. This way you can drag any part of the recording left or right on the timeline within the item, automatically stretching the surrounding part of the recording instead of moving it.
Creative vocal editing
Disclaimer: Please note that I don’t go through any kind of perfect vocal fx chain here, I just list ways to edit your sound in order to get your creative vocal editing started.
Maybe now you realize you want a whole note or sequence to be changed or you want that typical T-Pain sound for your vocal. For that there’s Autotune but that’s one expensive software. So are there any alternatives? Yes, there are!
Still costly but not quite as expensive as the original Autotune software by Antares. Three modes for easy and instant correction or detailed note for note correction just like in Melodyne.
Used on almost all my collaborations on Heart Trip Vol.2.
EQing out the extreme highs of your recording can be useful to get rid of that background fizz most recordings have. But in case you wanna keep the bright sound or the EQ just doesn’t help enough, try using a Gate on top.
A gate cancels out the parts of your recordings with a level below a certain threshold. This way you can turn pauses in the vocal performance with very prominent background noise into complete silence instead.
How to LoFi
It can be a means of style or a way to hide the mess or lack of quality of a vocal sample: Clipping, EQing, Compressing and LoFi-ing the heck out of a sound. This is a very individual approach on editing so here’s just a list with things you can try to give your vocal that sometimes trashy and LoFi sound:
- EQ out all the highs
- use a Clipper
- put some Vinyl FX on it (think of VSTs like iZotope Vinyl, RC-20)
- thin out the sound by highpassing
- saturate it just a bit too much
- compress it to death
Listen to this vocal on ‘One Two Time’ from my Green EP. (Starts at around 2:20)
The complete vocal chain consists of exactly 19 fx inserts. In most cases that would be too much for sure but this time I felt like it was needed
Spice it up – creative vocal editing has a lot to offer
Now that we have all that necessary stuff out the way I want to mention some creative FX I discovered over time.
This one’s a fun creative VST-plugin you can use on all kinds of sounds, if you mix it in like 40% with subtle setting you can give your vocals extra depth. Or you just go crazy with it.
If your vocal lacks movement and uniqueness Timeshaper can be a way to give it some more rhythmic potential. I think a little goes a long way here but that’s probably more a matter of taste.
With frequency shifters it often takes some time to find the right settings but once you got them you can add some robotic and mechanical vibes to your vocals. I used a slight bit of that on the vocal I showed you earlier too.
Backmask (Freakshow Industries)
With Backmask you get a different way to dial in some kind of reverse effects in between. This makes this VST ideal to fill up empty spaces between parts of your vocals.
This one’s for the mad lads out there. Dehumaniser is a software you can have lots of fun with. I don’t really know how it works but it adds certain textures to your sound making it sound like for example a Dinosaur or Cyclops (these are original settings from the software). Probably the best tool to go crazy right from the start. I noticed though, that the original audio should be of great quality with low to no background noise for the software to work flawlessly.
As a reader asked this some time ago, if you wanna make a vocal sound robotic, before you do all the creative processing, try tuning it to just one note of your choice using some kind of Autotune effect. This will make the vocal sound monotone – as the term ‘monotone’ already implies – and therefore more robotic.
Level 2 of this would be certain settings on the FreqEcho by Valhalla. Take a look at these settings and try it on your own vocals. With maybe some small adjustments it will add another mechanical touch to the vocal!
I think I barely scratched the surface of creative vocal editing
And that wraps it up for this blog episode. As I said this is not a specific tutorial on how to process vocals but it’s a couple of useful tricks I learned working with self-recorded or sampled vocals. Creative vocal editing can still go so much further so feel free to tell me of your approach when it comes to editing vocals.
Hope you enjoyed, check out my socials and other blog episodes and share if you like!