I get a lot of questions about my vocals on my songs so I thought I would do a blog post describing from start to finish how I go about recording and processing these vocals using three go-to tools: RealBand, Melodyne and Nectar from Izotope.
Here is one of my latest songs. It is called “I Drown” and it is a co-write with Ron Roker who sent me these wonderful lyrics.
In this blog I will be taking you, step-by-step, through the process I used to produce these vocals.
1. Make the basic song structure, style, key, chords and tempo in Band-in-a-Box
Once you have written the song, you can input the chords and key into Band-in-a-Box. Select a basic style and choose a suitable tempo. Then save the file as a .SGU file
Here is a screen shot of “I Drown” in Band-in-a-Box.
2. Open the SGU in RealBand and record your lead vocal
Fire up RealBand and open the SGU file. The first time you load an SGU file into RealBand it will take a little time to process but thereafter it will be very quick to load.
Change the first empty track to a “mono” track by right clicking on the track and changing the track type to “Mono”. Then record your lead vocal, making sure to keep the input levels in the green.
3. Manually tune your lead vocal using Melodyne
Before you jump on me and say “my vocals don’t need tuning” I would just like to say that everybody’s vocals can be improved with some subtle tuning. Even Christina Aguilera’s vocals are tuned. Note: the overall quality of the result will totally depend on the quality of the vocal to start with. Tuning is not going to be able to change the basic recording, tone and other elements of your vocal. It will simply improve it slightly. Note also: this is NOT Autotune. It is rather applying a slight improvement to the pitching of the vocal using manual tuning. If anybody would like to try this without buying or learning Melodyne then you are welcome to check out my gig on fivrr.com where I tune your vocal for you. You can then decide how much tuning improves the quality of your songs before taking the plunge.
I have found it much easier to work with Melodyne in stand-alone mode (rather than as a plugin) so what I am going to describe here outlines how I go about doing this. Export your lead vocal to a WAV file. Make sure you have the vocal track selected and then go to “Render” and select “Export highlighted section or entire track”.
Open Melodyne and open the lead vocal. Select the key of the song by right clicking on the little “sideways mountain” on the bottom left had side of the screen, then left click on the correct letter (in this case A) and select major or minor (in this case A Major).
Now select the whole track and select the tuning button, move both slider over to about 90% and select the “snap to A major” button.
Now listen back carefully to the tuned vocal and make manual adjustments as necessary. Export the tuned vocal to a WAV file and import back into Real Band.
4. Record harmonies
I am a very big cheat when it comes to harmonies and will use any shortcut available to me. One of the things I sometimes do is use Meloldyne to simply create a harmony track from the lead vocal. I covered this process in this blog post here.
However, for this particular song I used a different technique. Here is how I did it.
First generate harmonies from the lead vocal using TC Helicon. Select the lead vocal, then select the menu option “Generate” then “Generate Audio Harmonies”. Select the last option “Harmonize to the chord symbols of the song” and select “two down two up” from the drop down. Select “OK”.
Move the “Dry voice level” button on the left hand side right down to the bottom and then hit “Generate”.
Now comes the first trick. I will “learn” how to sing the generated harmonies. I will learn each one in turn. First I will increase the volume on the harmony track by at least 10 db and then mute all the other vocal tracks. I will listen to the generated harmony a couple of times and them simply sing along with it in the places where I want that harmony to come through.
Now comes the second trick. I will use Melodyne to perfectly tune and line up the sung harmony to the generated harmony. Note; in order to do this you will need the Studio 4 version of Melodyne which allows you to work with multiple tracks at the same time. If you don’t have the Studio 4 version you are welcome to give this technique a try using my Fiverr gig.
As before, export the perfectly tuned and lined up harmonies from Melodyne and import the tracks back into RealBand.
5. Process lead vocal
The final step is to add processing to the lead vocal. (I do not usually add any processing to my harmonies. I do not even add any reverb or compression).
The tool I use to process my vocals is Nectar from Izoptope. The preset that I used for this particular song is the “Edgy Lead” preset under the “Rock” category. I also sometimes use the “Solo Enhancement” preset under the “Folk” category. Again, if you do not have this plugin, you can use my Fiverr gig to try it out. Note; this plugin does use quite a bit of computer resources so I will generally apply the plugin “permanently” to the track by right clicking on the track, selecting “Audio Effects” and then using “DirectX Zudio Plugins”.
The next thing I do is create a double track for my lead vocal and apply some delay. To do this I just click “Default” to reset the plugin and then just add some delay.
Now I will mix the doubled track with the delay in with the main vocal track to taste. I will have the track with the delay much lower than the main vocal track. I will also sometime’s boost the “delay” track in places where I want the delay to come through. For example it may be louder in the choruses than the versus.
Lastly I will usually add some PG Music default dynamics and reverb to the main vocal track to taste.
And there you have it. I do hope you found this blog post useful. If you have any questions at all please drop me a line.