Apple, Steinberg, Cakewalk, and others have begun adding audio manipulation tools to their DAW, and some of those tools are decent enough in a pinch. But there still isn’t any one application – as a plug-in or built into a DAW – that offers the amount of audio tweaking powers as Celemony’s Melodyne products. The folks who have pushed their “Direct Note Access” really have achieved an unprecedented amount of note-by-note control over sound.

These edits are commonly associated with pitch correction, and indeed, it’s clear a big part of the market for this software is being able to tune vocals. But even that use case has a lot of dimensions. Sure, you might want to fix intonation, but that involves paying attention to vibrato and dynamics.

I noticed at least one review of Logic Pro X make a reference to “AutoTune,” so let’s be clear. That’s not necessarily what this is about. Celemony sent us the most vivid illustration of that this week, with a video tutorial that shows the use of those same tools to edit a drum loop.

Comparing this to a “compressor” as the video does is a bit unfair. The compressor is the means to an end – shaping the dynamics of the drum materials. But the best way to understand this is the ability to take recorded drums (or drum machines, for that matter), and reshape them in the more open-ended digital domain. And that’s another example of why “pitch correction” or editing doesn’t mean that you’re trying to emulate T-Pain. You could just as easily use pitch adjustments on the pitched content of drums, as well.

Melodyne’s YouTube channel (and the page on their site) have a lot of tutorials like this. Of course, you’ll have to wade through a bit of marketing spin, as with any promotional videos, but I think they do a nice job of showing what the tool actually does – which can be a good way to work out if this tool is for you.

Melodyne Videos
Melodyne Tutorials @ YouTube

And yes, one of those videos points out that you really don’t need to be doing 100% pitch correction. There’s really no reason, I think, to feel bad about adjusting vocals on a computer. By the time you’re singing into a microphone, you’re having a big impact on the sound of your voice. And the experience of listening to singers live and listening to them through a recording is substantially different, to my ears. There are intonation subtleties that live wouldn’t bother me at all, that then become grating in a recording. Perhaps the feeling of listening to recorded music is akin to hearing the music we imagine inside our head. Naturally, that means that the editing process needs to be more organic and transparent – and, apart from special effects, something that doesn’t sound like pitch correction. Here’s their associated tutorial:

But, for those of us with the luxury of getting to use these tools creatively and not slaving behind desks trying to correct imperfect vocal recordings, we get to have great fun with creative ideas like messing about with vocals and drums in new ways.

You need to shell out more, progressively, to get all the features the mad scientists at Melodyne have cooked up; the Essentials package is often limited. But in the Editor and Studio products, in particular, you can get some powerful capabilities.

Here's where Celemony set themselves apart: polyphony. That's chords we're editing, not a solo line. Many can do the latter, but the former is a big deal. Screenshot: Celemony.

Here’s where Celemony set themselves apart: polyphony. That’s chords we’re editing, not a solo line. Many can do the latter, but the former is a big deal. Screenshot: Celemony.

More at the product site:

Used Melodyne in interesting ways in your music? Or used another tool (yes, including AutoTune and some of the DAW tools) and had success with that? We’d love to know more – and we’d love to hear the music you made.