Melodyne Editor comments

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!

16 Responses to “Melodyne Editor comments”

  1. Mr.Pab says:

    wow, great testimony and feedback! (which can be handled with the Roland Feedback Suppressor of course …) – I suspected this would be an awesome program after watching the promo video. Now I must have it!

  2. BeechwoodAve says:

    I saw an online demo of this last year and was seriously startled by what this software is capable of doing. It’s a serious game-changer, and the potential it has in simply ‘fixing’ problems in an audio track boggles the mind. I’m not a studio sort of person, but I know enough about what goes into a typical classical-music recording session to be floored by what Melodyne offers. Being able to fix one note in the French Horn in the middle of a full orchestral recording just defies belief…

    Whether using this to correct undesirable bits or to ‘flavor’ the material in some sonically interesting way, I look forward to seeing how this product is received in the studio recording world. I suspect most will be as taken with it as you, Thomas.

    Beech

  3. spride says:

    Hi Thomas,

    You can actually add shortcut keystrokes to almost any app running under Mac OS X (Tiger onwards). Make a note of the exact menu text in the app, then go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts > Application Shortcuts > Plus Sign and add ME, then add a shortcut with keyboard input ⌘ + Z and menu text Undo (or whatever ME has). If the menu item has an ellipsis after it this is usually entered as ⌥ + ; to produce the ellipsis character (…).

    Add the shortcut and close System Preferences, then quit the app if it was open and relaunch it. Your keyboard shortcut should now work.

    Best

    Simon

  4. [...] Dolby has posted his personal review of Melodyne Editor at his site – and he’s hyperactive about [...]

  5. [...] blog his experience with Celemony’s Melodyne Editor.  You can read his whole posting here:  http://blog.thomasdolby.com/?p=1047 “My vocal tracks in ProTools LE often end up with dozens of fades and crossfades, to avoid [...]

  6. judahprince says:

    I really appreciate your self-effacing style. Inaccurate singer? You are hardly that.

  7. Great post!

    I’m a long time Melodyne plugin user, and I use Pro Tools HD. I just wanted to clear up a couple of misconceptions above about PT…

    There is no difference between LE and HD in terms of whether or not one might need to crossfade regions to avoid clicks. One handy solution though is to set up auto-crossfades of a few milliseconds in the Prefs, I believe this is available in LE as well as HD.

    The other point is that Pro Tools NEVER performs ‘destructive’ edits, (unlike Logic!) The only time this is possible is with an AudioSuite process when you select the option to overwrite files, and even then it always warns you what you’re about to do with a dialogue box. However, if you haven’t duplicated the playlist (or done a ‘Save As’) before you perform edits it can be tricky to get back to where you were…! But even then, if you’ve got a previously saved version (or one of the autosaves) with the desired edits, it’s fairly easy to use Import Session Data to get back what you need…

    With regard to Melodyne, I found the new ‘Editor’ version buggy and cumbersome when trying to perform vocal tuning/editing compared to the old version, so I’ve reverted to that! A lot of the folks on the DUC have come to a similar conclusion…!

  8. TMDR says:

    Actually George, there is no ‘auto crossfade’ function in LE, only in HD. I’ve never seen one and I just double-checked the manual. I’m pretty sure it’s just an arbitrary piece of bloodymindedness on Digi’s part, a way to have a few extra unchecked boxes in the side-by-side comparison chart, to justify the price difference. But what with Logic giving away the farm for just few hundred dollars, I feel Digi may have to rethink that strategy…

    What I said ‘destructive edits’ I was probably using the wrong term. I was referring to the fact that if you perform a process on a chunk of waveform eg Pitch Shift, then try to lengthen it (or do a crossfade) you no longer have more of the original waveform available to you. Sure you can re-spot the raw region, but then you have to try to recreate any/all the processes you’ve run on it.

  9. noguru says:

    Thomas,

    I thought you used Logic.

    I know its PC only, but have you thought about
    Cakewalk’s SONAR.

    SONAR RULES !!!

    plus you could use it on one of your submarines.

  10. jimmiebone says:

    Hi Thomas

    Glad you’ve discovered the joys of Melodyne. In these days when producing music on computer is pretty much routine, it has taken a special piece of kit to blow me away, the way that Melodyne has.

    Just wanted to share my opinion and experience with it.

    When I recorded my album, I only had my drummer for a day session, now good as he was and knew all the tracks, we had to get drum tracks for 9 songs down in that session, so he belted through them.

