Today’s blog will be of little interest to you unless you’re actively involved in pro audio, computer music, studio production and so on. I posted these notes to the Celemony online forum earlier today.
It concerns a new software program called Melodyne Editor. Even laypeople have probably heard of ‘Autotune’, a rival program and also these days a generic term for the digital retuning of vocals and some instruments. Well, the it’s not hard to understand that a computer could be used to speed up and slow down the pitch of a note or series of notes at a microscopic level. But it’s completely counter-intuitive to imagine being able to select a single note from within a chord or cluster of notes, and retune that independently of what’s going on around it.
After a couple of days working with Melodyne Editor, I’d like to post some comments for others pro audio users considering making the purchase, and/or for existing users who want to share tips on how to get the best out of it. I should state that I paid full price (£359 in the UK) for this product and have no affiliation or sponsorship deal with Celemony. I think this is a fabulous, magical piece of software. I always thought of pitch/time shifting tools as something you could apply to monophonic content, but that complex or polyphonic content was strictly out of bounds. After using Melodyne’s DNA (Direct Note Access) technology I’ve had a revelation: an audio recording is just a bunch of fundamentals and harmonics represented as digital data, that can be analysed, segmented and manipulated, all non-destructively. Here are some detailed comments:
-ME worked great for my brass section, but also for guitar parts–I was quite amazed when I transferred a comp’d guitar track (acoustic arpeggios, chunky electric chords, and electric lead all on a single track) to find that I was able to access and retune individual notes. A very helpful feature for guitars is the ability to click on a note on the left hand margin (eg high E) and effectively retune just that string, throughout the piece.
-I also used it on an out of tune bass guitar track. I feel it does this better than a monophonic retuning tool, because sometimes the ends of notes overlap or have overtones. Interstingly, with bass it doesn’t always sound ‘correct’ to have it perfectly in tune. But I like that ME lets you ‘eyeball’ the tuning on a passage and see what’s going on, even if you choose to leave it alone.
-As you do lots of work in ME you have to keep an ear out for unwanted artefacts as you go. Sometimes you can introduce clicks at the begining of notes. But if you make a mistake you can always go back and reset the changes you made to that particular note. This is an improvement over ProTools, where sometimes you’re performing destructive edits on the source material, and if you screw up you have to go fishing around folders for the raw source.
-When dealing with vocals, I’m pleased that Melodyne doesn’t seem to have such a recognisable ‘sound’ to it the way Autotune does.
-Being a pretty innacurate singer, when I record vocal tracks, in the past I have typically sung 3 or 4 good takes, then comp’d them together line by line, even borrowing words, syllables and breaths. What I will probably do now do is a secondary comp, choosing between the ‘untuned’ and ‘retuned’ vocal. Sometimes a line is more expressive when left alone. Other times a word that was in tune to begin with, actually sounds better sonically after ME because of what it does the to internal modulation of the note.
-My vocal tracks in ProTools LE often end up with dozens of fades and crossfades, to avoid the clicks it introduces when waveforms have to make a jump at an edit point. ProTools HD doesn’t have this problem (one reason they stick you up for a lot of extra dough!) yet ME seems to get around this by cleverly negotiating all its edit points. I can’t tell you what a time saver this is. Now a few small gripes:
-When dealing with multitrack data, and tuning tracks individually, it’s very easy to end up with a ‘chorus’ type effect, which spoils the sonic integrity of the source. For example, with my brass section tracks (3 individual plus a pair of room mics) I retuned each track seperately, and the result no longer sounded out of tune but there was a strong chorus/ensemble effect which took away from the personality of the horns. It would be great if you could retune one track, then apply those settings to an adjecent or other track, so that all tracks get tuned the same way. I understand that the standalone version may be able to do this?
-In ProTools, if I transfer more than about 30 seconds of audio, PT’s transport refuses to stop playing, and all functions are frozen. Last night I aborted it after about 20 minutes. I had to stop and start the transfer in chunks.
-I find the Tuning Drift tool very unhelpful. I assumed this would work well on a note that started off in tune then drifted sharp or flat. It doesn’t seem to work as advertised, and I end up using the Modulation tool instead.
-I wish the standard Apple key commands worked within ME, such as Command-Z for Undo. After 25 years working with a Mac I hit this like a nervous twitch, and it’s annoying to have to keep remembering that it only exists as an ME menu command.
-I’d like a single command to render the ME-affected audio back to a track of ProTools as a new audio file. Bouncing and importing are too disruptive. Of course everybody uses their tools and workstation differently, but I hope my $0.02 is helpful. I have no regrets about shelling out for Melodyne Editor. Congratulations Celemony on a fabulous piece of kit!