How to produce 6 classic creative vocal effects

Vocal synthesisers and transformation effects come in all manner of shapes and sizes. Here are half a dozen of our favourite examples

How to produce 6 classic creative vocal effects
Want to make yourself sound like a Speak & Spell? We can show you how it's done.

Vocal processing plugins let you do all sorts of amazing things to the human voice, from subtle enhancement to all-out transformation. Here are six prime examples of the kinds of things that are possible.

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1. 'The Auto-Tune effect'

Antares Auto-Tune, now at version 8, is designed to gently correct a vocal's pitch to the nearest semitone within a user-defined key and scale. By setting the Retune Speed to maximum, the vocal's pitch is corrected at an unnaturally-fast rate, resulting in the clichéd robotic warbling effect.

Unpitched vocal

Auto-Tuned vocal

2. Harmonisers

Harmonisers generate artificial harmonies from a single vocal track - useful when you want to create a new harmony part from a vocal sample, for instance. In our example, we've layered two identical copies of a lead vocal, with different harmoniser settings applied to each.

Harmony A

Harmony B

Harmony mix

3. Frequency shifting

Traditional, 'musical' pitchshifting maintains a signal's harmonic relationships. A frequency shifter instead shifts frequencies equally by a specified amount, destroying a signal's harmonic intervals. The results aren't always musically pleasant, but try shifting a vocal's frequencies up or down if you're seeking atonal, dissonant effects.

Frequency shift - automated

4. On the phone

Harsh high- and low-pass filtering and distortion is the DIY way to replicate the reduced bandwidth of a telephone signal, but Audio Ease's Speakerphone 2 can take this concept much further, placing a voice down the end of a 'sampled' telephone using its advanced convolution modelling.

Vocal through walkie talkie

5. '80s robot

Sonic Charge's BitSpeek 're-synthesizes' a vocal to create the metallic, rubber-like robot voice of 1980s Speak & Spell toys. Set Tracking to 0% for a monotone robot voice which can be tuned (and detuned), and cheapen the circuitry by reducing the Rate slider.

Original vocal

Vocal with BitSpeek

6. Voice synthesis

If you want Stephen Hawking to lay down lyrics over your next hit, you'll need a text-to-speech generator or voice synthesizer plug-in. Plogue's chipspeech is a particularly musical option: type words into the plug-in's text box, then play MIDI notes to trigger the words at the desired pitch.

Chipspeech vocal

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