How to Tune Vocals

How to Tune Vocals

When tuning a vocal, start by knowing which notes you need tuned, and select those notes in the tuner – from there you can achieve a natural sound, and aggressive sound, or one best suited for BGVs.  After you’ve finished tuning, use some subtle reverb and saturation to blend the effect in.

Setting the Right Notes

For this video, we’ll primarily be using Slate Digital’s Metatune plugin to tune our vocals, since it looks like it’ll be a popular plugin for years to come.

When determining which notes to tune, you can select your scale, or you can easily observe the input using the heat-mapping feature of this plugin.  Here we can see that the vocal is focusing on C, D#, G#, and A# – meaning we should use these notes for tuning.

We’ll simply select these keys and Metatune will tune the vocal to these notes.

Creating a Natural Sound

If you’re trying to create natural-sounding vocal tuning, use a slower speed of about 20ms, and lower the sustain to make this timing program dependent.  You’ll notice that a bar shows how the timing will modulate depending on the incoming signal – conversely, we can increase the sustain for quicker tuning.

If you use a positive sustain, lower the speed a little more to compensate.

Since the amount dial isn’t a wet/dry, but a value of how closely the notes will be tuned to a perfect tuning, we can reduce the value without worrying about tase cancellation.  Lower this to about 60 to 70 for a tuned but more believable sound.

Creating an Aggressive Sound

If you want your tuning to be aggressive, do the opposite of what we just covered – that is, set a quick speed, raise the amount to 100, and either don’t worry about the sustain or use a positive value.  This plugin can use lookahead to create super-quick tuning.

Set this to -3ms for the most aggressive and robotic sound.

Tuning for BGVs

When tuning BGVs, you can do so more aggressively before it becomes noticeable – perhaps the most convent aspect of using this plugin on multiple BGVs is utilizing the group section.  If you have multiple instances of this plugin, if they’re in the same group, the settings will change on each.

Additionally, the vocal doubler option is great for expanding vocals and creating complex stereo imaging.

MetaTune Vs. Autotune

If we listen to MetaTune and compare it to Autotune, we’ll notice similar sounds – that’s because they work more or less the same way.  However, the doubler settings, lookahead tuning, and note stabilization which we’ll cover later set this plugin apart from other tuning plugins currently available.

I’m using an Autotune access plugin for this comparison but know that the settings will be similar to what would be accomplished on the full plugin.

Note Stabilization Tricks

Note stabilization is a helpful feature of this plugin since adjusts the tuning based on the length of the note.  Short doesn’t tune notes less than 40ms, Mid doesn’t tune notes less than 80ms, and long less than 200ms, which can even be used to change the melody.

These settings work well at reducing note flutter when lots of vibrato is being used.  One trick is to isolate different sections of your vocal-based on their length and amount of vibrato, then select different stabilization settings for each.

Subtle Reverb After Tuning

After tuning, if you use subtle reverb with some modulation, you can diffuse your tuned notes and make the sound even more natural.  I’ll use the FabFilter Pro R and increase the character dial which alters timing and pitch modulation – but subtly use any chorus or reverb that offers modulation.

This works well when the reverb is isolated to the mids and is set to less than 10%.

Saturation After Tuning

After tuning the vocal, saturation will help to strengthen the notes and perceived pitch by introducing harmonics.  These harmonics are inherently tied to the fundamental of the vocal, in turn strengthening the perception of that fundamental, and making the overall note sound more in tune.

Saturation helps notes sound more in tune even without a tuning plugin, but it works even better when a tuner is used first.

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