Whilst looking over the various websites I visit and magazines I read over the past year and a half, I have been bombarded with information about one plugin in particular. It has always piqued my interest but, at the same time, I’ve been quite skeptical about comments and claims. The plugin in question is a “pitch correction” tool called Melodyne Editor by a company named Celemony. Anyway, I saw recently that they were running a free 30 day trial of the full version of the product so I decided to bite the bullet and check it out.
Firstly, let me explain my skepticism. From reading reviews and promotional material, one could be lead to believe that Melodyne has the power to resurrect the dead, kill them in a blood-thirsty orgy of Zombie-death and then resurrect them again. Okay… that’s probably exaggerating, but you get my point. Every product always claims to be able to do 1000% more than it realistically can. Also, pitch correction tools can be particularly nasty. Whether you’re talking about Antares Autotune (hardware version or the various software emulations) or something as simple as your generic time-stretcher, these tools have an unavoidable capacity to generate unmusical audio artifacts and aliasing that makes a recording sound as if you’re listening to it inside a toilet bowl (literally). Nevertheless, when a free trial comes up I figure there’s no harm in taking a bit of a look.
Let me just say… WOW! This plugin in is absolutely incredible.
Before you get the impression that I’m some kind of paid advertisement, let me point out a few of the shortcomings before I talk about the positive aspects.
The idea behind the plugin is that it can analyse audio that is passed through it, deconstruct the various notes that are being played in that audio (including the individual notes that form chords) and then map them out on a piano roll interface which will allow you to shift and change each individual note in terms of pitch, length and timing/position. The big claim is that you can completely modify an audio recording melodically, rhythmically and tonally and then export/play the modified progression pretty much flawlessly. I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with that claim for the following reasons:
1. There is still a degree of aliasing and warble which is usually associated with pitch correction tools whenever you move notes around. This, however, is less present than in any other pitch shifter that I’ve ever messed with.
2. Stretching notes produces some aliasing also. See point 1.
3. It has some trouble with complex waveforms. If you sample a well-mixed tune which contains drums, piano, bass and strings – for example – it will not be able to adequately distinguish the various instruments and overlapping frequencies well enough to allow for convincing reconstruction. Sorry, Mr. Melodyne, that’s just a fact.
Whilst those above-mentioned flaws are pretty significant (though entirely expected), I still stand by my initial claim – WOW! I stand by it for the following reasons:
1. Whilst distinguishing between the melodic and rhythmic lines of various instruments is a little imperfect, Melodyne Editor is phenomenally accurate at picking the actual notes that are present in the audio.
2. The processing of audio is simple and very quick. I run an iMac Core2duo with 16gb of RAM (a lot of RAM, I know). Melodyne takes about 30 to 45 seconds to analyse an ENTIRE song of audio. If you’re grabbing 5 second sections of a given song here or there the processing time is more like 5 to 10 seconds. That’s well within the scope of being “interruption free” for a producer.
3. The software has some extremely useful features which are intuitive to access and use. For example, you can lock the analysed, mapped out audio parts “to scale”. This means that whenever you move an individual note on the Melodyne piano roll you will only be able to move it to another note which is within the same scale. Creating melodic variations within sampled material has never been so easy.
4. And this is my favourite feature – you can export the analysed audio as a MIDI file. This allows you to import the MIDI file into one or more virtual/software instrument tracks. Why, you may ask, is that so great? Well, just this. Suppose you have a sample which is composed of a beautiful bassline, amazing keys and a long droney trumpet that (if you looped it) would just repeat over and over and over and… well… drive you nuts. If you analyse this audio, and then export it as MIDI and load it up on to two software instrument tracks (one for bass, one for keys) all you need to do is delete every midi event which is not bass note for the bass channel and every event which is not a key note on the keys track and, voila, you have a MIDI version of the bass and keys from your sample.
Sure, I know MIDI always sounds pretty dodgey in comparison to the live instrumentation in a sample but, used delicately and with discretion, this is an incredibly powerful process for a producer to have access to. It sure beats painstakingly recreating the various elements of the song using only your ears and the precious hours of your life (come on, we’ve all done it). Plus, if you’re going to have a band play the song live, you can follow the process in point 4, then hit print from the Notation screen on your DAW and suddenly you have all the sheet music available for each of the instruments in the song. Pretty cool.
The truth is, Melodyne will not be your go to plugin for every single track – you won’t even use it for 10% of your songs, I’d guess. However, it has the very real potential to save a song from the garbage bin in those instances where you find yourself reaching for it.
I’ve had one song (heavily chopped piano sample driven) sitting on my DAW for a long time. I love this song but I have never been able to get it to work right. I’ve had to filter the samples so heavily to bring forward the elements I like that it just sounds over-filtered. The bandwidth of the song elements are too narrow and it just doesn’t sit together right. Using the Trial version of Melodyne I spent, literally, 15 minutes producing complimentary software instrument lines via MIDI and, suddenly, the mix sounds full and natural. Bear in mind, I never removed the original sample, I just used Melodyne to produce software instrument lines to layer beneath it. With a little level mixing and some judicious EQ, the new instrument lines sound as if they are part of the actual sample. 15 minutes to do a task that I had been avoiding for months because I knew it would take me the better part of three days to get it right (if I didn’t get too frustrated to continue).
Anyway, this is not so much of a review as a glowing rant.
I stand by my words, though.