by Craig Anderton
Pitch correction is controversial, probably because too many people overuse it too much too many times, and that identifiable “robot” quality gets old after awhile. But there’s no law that says you have to overuse it; subtle pitch correction can take that vocal that would perfect if only the singer hadn’t gone flat on one note, fix the note, and retain all the feel of the original.
Although pitch correction is available as a plug-in from companies like Antares and Celemony, some DAWs include built-in pitch correction...and MOTU’s Digital Performer is one of them. Because Digital Performer has very sophisticated pitch correction options for monophonic vocals and instruments, it’s easy to overlook the fact that you can make simple, effective vocal edits very quickly by drawing in correction curves with the pencil tool. Although there are different ways to do this, here’s one possible workflow.
Fig. 1: Selecting Memory Cycle makes it easier to work on a specific vocal section.
Begin by selecting Memory Cycle (Fig. 1) and loop the area you want to edit. Although you can work on the entire vocal, it’s often more efficient to isolate specific areas that need fixes; looping that section makes the process even easier.
Fig. 2: Select the appropriate soundbite.
After looping the section with the vocal that you need to fix, select the soundbite (Fig. 2) that requires processing
Fig. 3: Choose the desired processing mode.
You have a variety of pitch correction options; for this type of application, it’s generally best to choose “Set Pitch Mode for Track and Selected Bites” unless you need different pitch modes for the bites in a track. Then, set the processing mode to “Vocals” (Fig. 3). It’s important to do this step before making any adjustments, as Digital Performer needs to analyze the vocal. The processing mode influences the analysis process.
Fig. 4: Choosing the Sound File tab gives a good view of what you need to edit.
Click on the Sound File tab (Fig. 4). Although you can edit pitch in the Sequence view by selecting Pitch (instead of Soundbites, Volume, Pan, etc.), I prefer the more expansive Sound File view.
Fig. 5: When you choose Pitch, you can see the pitch curves easily.
Click on the Pitch tab (Fig. 5). However, you probably won’t see the pitch curves immediately; use the scroll bar on the left to bring the pitch curves into view.
Fig. 6: Choose Tools next.
Go to the Studio menu, then select Tools (Fig. 6). This lets you use the pencil.
Fig. 7: The Pencil tool can draw in a new pitch curve.
Use the Pencil tool to modify the pitch correction curve (Fig. 7) as much or as little as you want. Be careful not to turn everything into a straight line; real singers have slight pitch changes that add interest to a vocal.
While this technique is a great way to do touch-ups on vocals, Digital Performer has additional ways to tailor the pitch analysis process, as well as multiple methods (including pitch quantization) you can use to modify pitch. It’s well worth spending some quality time with the manual—and experimenting!—to exploit these features to the fullest.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.