Join J. Scott Giaquinta for an in-depth discussion in this video Vocoder effect: Shine on Me, part of EDM Production Techniques: Extreme Sound Mangling.
In this video, I'm going to show you how to transform a cheesy female vocal into a lush, choir-like sound using ableton's vocoder and native instruments massive. Well, let's listen to the vocal. (female singing softly) Okay, so this is going to be our modulator, but now we need a carrier, so let's load massive up on a track.
Play a few notes. This is what we have so far. (basic sawtooth wave) As you can see, it's just a basic square sawtooth wave. Okay, so now we're going to load the ableton vocoder onto our vocal track here. We're going to set it to external in the input to the carrier track, which is this one with massive. So I'll grab vocoder, and we'll change the carrier to external, and the audio will be from carrier, which is this track with massive on it. Alright, so I'm going to play this, and I'm going to mute this channel so we don't hear the synth.
It's only going through this channel. So let's play this. We'll put it on loop. (harmonic synth singing) Alright, so you can see what that does. I'm going to play in some chords now that I think will work with this vocal. So let's start from the beginning. Alright, we'll hit record, and what that's going to do is record midi notes onto this track, which will then send an audio to the modulator channel, so here we go.
(harmonic snyth singing with chords) Okay, so that was a little sloppy. You'll need to get into the edit window and align all of your notes with the vocals so that it works. Regular quanties won't cut it, in this instance, because the vocal isn't sung exactly on the grid, so I'll make a few adjustments here to show you, and then I'm going to copy the midi I already used on the example track below when I designed this course.
Let's double click on this, and we'll play it, and you can see kind of what's going on here. (harmonic synth singing with faster chords) Alright, so let's start editing this. I'm going to start the notes a little later here, and actually, let me zoom in here so you can sort of see how this correlates. Alright, so we can snip that off.
Alright, so. (harmonic synth singing) Alright, so we'll move this over. (harmonic synth singing) That's a little better. (harmonic synth singing) You sort of get the idea.
You basically have to move the notes around so it correlates with how the vocalist sung. Like I said, regular quanties doesn't work very well because humans don't sing on a grid, so when I created this course, I had an example track that was ready to go, so what I'm going to do is, I'm going to copy these midi notes that I've already adjusted and edited, and I'm going to copy them over this. It's essentially the same chords, but these ones are already correct because I'd already done that before I recorded this course, so I'm going to copy these up here, and let's show you what that sounds like. (lower octave harmonic synth singing) It actually played an octave down.
(higher octave harmonic synth singing) Alright, so now that we have the midi notes correct, we're going to start playing around with the sound of massive, or our carrier, to get a thicker, lusher sound, so let's start by opening it up and playing around with different oscillator settings. So I'm going to play this, and I'm just going to loop it while I make adjustments here, and I'm going to explain what I'm doing.
(lower octave singing increases to higher octave) So we'll turn that oscillator up an octave, and then I'm going to add in a second oscillator now, and by the way, this is square sawtooth, so when it's in the middle, it's actually playing both the squaretooth and the sawtooth, so I'm going to put this one all the way to the right, which is sawtooth. (harmonic sawtooth singing) Now let's enable this one by turning the amp all the way up, and let's bring this down an octave. Let's also make this a sawtooth. (higher amp harmonic sawtooth singing) Alright, let's see.
Let's bring oscillator three in, and let's bring this up two octaves. (higher octave harmonic sawtooth singing) Alright, so we'll just start with that for now. The first thing that you're going to notice is that the attack is a string, so what we're going to do is, we're going to adjust this in envelope four. We're going to make this a little bit smoother, so I'm going to start adjusting this envelope here. (harmonic sawtooth singing) Alright, so that's a little bit smoother.
