Almost all professionally released music goes through pitch correction in the editing process. Tuning vocals has become a given in the music industry. Even the most natural songs get a little bit of polishing. REAPER comes with ReaTune, a stock plug-in designed precisely for this use case. It is based on the workflow established by Antares Auto-Tune. In this tutorial, I will be walking you through the vocal autotuning process using both of these plug-ins. So let’s get right to it.
I will start by loading ReaTune at the beginning of my vocal chain. It will open in the Tuner tab by default, which works like a basic tuner, similar to what you use to tune your guitar. It will detect the pitch of the notes being played. This is a very important step since it will have an affect on the rest of the plug-in functionality.
I like to set the Window size between 50 ms and 25 ms depending on the register and the tonal character of the vocalist. In a nutshell, if the singer has a deeper voice and is singing in a lower register, you want to keep the window size larger. Also, keep in mind that using smaller window sizes will potential lead to a more robotic sounding pitch correction. I usually set the overlap between 2x and 4x, and may come back to modify this parameter once I enable automatic pitch correction.
Once the pitch detection is set in the Tuner tab, it’s time to go to the Correction tab to activate the Automatic pitch correction.
ReaTune is set to correct the notes chromatically, which means that it will try to correct the vocal to the nearest note even if that note is out of key. This is why it is always helpful if you know the key in advance. You can then use the Key section to properly adjust the performance to the notes of the song.
The Attack time is set to 250 ms by default, which is way too low to really catch notes in most songs, I tend to like it between 20 and 50 most of the time. Lower times result in more artifacts and obvious effect, while bigger times result in a smoother pitch correction but at the cost of lower precision.
ReaTune has pretty basic controls, it lacks the ability to ignore note drift, glissandos or vibrato, so finding a middle ground of transparent and precise pitch correction in more expressive performances can be tricky.
It’s not unusual for ReaTune to struggle with vocal lines or passages. If that happens, you may want to consider correcting the notes manually instead, which I will touch on in the Manual Pitch Correction section later.
If the vocal performance was by a singer who is mostly in tune, then another solution is to automate ReaTune out of some of the phrases, using the Wet knob that is located on the top right of the plug-in window. This will preserve the original sound all together.
Just an FYI ReaTune requires a lot of Pre-Delay Compensation when pitch correcting. This is okay for mixing or editing, but for live performance or recording, it will introduce delay and possibly throw the singer off as well as the rest of the band. I strongly advise against using it in a live environment.
In the image above, you can see how much Pre-Delay compensation REAPER has to apply to ReaTune. This number will appear either at the top or the bottom of the chain, and because it’s way above 256, this means that the plug-in is not suited for live use.
Antares pretty much works right out of the box. By default, it is set up for aggressive pitch correction, which is what you expect in most genres like Trap, Reggaeton, and even some Pop music. However, If your vocalist is very expressive and likes to use a lot of vibrato, then it will be hard to get the auto mode to work properly.
Unlike ReaTune, pitch detection in Auto-Tune Pro is set in the background, presenting you with only a few useful settings. The default Pitch detection is set to Alto-Tenor voice, which works well with most vocal performances in commercial genres. Other options include Soprano, Low Male, Instrument and Bass Instrument.
Just like ReaTune, the Key and Scale are set to chromatic my default, and can be changed however you want. Auto-Tune Pro also comes with the Auto-Key plug-in, which can be loaded into any harmonic instrument to detect the key of the song when you play it back.
Once the detection is done, click on the Send to Auto-Tune button and Auto-Tune will adjust to the key of the song.
Retune Speed just like the Attack time in ReaTune, it determines how snappy the pitch correction is, although it is slightly more aggressive in comparison.
Flex Tune allows you to ignore the transitions between notes, making the pitch correction as smooth as possible. However, at around 85, the plug-in starts to relax a bit and sound more transparent, behaving similarly to ReaTune.
Natural Vibrato lets you enhance or reduce the amount of vibrato already present in the recording. However, to create new vibrato, you’d have to go to the Vibrato controls in the Advanced view.