    When we got them back to my studio, even though he’d played to a click (and 95% was perfect) there were still a few bits just not sitting right. Once we had got the drum tracks sitting in the mix where we were happy, we bounced them to a stereo file and Melodyned them! Even though we were aware of what we were doing at the time, I had to take a step back and think…. “we’re quantizing real audio drums” astounding!

    Also, as you said about comping the vox, sometimes you get a great performance with all the emotion in one take but the odd notes are a bit ‘wafty’ pitch wise, a little tweak here and there and you got it!
    Also used it to create a missed harmony part long after the required vocalist has left the building!
    Bass guitar also.

    Yes! So much more than just a glorified ‘Autotune’!

    And on that subject Thomas, as a fan of many years, I feel that what you describe as, and I quote “Being a pretty innacurate singer” is very much a part of the charm of your vocal style, so have fun …..but don’t ME your vox too much eh mate!!

  11. Mr Beef says:

    So, a great New Toy and you don’t even need The Ability To Swing? I thought it was home taping that was supposed to be killing music? Or will it be Melodyne? Where will it end? Maybe I’m just a luddite at heart, but more than any other music technology, this software must raise many philosophical questions about the nature of creating music. Or is it all just a series of waveforms?

  12. Chris says:

    Looks like Photoshop for long wavelength has arrived . Lovely toys for grown up boys. Hope it won’t affect the essence of music in general all too much, as you concluded yourself already, some things just sound better slightly out of tune.

  13. ProfessorHiggins says:

    Chris: “…some things just sound better slightly out of tune”

    Haven’t used Melodyne, but it sounds as if it could be used to make an awful lot of previously pretty things radically out of tune. Forget about sampling, this is rewiring. Looking forward to hearing what the experimentalists and mischievous make with it.

  14. [...] The Official Thomas Dolby Blog » Blog Archive » Melodyne Editor comments [...]

  15. TwinStripe says:

    I’ve just checked the Celemony website and Melodyne Editor’s now only £319, and if it does what you say that’s pretty darned good. Most half decent pitch correction/editing hardware cost 2-3 times that and won’t be able to pick it out note by note…

    To me this sounds like exactly the sort of ‘enabling’ step that music needs every now and then; a tool for the very talented and a lifeline for the partially talented (and I include myself very much in the lower half of the latter)!

    It’s like the synthesizer sequencer – genuinely talented people like TMDR (fawn, fawn..) can use it to build backing tracks for demos or studio work and then play along with it live, or perhaps replace the sequenced parts with live musicians; it’s their choice. It will also allow you to change or replace stuff AFTER the song’s been created (meaning that you don’t have to re-record that rather dull sounding bridge but can mess around with the timings, harmonies etc.)

    For ham fisted, sausage fingered loons like me it means I can actually produce a half decent song (note by note if I have to) and produce something that people can listen to without feeling they’ve just listened to a Steinway falling down the stairs with a cat inside it…

    They both sound good, but in the case of those who get it right 99.9% of the time (or in TMDR words, which I don’t believe incidentally, 50-25% of the time) will just look a whole lot better on stage because that’s them having to ACTUALLY do it for real. Everyone has ‘off-days’ but that shouldn’t get in the way of the creative process (which is why some new albums take years to surface and others take weeks – it’s usually down to people getting off-track because today didn’t work out so well). Why wait for days for that mild cold, sprained thumb or mental block to go away and stop you from finishing your latest single when you can get it done and just replicate the performance when you’re more on form?

    And it’s available as a VST so it could well work in a lot of DAW products – think I might have to download me the demo…

  16. jasond says:

    Interesting comments, having followed the sometimes heated phylosophical discussion about ME abound on the net it’s clearly a significant development. Personally the justification for using it is the pursuit of a greater deal of accuracy in our productions than we thought possible. While that is a laudable aspiration, as is so often demonstrated is that it is the little imperfections that add that magical ingredient to our music. Sometimes things being a little off add that much need human element in the over-produced world of digital audio.

    Don’t get me wrong although I have not used this I believe it is a remarkable piece of kit, however I would not want to get into the space of using it as if it were a routine and seemingly indispensable tool. I have an archive of 20-year old 4-track recordings that would present a huge temptation for its use but hopefully everything we do in these circumstances is subject to some sort of critical assessment. Thomas, you have clearly gone through that process and come out the other side with what I detect is a creative assessment in terms of how you produce music.

    Further, as with all things, some will do things with this tool that are not so creatively desirable (or legal for that matter). Love it or hate it, Autotune has been used and abused in equal measure and there are other examples. Tools of any kind are great if they are fit for purpose, used for their intended purpose and in appropriate measures.

    I was tempted to spring for Autotune last year and decided against it. ME may become part of my toolset this year but I am very interested in how people use it in the meantime.