My relationship to pitch-correction software is complicated, as it probably is for many of our readers. On one hand, it’s just a tool, like any of the other behind-the-curtain, smoke-and-mirror tools we employ on a daily basis. On the other hand, pitch correction is the Devil’s work, since it enables people who can’t sing in tune to sound as if they can, a feat unimaginable during whatever past “Golden Age” of recording you happen to hold most dear. Of course, Melodyne Editor does so much more than just allowing bad singers to sound like they can hold a tune — the pitch and time manipulation capabilities range from transparent touch-up to absolute atomic-level alteration, so even if you have reservations about tuning vocal performances, you will likely find Melodyne a compelling and useful processing tool.
Installing Melodyne Editor places both a plug-in version as well as a standalone application onto your hard drive. These two versions function similarly, differing mainly in how you load audio into the correction engine. Within a separate DAW host, the audio needs to get transferred in real-time into the plug-in, which then takes over playback for any regions transferred; for the standalone version, you can simply drag-and-drop an entire audio file onto the application, which analyzes the audio as quickly as your CPU will let it. Once your audio is analyzed, each note shows up as a “blob” on a MIDI-like note grid, ready for detailed editing of the pitch, formants (timbre), amplitude, and timing of the material. You can edit these attributes of each blob individually using the appropriate tool, but there are also global Macro controls for moving all selected blobs closer to the nearest pitch or time reference, as tightly or as loosely as you choose. In addition, there are tons of really useful key commands, and once you learn them, it is very easy to quickly tweak your file into shape.
I have been using Melodynefor several years, and the way that the plug-in now integrates into Pro Tools is greatly improved from previous versions. There’s no more launching a separate application, no more ReWire, and no more dealing with sync problems between the two pieces of software. Hallelujah. But the most amazing new feature in Melodyne Editor is what Celemony calls DNA (Direct Note Access), which is the capability to edit the pitch and timing of polyphonic material. It’s eerily effective at discerning which notes are in a given chord, but if the algorithm gets confused, there is a mode for manually massaging the detection parameters in order to differentiate between fundamental pitches and harmonics, or to tell it to ignore non-pitched sounds (like string scrapes on a guitar, for instance). The ramifications of this polyphonic capability are vast — from fixing the pitch on a single errant guitar string (or singer in a chorus), to changing the tonality of a recorded chord (from major to minor, say), to the complete rearrangement of a piece of music from a few simple building blocks, à la MIDI composition. (Speaking of MIDI, you can also export your file as MIDI data, enabling any soft-synth or sampler to play the melody and harmonies of your original audio!) I was even able to convincingly change a couple of notes in a piano melody within an entire stereo mix — that’s when I knew this was some serious warlock software.
There are a handful of quasi-accidental ways to make super-unique sounds using Melodyne Editor. For instance, pushing the limits of the pitch and formant–shifting capabilities often yields wild artifacts (think Darth Vader on helium), and these parameters can be automated in plug-in mode. Also, copying blobs and pasting them above or below your original pitches is a great way to construct harmonies, either to use as a guide or to keep for your mix. The scrubbing function gives you amazing granular-synthesis-like sounds, very unlike standard scrubbing in a DAW. Since Melodyne plays each blob as you select it, you can use the arrow keys to quickly jump between the blobs, producing cool stutter-like effects as if you had loaded the audio into a sampler. (Of course, for these last two methods, it’s necessary to record out into another application or device in order to capture what you’re “playing” in Melodyne.) In standalone mode, changing the tempo of the file produces uniquely rich time–compression and expansion textures, which you can then save to a new audio file. In addition to all of that, the synthesizer employed in Note Assignment mode (to assist you in fine-tuning the detection engine) sounds totally incredible — the harmonic quality of it is influenced by the timbre of the original signal, creating really unique organ-like sounds. This synthesizer will most certainly make an appearance or two on my next few records.
This review is by no means a “shootout” between Antares Auto-Tune and Melodyne, but having really gone deep into both pieces of software over the past few months, I feel compelled to give readers a quick, greatly generalized comparison. Since Melodyne does not have an “automatic” real-time mode, Auto-Tune is the clear choice for quickly strapping on a voice or instrument that needs a small amount of pitch-nudging. But if Automatic mode in Auto-Tune isn’t cutting it, I find Melodyne Editor more intuitive for achieving smoother, artifact-free results. Although Auto-Tune is more feature-rich, if I could only own one of these pieces of software, it would have to be Melodyne, both from a user-interface as well as a sonic standpoint.
A word must also be said about the authorization process, because I found it extremely user-friendly. Celemony gives each user the choice of either getting a single iLok authorization or two computer-based activations. If you only plan on using Melodyne on a studio computer plus a home laptop, as I do, the latter is the perfect solution, whereas if you travel a lot and want to carry your authorization around with you, the iLok solution works best. I applaud Celemony for giving users this choice, and I’d like to see more software developers follow suit.
For those that don’t need all of the features Melodyne Editor has to offer, there are two cheaper tiers available (Assistant and Essential, $249 and $99 respectively), and you can also run a trial of the full Editor for thirty days to check out the advanced features. If you are at all interested in pitch and timing manipulation, from either a corrective or sound-design point of view, I highly recommend taking a listen to what Melodyne Editor does. A lot of what we do as engineers could be considered witchcraft, but Melodyne is definitely near the top of the list of stake-burning offenses. ($349 MSRP; www.celemony.com) –Eli Crews, www.elicrews.com
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.