Humanize changes the pitch correction speed only on sustained notes, especially at faster Retune speeds, preventing the performance from sounding like a synth.
On the Advanced panel, you have two tabs:
Vibrato allows you to synthesize vibrato on the performance, controlling the shape, rate, variation and modulation of the synthesized vibrato.
Scale allows you to modify the notes that are used as a guide for the pitch correction, as well as changing the microtuning of each note, allowing you to use Just intonation instead of Equal temperament for instance.
There are options on the top right to change the pitch and the formants of your performance, kind of how ReaPitch does.
Unlike ReaTune, Auto-Tune Pro can be used very effectively in Real-Time applications like recordings or live presentations, just go to the settings icon on the top right, then check the Use Low Latency option and you’re good to go.
Manually tuning notes is an essential feature because, although automatic pitch correction is incredible, most professionally recorded songs are edited by hand. This results in a more precise and transparent pitch correction at the cost of more editing time. Let’s see how this process works in both plug-ins.
To activate manual pitch correction, go to the third tab ‘Manual Correction’, and activate the first checkbox. This will automatically activate track pitch and will detect the pitch of the performance as you play it. You can also click on the Update button to automatically analyze all the audio on the track. The pitch of the vocal performance will be shown as a red line
Activating manual correction will not deactivate the automatic pitch correction of the previous tab, it will work on top of it. This is awesome as you can activate a subtle but useful automatic pitch correction and adjust the notes that are off later in the Manual correction tab.
In terms of navigation, ReaTune is unparalleled for me. The navigation is done using the same navigation mouse modifiers of the REAPER main window, even if you change them. Also, you can click on the time ruler at the top for seeking and changing the position of the editor cursor. This means that you can just load ReaTune and start manually tuning your vocals right away, you don’t need to get used to a different set of commands.
Drawing notes is easy enough, you can create horizontal lines for regular notes or lines that extend across multiple tracks for glissando type of notes. There’s also no direct parameter to control vibrato in this tab, or to change the duration of any note as other tuning software may have. You’d say that it’s quite limited because of its lack of control, but I’ve found that the tuning algorithm and pitch detection adapts quite well to different genres and performance types.
To activate the manual correction in Auto-Tune Pro, go to the Graph mode. REAPER and Auto-Tune support ARA2, which is a protocol to automatically transfer audio from DAWs to plug-ins, but I couldn’t get it to work between these two. So, you must transfer the vocal performance manually in this case.
First, click on the Pitch button below the Track section, just below the left side of the top panel. Then, press play on the part that you want to manually correct.
When you’re on the Graph section of Auto-Tune, it will disable the Auto mode, so you can’t do both automatic and manual correction on just one instance of the plug-in.
Unfortunately for me, the navigation in Auto-Tune is very frustrating. The vertical zoom resets every time I want to change the height of the notes. Zooming in horizontally always zooms in vertically too, which forces you to find the note height every time.
The vertical scroll is reversed, which can throw you off very easily, and the only comfortable way to scroll horizontally is using a laptop. It recognizes horizontal mouse wheel gestures, on a regular desktop mouse your only options are using the Scroll mouse tool from the toolbar, which is really slow, or dragging from the scrollbar at the bottom, which takes the mouse out of the action every time you want to move.
The note editing capabilities of Auto-Tune Pro are quite good, there are a ton of editing tools to draw lines, curves, notes, move things around, change the length of existing notes, and split existing ones. It’s a little weird in the beginning, but once you get to know the tools and how they work, you can mess with the audio however you want.
These are the pitch correction tools and workflows presented by just two plug-ins available out there. I must say that although the comparison isn’t really fair because of the price difference, I didn’t really feel very comfortable using Auto-Tune Pro, especially considering that it costs almost $500. If you constantly work with Urban and Pop music, you probably should use Auto-Tune Pro, it is the standard after all, but I think it’s worth exploring other pitch correction tools for working with other genres. Happy editing!