March 19, 2008 Ever wondered how performing artists can seem so perfect on record, but their live pitch and timing can be a bit hit and miss? Part of it's genuine talent and studio concentration, but increasingly in the last ten years, recording perfection has been made easier by a range of amazing digital recording software that can correct pitch, timing and modulation of individual notes in a recorded track at the click of a mouse button. And the latest release from Melodyne, whose pitch correction software has become a de facto industry standard, claims to let producers edit individual notes within a chord. For the first time, this astonishing new package will let you correct wrong notes in a guitar track, for example, or move individual notes around to create entirely new guitar parts as if you're editing a midi track.
The incredible march of progress in recording technology in the last ten years has put top-quality music production into the hands of bedroom musicians all over the world. Pro-Tools and Logic Audio put entire recording, sequencing and mixing consoles right there on the PC desktop, and a growing range of exceptionally sophisticated plug-ins are making it easier and easier for amateurs to sound like professionals.
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One of the most revolutionary such plug-ins has been Melodyne - an incredibly effective visual pitch correction tool that allows producers to move individual notes around within, for example a vocal track to correct poor pitch. It also offers the ability to lengthen and shorten notes, edit the modulation of notes, and move them around in time. So whatever the original recording is like, the processed track can come out perfectly in pitch and in rhythym, and a good producer can in effect even dial a certain amount of 'soul' in and out of the mix.
Such pitch correction is rife in recent commercial pop music; the vast majority of tracks on the radio are corrected to some degree, even if it isn't as obvious as the effect is on, for example, Cher's "Do you believe in life after love."
But the new version of Melodyne, to be released this Autumn, takes the concept to another level. Direct Note Access, as the new feature is called, allows the software to separate out a recorded chord into its component notes - and then lets you edit each note individually with the full power of Melodyne's previous editing capabilities, and all within the same excellent visual user inferface.
A mindblowing demo video shows how a guitar track can be separated into its component notes and edited like a midi track, either to correct bung notes, or to change the tune altogether. The concept opens up a whole new creative realm for producers beyond just its error correction abilities, where unplayable guitar parts can be conceived and executed within the editing software, and played back with all the beauty of a real guitar sound.
The concept is then taken further - whole tracks can then be changed into major, minor or more exotic modes such as phrygian, lydian or harmonic minors at the touch of a button, dramatically altering the feel of the track. The system can also accept midi inputs to let you change chords on the fly. Quite stunning.
It remains to be seen how well the software will work with other sources (vocal harmonies, for example, are extremely complex soundwaves and may well confuse the system) - but there's no doubt this is a very significant step forward in digital music production - and it opens up a new question: how long will it be until we can play a whole band song into a single microphone, and have a computer separate all the parts out so we can edit the drums, vocals or sax tracks like one big midi file?