This is part 4 of the process in The Making of VX1
Editing Background Vocals
I'm usually a bit more aggressive with making rhythm and pitch closer to "perfect" for background vocals. I still keep in a little variation and randomness, but it just feels better when everything is really tight.
Generally, I'll edit pitch and then rhythm. I find that sometimes weird and unattractive things happen when I pitch audio that has already been warped/stretched.
Background vocals for me tend to be a bit more edited; The edits to the en-masse vocals are not quite as noticeable, so I can get away with using Melodyne to auto-pitch aggressively.
Essentially, I will auto-tune with Melodyne to around 80-100% for background vocals, then listen through it, and fix any individual pitches that Melodyne misplaced.
I generally do NOT use Melodyne for vocal rhythms. I do most of this quantization by hand, because I find that the computers misplace things a lot (so I end up having to re-adjust by hand anyways). I quantize tracks in one of two ways: either I will cut and stretch clips, or I will create breakpoints with Ableton Live's warping engine, and manually move the dots around there.
Editing Lead Vocals
I don't do much editing for lead vocals; I just do a lot more tracking to make sure they're perfect. Editing for a lead vocal has more to do with making sure that the lead comp is juuuust the way I want it. That is not to say that lead is not edited, but I usually just try to wait on editing lead until I can work with the mixing engineer. Then we can work together to tune it just the right amount.
A Note on Re-Tracking
As I am editing, I often re-track things that I notice are not quite right. Especially, I like to re-track the lead after I've edited background vocals and percussion, because it's easier to emotionally get into the song when I don't hear any distracting mistakes or timing issues. This is not always feasible in projects where I am tracking others, and there is a more strict schedule. But for this album, I had no such limitation.
Editing Vocal Percussion
Editing Spit Takes
Generally, spit takes are easy to track, and harder to edit. They sound more natural, and it's easier to do beats that aren't always on grid. Like background vocals, I do try to get stereo takes of this. However, if the beat is loose or fast/complicated, sometimes it can get a bit more difficult.
First part of editing percussion is just making sure it's in the right timing you need it to be. Generally for complicated lines, I'll try to edit it later in the process of completing the song, or at LEAST after the bass is done editing. Since if something plays around the grid, you may need to rely on the queues from other vocal lines for things to make sense, and it's a pain to move things around after you've split the take.
Splitting Spit Takes
By splitting the take, I'm referring to the other part of editing vocal percussion. Vocal percussion is challenging to mix because it's all coming through the same mic. When you mic a typical drum set, you might have a microphone on the kick drum, a microphone on the snare, a pair of overhead mics, and a dozen other mics on various sounds. This allows an engineer to adjust the volume of all these separately, and apply effects on a specific mic to attack that sound.
I usually split a spit take AFTER I edit it.
Comparatively, vocal percussion is all coming from one mic. Mixing vocal percussion from a spit take is akin to only tracking a drumset with one pair of overheads: you can do it, and it can sound alright, but it is challenging and really limits what you can do creatively. This is because, say, if you want to adjust the EQ to make the kick sound boomier, you might bring up some low end, but if you are applying this EQ on the raw spit take, it will also affect the vocal percussion highs.
So our process with editing vocal percussion is to take that spit take, and split it into a dozen or so tracks, grouping sounds with like sounds. This is what a spit take looks like after it has been split:
I do this process manually. That is, I'll duplicate the comp'd take, slowly go through the entire percussion line, cut out each sound, and move it to the appropriate track. I'll keep the original take as an "EXTRA_TRACK", in case we need to use it for texture. But yeah, it's time-consuming, and I try to do it only when I'm confident that nothing will change with the line.
There are a few things we can do to cut down editing time here:
- Loops are your friend. When you can get away with it, it can drastically cut down editing time.
- Take time to get things right during tracking. Especially with beatboxing, editing can be a lot, so if you can loop and/or copypasta similar lines, and really nail them down, it'll make things a lot easier.