Whether they admit it or not, just about every musician uses some form of pitch correction software in their music. Vocal recordings from rock to pop to hip-hop utilize this essential tool throughout the mixing process.
But how much pitch correction should you use in your recordings? What are the different ways pitch correction can be utilized in a vocal performance? Below, we'll detail everything you need to know about using pitch correction in your mixes.
What Is Pitch Correction?
As the name suggests, pitch correction is a software that's designed to correct the tone of a vocal sound that may be slightly out of tune. It can also be used to fix the tone of a few notes from other instruments like guitar or keys.
Some of the most common pitch correction software you'll come across includes Antares' Auto Tune, Waves' Tune, Logic's Flex Pitch, and Celemony's Melodyne. Pitch correction plug ins are a staple of any session and can be used to apply pitch correction for any out of tune vocal, or as more of a creative formant tool for various effects and layering.
Is Pitch Correction or Using Auto Tune Cheating?
As much as the public may call auto tune for masking the human voice, the reality is that vocal tuning is widespread and used across all genres of music. Any engineer will tell you that it is not cheating, nor is it a reflection of a singer's ability.
T Pain is known for being one of the revolutionaries who chose to adopt a hard-hitting auto tune pro delivery as part of his signature sound. While today he's earned his respect, many believed he could not sing. The "T Pain effect" couldn't be further from the truth as showcased in his famous Tiny Desk session:
Professional singers need auto tune to bring out the best in an original performance. Pitch correction is built into the way we consume modern music, so even those with perfect pitch might use these plugins to achieve some of that crisp, polished sound.
How To Use Pitch Correction On Vocals In 5 Steps
The best way to learn how to use pitch correction properly is by doing. Follow these steps to polish your vocal recordings.
1. Start With a Great Performance
Pitch correction can help you land more evenly on a desired note, but it's not going to make up for an entire vocal filled with excess noise, imperfections, and sibilance. Make sure you're working with the best take possible before advancing to the pitch correction stage.
2. Clean Then Correct
Once you have your vocal files, start by clearing out any unwanted imperfections like harsh frequencies with an EQ or deesser. These should come before your pitch correction plugins, since every section of your signal chain builds off of the previous one. Finally, you can bring in your software of choice.
3. Adjust Tuning Speed, Pitch, and Model
By design, most tuning plugins automatically sync to the tempo and perceived key of your session. Start by double-checking to make sure these set parameters are accurate. From there, you can experiment with the retune speed, formant, and pitch to adjust your pitch correction to taste.
4. Check The Full Vocal Recording
Even though your pitch correction might sound good at the beginning of your vocal recording, it might sound harsh in different sections of your recording. Be sure to scan the full context of your vocal, and take note of how vocal effects shift the sound further down in your vocal chain.
5. Rinse and Repeat
Check your tuned vocal in context with the rest of your mix. Are there any harsh frequencies popping out? Is the vocal sounding too crisp? It might take some trial and error to reach the balance you're looking for. Adjust your vocal sound as much as you need to!
If you're layering multiple altered vocal tracks, make sure you don't create any phasing issues. Too much tuning can create a canceling or robotic effect that can completely flatten your mix. Experiment with the ratios of your tuning until you find a polished balance.
Other Use Cases For Pitch Correction
Don't forget that pitch correction software doesn't necessarily need to be used for tuning alone. You can use plug ins like Little Alterboy by Sound Toys as a formant tool, shaping your sound in any of the following ways:
Chopping up your vocal takes is a great way to add interest and energy to your tracks. Build a melody with your vocal chops by altering them with pitch correction to make a hook like the one showcased in Stay by Alessia Cara and Zedd:
Want to build a choir-like sound but only have the original pitch? Fortunately, you can build artificial pitch variation with pitch correction software and stack pitch-shifted vocals. This can help you create a fuller sound during the chorus or other sections of your song.
Pitch correction software can introduce new textures or formats that can be helpful for building up backing vocals. Play with pitch modulation on other instruments to have some real fun!
Pitch Correction FAQ
Still have some questions about pitch correction? Consider these commonly asked questions and answers to help expand your understanding as an artist:
Do singers use pitch correction?
Yes! Singers from all genres utilize pitch correction software to polish their vocals. Even if you have immaculate pitch, pitch correction plug ins provide a modernized sound that is hard to come by otherwise.
Is pitch correction better than autotune?
Pitch correction and auto tune are both different types of tuning software. One is not better than the other, though auto tune pro might have some more creative presets and effects for more stark uses of pitch correction.
What are some pitch correction plugins?
Some of the most common pitch correction plugins include Waves Tune, Auto-Tune, and Melodyne. Each plug in tends to work in the same way, allowing you to adjust the pitch of individual notes.
Pitch correction is a powerful tool that can bring professional polish to any track. Enjoy experimenting with pitch correction plug ins in your next mix.