Including vocals in your own productions and tracks can add so much to the end result. Because humans love the sound of the human voice, and using it in creative ways can be the single thing that makes your track stand out from the crowd.
But vocals can also be extremely tricky to deal with. None knows this better than Factor Eight, who often uses his own vocals to add new depths of nuance and individuality to his amazing productions (many of these songs can in fact be found in a recent mix he did for Magnetic).
So to celebrate the release of his latest record, we invited him to share his favorite tools to manipulate vocals in creative ways to achieve a singular and defining sound.
The rest of the words are from Factor Eight.
A Note From The Producer; Factor Eight
In my recent ‘A Voice’ series, I have been digitally contorting my voice to construct entire musical pieces. What may resemble familiar sounds (e.g. pads, leads, synths, horns, bass, drums, etc.) have indeed been derived from recordings of my voice.
This project began by accident while exploring new and unique methods of sound design, searching for a sonic palette that felt as authentic and true to my artistic voice as possible. The result was indeed a parallel to the ways that I would eventually express my story and challenges with bipolar disorder and its relationship to my music.
Since developing a keen sense for how to create all required elements in the arrangement of a song, I have extended the scope of the voice project beyond my upcoming album, and to the majority of recent and future ‘Factor Eight’ releases as well. Over this time, I have found particular techniques to arrive at particular sounds, as well as ways in which to explore this method to arrive at novel and unrecognizable sounds as well.
Here are 5 of my favorite plug-ins that have assisted in the process of extensive digital vocal contortion, curated over the course of my ‘A Voice’ project, in no particular order of their significance:
Extensive digital contortion of vocals almost always will result in unpleasant artifacts. Hence, the majority of my ‘go-to’ plug-ins are purposed toward mixing, as this helps to shape the audio into something of a more desired nature.
Neutron is one of, if not the most powerful mixing tools I have come across in recent years, and I am continuing to uncover and learn its massive potential.
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Distortion of any kind, be it more transparent or overt, has multiple use cases in the manipulation of audio. Transparent, smooth saturation can be used as a subtle lift to bring sound-designed material forward in the mix.
Ableton’s saturation plug-in is as effective as any I have used for this purpose. It is also easy on the CPU and built-in to one of the most popular DAWs. Other plugins used for saturation in my toolkit currently include Sonnox Oxford Inflator, Soundtoys Decapitator, and Izotope Trash.
Saturation would technically fall into this category as well; however, there is a specific use for more overt, heavy-handed distortion in the manipulation of audio. While saturation creates more a transparent and sparse array of harmonics, distortion conversely produces denser, albeit unpredictable harmonics, while also degrading or transforming the quality of the original recording.
Combined with some extensive EQing, distortion, therefore, allows for greater possibility across the frequency spectrum to carve out the desired sound.
Whether there are one or multiple stages of processing, fluctuations in the tune of a vocal take can be unintentionally accentuated at each stage.
It is therefore wise, to begin with as finely tuned recordings as possible before transferring vocals into anything for melodic purposes. In the case of my ‘A Voice’ project, these recordings are stretched, transposed, layered, and contorted into arpeggios, pads, leads, et al. ultimately to form the entire melodic structure of a ‘song’.
Celemony’s Melodyne is, as I understand it, an industry-standard in the tuning of vocals, and is often my first step in the processing chain.
While not necessarily a plug-in, I have come to appreciate Ableton’s audio-warping functionality as a key tool in the manipulation of not only vocals but audio of any kind.
My ‘A Voice’ project surely would not have been possible, at least in the same way it exists now, were it not for Ableton Live and the vast potential it carries across its built-in plug-ins and functionality. I continue to find new possibilities and ways to manipulate vocals within Ableton as my project evolves.