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Not so long ago, if you wanted to create harmonies for a vocal part, you were left with little choice other than to ask your vocalist to sing these for you, one part at a time. It’s only fairly recently that the option to create harmonies from a single lead vocal line has become available.
The trend began with offline processing. The ability to copy an audio region, save it as a unique audio file and then process a transposed version of it was revolutionary when such tools first arrived, though it remains the case that offline processed audio starts to sound very strange once it gets too far away from its source pitch. It’s only really been with the development of more accurate pitch correction and pitchshifting plug-ins that more authentic-sounding harmonising tools have become available.
One of the major advantages of this technology is that it’s possible to create a fully harmonised part from a single lead vocal line. This is wonderful if you’re working with a singer who is uncomfortable working out and then performing harmonies that match the chord progression of your track. Indeed, many producers now use tools such as Melodyne to create harmony parts that they then teach back to singers for them to perform.
It’s also great if you’ve long since recorded a lead vocal but your singer isn’t available to come round and sing the harmony parts for you. But finally, and probably of most interest to us here, this technology is manna from heaven for producers who like to construct vocal parts from sample CDs, Apple Loops or any other resource where direct interaction with the lead vocalist is impossible.
Being able to personalise a vocal part to which other producers have access is a neat production trick and one which will definitely make your vocals stand out from your track without the often-heard ‘Yeah, but everyone’s got that sample’ griping. All you need to turn a single line into a multi-harmonised arrangement is a pitchshifting tool and an ear for a decent harmony.
Melodyne and Auto-Tune (in graphic editing mode) are ideal for this, in that they allow you to see and hear harmonies at the same time, so anything that doesn’t sound right can be easily identified. We’ll be using Melodyne in our tutorial (you can download a demo here), but if you don’t own one of these and are using a regular pitchshifting plug-in instead, you can still achieve some pretty good results simply by using automation to select the amount of transposition that you want on a note from one step to the next.
Obviously, as you’ll want these harmonies to play in addition to your lead vocal, you’ll need to copy the original file to separate tracks before undertaking the processing.