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Remixing Techniques: Arranging and Song Form
Illustration by John Hersey

Adding a vocoder


From:

Remixing Techniques: Arranging and Song Form

with Josh Harris

Video: Adding a vocoder

I exported a few stems out of the Pro Tools radio mix session into Reason for this next portion of the course. These stems are roughly mixed, and as you can see by looking at the Mixer section in Reason, I have lead vocals, background vocals, drums, bass, synths, and guitars. To the right of the guitars, I have a copy of the lead vocal track and a mixer, which is acting as a submixer for all of the vocoding that I'm about to add. For those of you who might not be familiar with vocoders, I feel confident that you've heard them before, as they rose to popularity in the 1970s on many funk and disco records and have a few periods of resurgence since then.
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  1. 2m 59s
    1. Welcome
      1m 17s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      23s
    3. Why did we record this course in four different DAWs?
      49s
    4. Using the exercise files
      30s
  2. 4m 58s
    1. A general overview of musical arranging
      2m 4s
    2. An overview of remix arranging
      1m 34s
    3. An overview of radio and club arranging
      1m 20s
  3. 51m 30s
    1. Referencing the original or demo version of the song
      3m 2s
    2. Listening to stems and deciding on the musical direction
      4m 36s
    3. Creating a sketch arrangement
      8m 36s
    4. Developing the drums and bass
      13m 31s
    5. Adding synths
      8m 43s
    6. Adding guitars
      7m 49s
    7. Arranging the rest of the song
      5m 13s
  4. 51m 54s
    1. Referencing the original or demo version of the song
      5m 7s
    2. Listening to stems and deciding on the musical direction
      3m 42s
    3. Time stretching stems and creating a sketch arrangement
      11m 18s
    4. Developing the drums and bass
      11m 10s
    5. Adding synths
      10m 30s
    6. Working from the hype backwards
      4m 27s
    7. Arranging the rest of the song
      5m 40s
  5. 18m 31s
    1. Trimming down the club version
      3m 32s
    2. Identifying arrangement changes within the body of the song
      9m 44s
    3. Listening through the final arrangement
      5m 15s
  6. 19m 38s
    1. Adding a vocoder
      5m 36s
    2. Adding filtered delays to vocals
      7m 42s
    3. Adding drum fills
      6m 20s
  7. 14m 48s
    1. Listening through the final radio mix
      4m 12s
    2. Listening through the final club mix
      6m 47s
    3. Listening through the final radio edit
      3m 49s
  8. 38s
    1. Final thoughts and next steps
      38s

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Remixing Techniques: Arranging and Song Form
2h 44m Intermediate Dec 10, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In this course, author Josh Harris shows how to create radio and club arrangements, and a radio edit of a club mix. He utilizes four different digital audio workstations (DAWs)—Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Logic, and Reason—and shows how to build different arrangements from the ground up, by adding guitars, drums, bass, and synths. Each DAW explores different types of arranging scenarios. Plus, learn how to add ear candy and take your arrangements to another level.

Topics include:
  • Reviewing the different types of arranging: music, remix, and radio/club
  • Referencing a previous version of the song
  • Listening to stems
  • Creating a sketch arrangement
  • Adding synths and guitars
  • Developing the drums and bass
  • Using time stretching
  • Creating a radio edit from a club mix
  • Adding special effects like drum fills and delays
Subjects:
Audio + Music DAWs Mixing Music Production Audio Plug-Ins Mastering Remixing
Software:
Ableton Live Logic Pro Pro Tools Reason
Author:
Josh Harris

Adding a vocoder

I exported a few stems out of the Pro Tools radio mix session into Reason for this next portion of the course. These stems are roughly mixed, and as you can see by looking at the Mixer section in Reason, I have lead vocals, background vocals, drums, bass, synths, and guitars. To the right of the guitars, I have a copy of the lead vocal track and a mixer, which is acting as a submixer for all of the vocoding that I'm about to add. For those of you who might not be familiar with vocoders, I feel confident that you've heard them before, as they rose to popularity in the 1970s on many funk and disco records and have a few periods of resurgence since then.

The most popular vocoder sound is the robot voice. And before I begin to record the vocoder part, let me briefly take you on a tour of the setup. In the most basic terms, a vocoder has an input for a carrier input and an input for a modulator input. As we can see on the back of the Reason BV12 vocoder, the carrier input has a little keyboard icon by it and the modulator input has a microphone by it. The Lead Vocal track is routed to the modulator input, and the Thor Polyphonic Synth is routed to the carrier input.

Now the trick to using a vocoder in this setup is that the track has to be playing or else the lead vocal won't be able to send its signal to the modulator input. I'll begin by recording MIDI on the Thor Synth track. I've got a 1-bar precount setup on the sequencer, and I will scroll down a little bit so I can look at the Thor Polyphonic Synth. And let's record our part in. The vocoder part that I am going to add will mirror the bass line, in terms of note changes and when those note changes happen.

(song playing) As you take a look at the MIDI data, you can see that I've added sixteenth notes, basically bup, bup, bup, bup, bup, bup, bup, bup, following the bass line, and I feel that this is an appropriate pattern to add because the point of adding the vocoder is to use it as a thickening tool, a layer with the lead vocal. It's not meant to be a part that stands out on its own.

Let's get out of Edit mode, and I'll increase the size of this view. And all I need to do to incorporate the vocoder into verse 2 is copy and paste the MIDI data. Option+Drag it. I know that verse 2 begins at measure 29. And let's take a listen to make sure that the MIDI data from verse 1 works with verse 2. (song playing) And it sounds like it is working.

Now, for those of you whose ears might not be finally tuned to the sound of a vocoder, I'll play verse 2 again, but I will mute out the lead vocal. We'll go to our mixer and I'll mute out lead vocal on the mixer, and we would just hear the Lead Vox copy trigger in the vocoder. (song playing) As you can hear, it adds a really cool texture to the Vocal.

(song playing) I'll put the Lead Vocal back in. (song playing) And a word of caution when using vocoders: a huge piece of the equation is the patch you're using from the synth. In this case I though that Asian Poly was an appropriate sound to layer underneath the lead vocal. You have to decide what role you want the vocoder to play when you put in the track: Is it going to act as a lead vocal or as a lead sound, a hook line of some sort, or is it merely going to serve as a textural layer, which is what we are doing in this case? In order to bring this part back into my radio mix session that I started in Pro Tools, I will need to stem out just the vocoder part by itself from measure 1 until the end of the file.

If you happen to be working on your entire track within one DAW, then you need not include this step in the process. I hope this process helps you think of a vocoder as something other than a cool effect on a lead vocal. I mostly use them for layering and thickening, and I believe it provides that extra bit of depth that may not jump out at you at first, but if it were muted in the track, you would certainly notice that something was missing.

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