Vocal Processing Tricks In Ableton Live

Ableton Live has plenty of great tools included with it. Some might even say it’s the Swiss Army Knife of DAWs. Vocal processing within Live is yet another great by-product of all the creative freedoms this program has afforded the user. Let’s run through a couple.

The Stretch Effect

Ableton’s Warp feature does wonders for keeping songs in time, but with “Texture” mode turned on, it can make your vocals sound heavily stretched, synthetic and drawn out.

Step 1.) Take a Vocal track. For this example I’ll be using an acappella of a Pet Shop Boys song.

Here is what the wave form of this section looks like un warped

Step 2.) If the track has been warped, unwarp it and find a good starting point with the start marker. Once there, right click the start marker and choose “Warp From Here Straight”. Choose “Texture” in the Warp Mode box.

Step 3.) Find the word or phrase you would like to stretch (mine is “business”) and add two warp markers on each side of it.

Step 4.) Next, I am going to click the warp marker at the end of my word and drag it to the right. This, in essence, stretches the word out, giving us the desired effect.

Pitch The Vocal

Pitch shifting is another great aspect of Ableton Live. For complete control, use your transposition envelope for complete control over re pitching certain words or phrases.

Note: Your tracks must be warped in order for Envelop mode to work.

Step 1.) Under the Clip Section of your track, hit the “E” icon to open that tracks envelope.

Step 2.) I recommend you select “Pro” or “Complex Pro” before venturing any further, as this tends to work the best for pitching vocals.

Step 3.) Find the envelope panel that has just opened, and select “Transposition” from the pull-down menu below the box that says “Clip”.

Step 4.) In the envelope window, double click on the red horizontal line to add anchor points. Drag these points up or down to change the pitch of individual words, or whole phrases.

Glitch The Vocal

Ableton’s Beat Repeat can do some wildly amazing things. At first glance it may seem fairly chaotic (so chaotic, in fact, it can be quite intimidating.). Although, focusing in on these couple of parameters for vocal manipulation will help you get the glitch out.

Step 1.) Add some warp points to a vocal track, preferably single words or short phrases. I’m working with a Jay-Z acappella for this example.

Step 2.) Once you have all of your warp markers set up, right click on the audio track and select “Slice To New MIDI Track”.

Step 3.) Select the presets “Warp Marker” and “Built-In-0-Vel”. Click Okay.

Step 4.) This will create a new MIDI track with Drum Rack on it. Drag a copy of Beat Repeat onto this new channel.

Step 5.) Trigger any of the samples off. When you do, be quick to hit the “Repeat” button on the drum rack in order to catch a certain part of the phrase. Once you do, twist the “Grid”, “Pitch” and “Pitch Decay” knobs for some VERY interesting results. Here is what I got:

Creating Harmonies

Vocals harmonizing together can be pleasant to the ear. With a basic knowledge of chord theory (1, 4, 7 is a Major Chord and 1, 3, 7 is a Minor Chord), we can create these through transposition in Ableton Live. Here’s how:

Step 1.) In Arrange View, copy and paste your vocal track on to two new audio channels. I’ll be using this sample in the example:

Step 2.) Engage Complex warp mode on both copies.

Step 3.) For a Major Chord “Harmony”, transpose the first copy up 4 steps and the second up (or down) 7 steps. For a minor key change the first copy to 3 steps.

Step 4.) Mix the volume to a pleasing level for all vocal tracks until it sounds like a three part harmony.

(Robot) Rock The Vocoder!

Humans can fly with the help of airplanes, live longer with the aid of modern medicine, but only one device can help us talk like the robots; the Vocoder!

I’ve tried to get my hands on a software version of a Vocoder that is as easy to use (and sounds as great!) as my MicroKorg’s. Ableton delivered. Here are some great ways to get music sounds out of non musical sounds.

Step 1.) For this example, I am going to use a sample of a voice saying “Please stand clear of the doors”. Here is what it sounds like:

Step 2.) Start by dropping Ableton’s Vocoder on your vocal track.

Step 3.) Drop Analog or Operator (or any other VST synth) on an empty MIDI channel.

Step 4.) Program a simple set of chords on the Synth track (I am using G Minor and D Minor Chords for this example).

Step 5.) So far we have two tracks, the MIDI track with the synth playing chords, and the vocal track (or in my case, speaking), lets merge the two together.

Step 6.) Mute the synth track and on the left side of Vocoder (remember on the vocal track) choose your carrier to be External and your Audio Source to be your Synth track.

Here is the same sample, processed through Live’s Vocoder with some Ping Pong Delay:

Singin’ In The Brain

Vocals are usually the most identifiable part of any track. With programs like Ableton Live out there, processing them in new and exciting ways is not only becoming easier, but also more fun.

As always, if you have any techniques you enjoy using to process vocals, share them below.

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