Experimenting with vocal plug-ins on non-vocal material

One of the greatest joys of making music is trying things that technically “shouldn’t work.”

When we first get started on our music production journeys, we tend to take more chances. However, once we know the “rules”, it’s easy to let our workflows fossilise into what’s “right” – what we’re supposed to do. In this tutorial, let’s break those self-imposed chains and try something new: running non-vocal sounds through vocal plug-ins.

Pushing vocal plug-ins into unintended territory can yield some fascinating and musically exciting results. Let’s use them to spice up some drums, bass, and lead synth sounds. Remember, experimentation is the word so if you end up with something less than stellar, keep tweaking parameters until it sounds good.

1. Drums meet vocoder

Waves’ OVox Vocal ReSynthesis is an all-in-one vocal synthesizer for handling vocoder and talk box duties. It’s hugely flexible and deep, which makes it a perfect candidate for experimentation. Let’s see how it can transform very standard-sounding drums into something more robotic.

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Create an instance of OVox as an effect on an audio channel with drum information and initialise it. Also, check that Voice is set to Track, and Synth is Internal so that the audio will pass through OVox’s built-in synth engine. Click the Expand/Collapse button as well to reveal the advanced controls.

OVox has two synth engines, but we only need the first. Set the type to Talk Vox to get a talk box-style effect. Next, drag the cursor in the Oscillator Shape panel towards the pulse spike in the lower-left corner. This will give the sound a sharp tone. Play around with the Harmonics dial as well and see how the sound changes – further to the right means more top-end.

The Formant Filter can drastically change the feel of the sound. Adjust Focus, Q, Formant and Speed dials until you arrive at something unique. Remember, we’re all about experimentation here.

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The Voice Dynamics control determines how precisely the internal synth mimics the input signal – the drums in this case. Increase it for a more truncated response. A lower value will feel a little looser.

Next, in the mixer section, try turning up the Voice dial to bring in more of the original signal. To give a more robotic effect, add some pitch correction and listen carefully to the results. You can blend in more synth with the OVox dial. Bring in a lot for a heavy robot effect, or turn it down for a metallic edge.

Finally, let’s add a compressor and limiter to the signal chain and really squash it. Finally, for a choppy feel, increase the Voice Gate amount on the top bar.

2. Bass meets vocal processor

One of the most significant advancements in vocal processing technology was MicroPitch, a stereo widening effect developed by Eventide in the 1970s. You can still find it in plenty of hardware units, like the Eventide MicroPitch Delay, and in plug-in form. It does this by adding two copies of your original signal, left and right, and shifting their pitches by a small amount. This is very commonly used to add width to vocals, thickening them.

There’s no rule saying that we can’t use this effect on non-vocal material, though. It sounds great on almost anything, including bass. Let’s use the Eventide MicroPitch effect to widen a bass sound.

Start with a bassline. We’ve programmed one on U-he’s Repro-1, but anything will do. Next, create an auxiliary track, send some of the bass signal to it, and add an instance of the MicroPitch plug-in to the channel. For this example, we’re using Eventide’s UltraChannel because it also has an excellent EQ and compressor. Adding the plug-in to an aux rather than an insert slot means we can control precisely how much of the effect to apply. It will also ensure that we won’t lose any precious centre bass information should our song be summed to mono.

UltraChannel allows you to change the signal flow. Put the EQ first and do some tonal shaping to emphasise the mids, as if it were a vocal part. Put the Compressor next in the chain and dial in a conservative amount of dynamics. We want to emphasise the effect without crushing it.

Now the fun part. Use the Micro Pitch Shift section to widen the stereo image. You can control the size, width, depth, and mix amount. We found that a large size, medium width, and low depth and mix settings sound good on our plucky bass. Now we’ve widened our bass sound without losing any of the original punch.

3. Synth lead meets AI

One of the more exciting recent developments in music technology is AI. There are tons of impressive mixing and mastering plug-ins on the market now that will listen to your track and make suggestions on how to improve it. But what happens if you feed it the wrong information? Let’s find out.

We start with a synthesizer lead sound triggered from Knif Audio’s unique Knifonium. Next, we add iZotope’s Nectar Elements vocal mixing plug-in to the channel. The plug-in asks, “What are you going for?” For Vibes, we select Vintage, and for Intensity, we go with Aggressive. Hit play and the Vocal Assistant does its best to analyse our decidedly non-vocal material.

The Vocal Assistant has given us a lovely effect. We can use the basic parameters to make further alterations. Let’s start with the Clean Up section first. Try adjusting Clarity, which scales the amount of gain applied to the assistant’s EQ choices, De-ess, and Dynamics. Of course, these are designed for vocals, but that’s part of the experimental fun.

Finally, we can tweak the sliders in the Polish section for broad tonal adjustments and reverb amount. The final result is smooth and polished without losing the original’s bite.

Remember that if you don’t like your results, it’s as easy as clicking the Start Over button and trying again. Happy experimenting!

Find more tutorials here.

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