Mark Scudder

Vocal Recording Crash Course Part 2: Pitch Correction

After a vocal comp is finished, the vocal usually needs to be pitch-corrected. The process of pitch-correction has gotten a deservedly bad rap because the infamous "auto-tune" effect has been used to the point of obnoxiousness by hacks like Cher and T-Pain.  In reality, almost everything you hear these days is pitch-corrected to some degree.  Because of the prevalence of pitch correction, the sound of totally natural, uncorrected vocals (which are often off a few cents here or there) is actually beginning to sound unnatural to listeners.  My goal is to try to find a balance between the two extremes.

There are two types of pitch-correction software. The "auto-tune" type, with which everyone is now familiar, is an automatic effect that senses the pitch of the current sound and quickly moves it to the nearest correct step of the scale.  One of the options in this software can remove a critical component of the sound of the human voice, called the formant.  The formant is the acoustic resonance of the human voice, which gives it its characteristic quality. Removing or altering the formant of the voice is what gives obnoxiously auto-tuned vocals their "buzzing" or "robotic" sound, because it replaces the formant with a pure, simple tone that makes it sound more like a synthesizer or vocoder.

The other type of pitch-correction software, which I prefer, lays out the vocal part on a "piano roll"-style grid and allows you to see the performance in terms of pitch over time.  With this type of software, you can see what notes are out of pitch and decide what to do with them. You can do nothing - which is my preferred option - or you can correct the note in several ways, either by moving it closer to the intended (correct) pitch, or even moving it somewhere else to change the melody of the performance altogether.  Modern pitch-correction software can actually move a note a significant distance from its original pitch with convincing results.

I have used pitch-correction software in the past to aid the often crazy, hectic process of getting something out of my head; where it is always perfect, obnoxiously thick, and in dire need of being documented.  But I am singing more on pitch now more than ever in my so-called "career."  And I find that if I have my software automatically pitch-correct an entire performance to be 100% on the correct pitches, it sounds unnatural.  When a comp is done, I will load it into my pitch-correction software and try to fix as few things as possible, making the performance a combination of natural, un-processed vocals wherever possible, and using pitch correction to use a good performance (in terms of emotion, or power, or style) that happened to be off-pitch enough to be noticeable.

In the next part, I'll cover vocal effects, including compression, EQ, and my favorites, delay and reverb.