4 Vocal Tuning Plug-ins

4 Vocal Tuning Plug-ins

And Why I Use All of Them

Antares Autotune Pro

Waves Tune Sound Shifter 

Waves Tune Live

Celemony’s Melodyne

Most of the time I get away with using Autotune Pro only in a given session, but sometimes I might even end up using all 4 for one song depending on the need. Here’s a little bit about each one, why and how I use them. (Stay tuned for detailed tutorials on each!)


Antares Autotune Pro!

The best of the best! There is a little stigma around the use of Autotune that I wanna just squash right now. The music industries top professionals all use Autotune. Using it should not be embarrassing, it makes you a professional. Autotune has a function called Retune Speed that basically controls how much of the pitch correction effect is being used. If you set it to 0-20, this is making your vocal so perfect that it will sound robotic (the famous Autotune T-Pain sound). But if you set it a bit higher, like 35-55, your vocal will sound natural and in tune. It won’t sound like a cop out for not being able to sing. It will sound professional.

A quick start guide to using Autotune: set your key, set your retune speed, and you’re pretty much good to go. Auto is right. However if you happen to sing too flat or too sharp, Autotune will pull you to whatever the closest note is in the key it’s programmed to- so if you’re in C major, and sing an F, but it comes out flat, Autotune might pull you to an E. So you actually do need to still sing relatively in key. The less in tune you sing, the more obvious it might be that software is correcting you. I’ve got a sneaky trick that I use that takes us to our next plug-in: Waves Soundshifter.

Waves Soundshifter is a really useful plug-in for more reasons than this, and I’ll go into those details in a minute. But when I am singing a little too flat or too sharp, causing Autotune to pull me the wrong direction, I’ll open Waves Soundshifter in ProTools Audiosuite (or if you’re in Logic this is something you’ll want to bounce in place). If I’m flat, I’ll turn up the “cents” in Soundshifter anywhere from 12-25 cents higher and process the one word or section I’m flat on. This will cause that audio to be a little bit higher in pitch and Autotune will pull it to the right note now.

Soundshifter actually comes with a handful of plug-ins that you might find useful in other scenarios, so it’s definitely a plug-in I think everyone should have on deck. If your DAW happens to be Ableton, then you have the superior built in time-shifting capabilities in the game. But for Pro Tools, Logic, and the rest of us, I recommend Waves Soundshifter for time stretching audio when needed. This would be like an instance where you need to change the tempo of an audio sample by processing it. Another neat tool it comes with is called Graphic Soundshifter, which creates the “screwed” effect. You can process audio to sound like its gradually slowing or speeding, or going up or going down in pitch. People might be most familiar with a plug-in called Vari-fi, which is similar. 

I do want to circle back to Autotune again and offer one more solution to when a specific word is tuning to the wrong note. Employ the Audiosuite version of Autotune, select the word that isn’t cooperating, set Audiosuite Autotune to either the key of the song and remove the incorrect note from the scale, or simply only allow AT to hit the one correct note. (To customize your scale in AT, set the scale type to chromatic [in the newest version you need to be on “advanced” settings], set the scale name to the right key, and find the button that says “set major” or “set minor” next to the individual note names. From here you will be able to click and unblock notes on the keyboard to allow or not allow) You’ll want to set the retune speed kind of high, maybe 70, and then process it. Since you also have Autotune on your actual channel, you’re technically autotuning it twice, so you don’t want to process with a high retune speed or it may come out robotic. 

 Waves Tune Live is a different Waves plug-in that is quite similar to Autotune. I do prefer Autotune, but this is digital software; it’s not perfect. I sometimes run into issues where Autotune simply does not register the audio running through it, or it causes glitching sounds. I find that it mostly happens when I’m singing very loud (no idea why). The glitches do sometimes go away if I turn down the parameter in Autotune called “tracking” to less than 20. However, that also can cause new problems. So my backup plan is to tune that part with Waves Tune Live. 

Pretty similar set up- you’ll set your key and type of scale, tuning speed, but then there is a cool parameter Autotune doesn’t have. When you set the key, you will see purple dashes above the notes on the keyboard indicating that those notes are not part of the key, so Waves Tune Live will avoid those. If you click on the purple dash, it changes to an arrow, click again and the arrow goes the other direction. This gives your audio an added push in the direction of the arrow. I tend to sing flat, so I may set an arrow to point toward the right to push me higher. 

Finally we have Melodyne. There is no software that offers better tuning control than Melodyne by Celemony. It is king of tuning. But it is strictly not auto. You must put in effort and tune by hand and by ear. I use Melodyne on Lead vocals that I want super perfect and natural. Or I use it when I’m legit just struggling to sing a part very well and I can’t rely on Autotune to make me sound good. With Melodyne you can get the most natural and perfect sound. You can also make it intentionally sound robotic by using the “modulation” tool and bringing the “pitch curve” to 0, which looks flat, meaning the sound of the voice will not drift from the center of the note at all… 

My personal strategy with melodyning is to place lots of cuts where I see the pitch curve drifting up or down in a way that would indicate either a note change is happening (so like placing a cut in the spot between two notes), or where a held note looks like the pitch is drifting too much, I place cuts around the drifting part of the note and snap it into place. Then I select everything and double click it to snap to grid. The pitch curve is basically the squiggling line that passes through orange blobs. The line is the actual note being heard, so even when a blob is snapped to a note, if the squiggle line is drifting far up or down, it might still sound out of tune, which is why I place additional cuts to bring the squiggle closest to the center of the blob. Using the “modulation” tool to bring the squiggle closer to the center of the blob does work nicely, but bring it down too much (from 100-0) and it will start to sound like T-Pain. 

Next I rely on my ears and start moving blobs up or down to their correct note. When every note is in the right place, then I will make the decision to use the “modulation” tool to tighten tuning even further, but usually only on specific words (often when my vibrato gets too crazy). I will also notice if there is a jump from one note to another that sounds a little robotic- in that case I will increase the “pitch drift” between those notes, which smoothens out the transition between notes and sounds more natural. 

You can also fix timing errors in your singing in Melodyne, stretching individual notes with super precision. You can increase or decrease the volume of one word as well. I don’t personally bother with setting the key in Melodyne since I’m moving notes by ear, but it is an option that might save you some time. 

Sometimes it’s a good idea to select a note and reset it back to its original note. I do this often on interesting mouth or throat sounds that can happen at the beginning or end of words. If you don’t want a certain blob snapped to the note guide, hold down the option key and you can slip it up or down to exactly where you like. Sometimes I like to push my vibratos at ends of words a baby bit sharp, so Rihanna.

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