I turned the attack down a little bit, and I turned the decay level up, so it's not stuttering as I'm playing those notes, so let's keep adjusting this. I'm going to keep adjusting oscillators, and what I'm going to do next actually is, instead of using square and sawtooth for each one, I'm going to start scrolling through different wave tables in massive here so we can get a little bit of variation, so let's get this back to zero, and let's just play around and see what we come up with. (higher octave harmonic synth singing) Alright, that sounds pretty good.
The next thing I'm going to show you is probably the most important part of getting a lush vocoder sound. I'm going to play around with the effects, specifically a phalanger and chorus to widen it, so you'll find that right here, so let's start with phalanger. I'll put this on positive, and I'm going to show you what this does when I turn it up. (harmonic synth singing with phalanger) They're turned all the way up, so you can sort of see what the effect is doing. (harmonic synth singing with phalanger turned up) Alright, that sounds pretty good.
It's a little wide, and let's put a chorus on the next one. (harmonic synth singing with chorus) Alright, that sounds really good, but I also want to show you another way you can do this if you don't want to use the effects in massive, or whatever synth you're using as a carrier. You can also load plugins after the synth to affect it, since the entire chain is being fed into the vocoder, so let's turn these effects off really quickly.
I'm just going to click on these, and we'll mute these effects, so go back to what we had before without the effects, just the oscillators. (harmonic synth singing) Okay, so let's load, I'm going to use, I'm going to go to this phalanger plugin, and again, this is just another way to add lushness to your carrier if you don't want to use the internal effects in the synth you're using as your carrier, so let's just scroll through this and let's see what it sounds like. (harmonic, lush synth singing) Alright, so you can use any number of plugins, any combinations that you want, just get creative with it.
I just wanted to show you that there was another way of affecting your carrier without having to use the effects in massive. You can really come up with some cool stuff if you just experiment a bit. Alright, so let's take that back off, and let's load massive back up, and we'll put these back on. I just wanted to show you a different way of doing it. Okay, next, let's play around with some of the settings in the vocoder. I'm going to adjust the band settings here to get a bit more of a natural sound, so let me open this up. Let's play this. (harmonic, natural synth singing) Let me just show you what this does.
If I put it to four bands, it's a little less analogue resolution as I referred to before, so we'll start at four, and I'll just scroll through, and you can see what it's doing. (harmonic, grungy synth singing) Let's leave it at 36. That's sort of a natural sound. Also, you'll notice here, there's a way to, it's sort of like an EQ, you can see where the bands are hitting the hardest. You can adjust them individually.
You can lower them if certain bands are peaking higher than others, so let's just go through, and I'll show you what I mean. (harmonic synth singing with peaks) Notice that these bands right here peaking louder, and also a few in here. (harmonic synth singing with peaks) So that sort of EQs out the offending frequencies a little bit. It also depends on what you're going for. If you want something a little more bottom end or booming, then, you know, leave those up, but I'm just trying to go for a flatter frequency response right now.
(harmonic synth singing) Alright, well that sounds good. Finally, what I'm going to do is add some reverb to this, to give it a little more space and depth. Now, I already have a reverb set up on the bus here, but I'm just going to enable that, so you can see what it sounds like. (harmonic synth singing with reverb) And also, I have a ping pong delay on bus b, which if you'll notice on the other side, I have these sent to each of those buses, so again, let's play that. (harmonic synth singing with reverb) Now what I'm going to do, just here at the very end, when I created these courses, I had made an example file that I started with, and of course, I'm sort of re-engineering these as I go from the ground up to show you, but I just want to play you my original example file.
I actually added some other midi notes towards the end here, so let me just mute this one, and let me play this one, the one that I'd already created before this course, so let's see. (harmonic synth singing with chorus and reverb) And there you go.
That's how you create a lush vocoder sound.
Note: This course was recorded in Ableton Live, but the tutorials can be used with any digital audio workstation.
- Working with vocoders
- Shifting pitch and frequency
- Creating drama with EQ and filters
- Time stretching
- Enhancing harmonic content with distortion
- Adding movement with flange effects
- Applying reverb and delay
- Creating rhythmic effects with glitches and stutters