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How to Harmonize Vocals with Plugins

When creating vocal harmonies with plugins, you can use basic pitch shifting to change the root note to something in-key with the original vocal. Or if the plugin allows for it, you can snap the note to a specific in-key frequency, creating a vocal harmony.


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Using Basic Pitch Shifting

We don’t need to use harmony plugins to create vocal parts - with a traditional pitch shifter we can layer signals to create a complex sound. If we create an octave up, an octave below, a fifth below, and a 4th above, it works well for this vocal in particular.

If you use a pitch shifter, just use your ears and try out different combinations. Let’s take a listen.

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Note Snapping Duplicates

With this tuner, I have the ability to snap the signal to a distinct note - if I combine this function with the formant shifter, I can create various harmonies with unique timbres. The notes you snap to will depend on the vocal’s key, but you can always cycle through them.

Let’s take a listen and notice how this creates a harmony distinct from the last chapter’s.

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Advanced Harmonies with Melodyne

Melodyne gives us the most flexibility when creating harmonies from our original vocal performance. After I transfer the melody in, using the transfer function and pressing play, I can change the grid to the key of the vocals, and vary the individual notes by dragging them to new locations.

With this plugin, you’ll need to go note by note to ensure nothing clashes, but it’s a super convenient way to create any harmony you want.

Let’s take a listen.

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Quick Harmonies with Harmony Engine

The Antares Harmony Engine may be the quickest way to create complex harmonies - after I select the key in the top right, the plugin has already created 4 working harmonies. If I want a more complex sound, I can use the chorus effect to introduce modulation.

Up top, I can affect the macro timings and pitch variations, as well as change the formants and harmony levels with the 2 sliders.

Let’s listen and notice how this method also has a distinct sound.

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Creating Harmonies with Tuner

This option is my least favorite method, but I wanted to showcase it just inc are it’s helpful. With a vocal tuner, we can isolate the tuning to specific notes, forcing the tuner to snap a note to one that harmonizes with the original vocal.

Fast tuning settings are best when using this method, and ideally, some form of note stabilization can be included as well.

Let’s take a listen, and notice that although it has some issues, it still creates a pretty cool sound.

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Using Logic’s Vocal Transformer

I was surprised by how much I liked the sound of this stock plugin - the robotize function is a lot like the note snapping from chapter 2, meanwhile the tracking options change the overall note detection, causing unique harmonies. I could also perform general pitch and formant shifting.

Let’s take a listen, and notice how even though it’s pretty old and a stock plugin, we could still generate some cool harmonies from it.

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Saturate Generated Harmonies

For the last 4 chapters, let’s consider how specific effects can enhance generated harmonies.

Saturation is a great way to add complexity to generate harmonies, as well as control the dynamics - I’ll use this PSP Saturator to add harmonics, in turn supporting existing notes, and even mildly generating its own harmonies. Since I’m distorting high frequencies, I’ll turn on the plugin’s oversampling function.

Let’s listen to how this plugin makes generated harmonies sound more complex and full.

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Reverberate Generated Harmonies

Reverb is crucial if you want your generated harmonies to blend into the original vocal - for this reason, I’ll use this Crystalline plugin by Baby Audio and try its vox ambience preset. The ducker helps the transient cut through, while the short and wide reverb blends everything in.

Let’s take a listen to it being enabled, and notice how our harmonies tie into the original vocal and even sound more natural due to the short reverb.

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Using Bus Compression on Harmonies

Collective compression and distortion on harmonies can be really helpful - it creates a collective tone that helps tie them together, bring up quieter details, and blend them into the original vocal. With this Invigorate plugin from Newfangled Audio, I can introduce compression, limiting, and overdrive by moving a middle point.

With the input tone section, I increased the level of the mids to drive these important frequencies into the processor. I set a quick attack and moderate release for the processing, and some gating on the right side to clean up the harmonies and reduce artifacts.

Let’s listen to how this processor creates a powerful sound and helps tie everything together.

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Modulation on Harmonies

Modulation can be really helpful on generated harmonies - with this ShaperBox plugin by Cableguys, I’ll introduce 4 types of modulation. Side image expansion, flanging, filtering, and panning, all of which are being modulated by an LFO that I can control in this middle window manually or with presets.

We’ll notice that with the flanger and filter, I could modulate the frequency of the processing, and for the panning and width, I could affect the amount of widening and panning respectively.

Let’s take a listen to how this processor gives our generate harmonies a unique character.

Watch video example


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