7 Tips for Transparent Vocal Tuning (2023)

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You’re used to hearing vocal tuning — your ears expect it even. No, really, even if you’re someone who hates the “fake” or “robotic” sound of “Auto-Tune vocals,” chances are you regularly hear a whole lot of vocals that have been tuned, assuming you listen to music that was made this century.

Let me take a step back here — I don’t mean to be confrontational! This isn’t only about you. Audiences in general are used to hearing vocals that have been cleaned up with some pitch correction. Tuning software has just been used too widely — to the point where it sounds “normal” to us now. The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no getting it back in.

Look, vocal tuning isn’t one-size-fits-all, and nobody is forcing you to use it or to use it in a way you don’t like. Though Antares’ Auto-Tune is sort of like the Kleenex or Coke of tuning software, it’s far from the only game in town. Whatever tools you use for vocal tuning, there are lots of ways to do it. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite tips for tuning vocals transparently.

1. Figure Out the Key of the Song

This first tip is pretty basic, but it’s an easy step to improving vocal tuning that a lot of people seem to overlook. No matter what you use to tune vocals, I guarantee you that the software works better when you’reclear on the key of the vocal part.

Start with the simple stuff. What’s the root note? Is the song major or minor? Or maybe it’s closer to one of the other five modes? Are there any accidentals (notes not in the key) in the vocal part? Get clear on this stuff before you start tuning. Most (if not all) tuning software will ask you to input a key. Even if you prefer to do things more “manually,” understanding what notes are in the key and in the part (not always the same!) will help you make the right choices.

Transparent tuning should aim to give a little boost to the singer’s intonation. Making sure it does that in a way that sounds natural and musical is the first step to getting there.

2. Don’t Go Too Hard

If your goal is for vocal tuning to sound transparent, the easiest way to screw that up is to correct the pitches too much. Even the best singers have some natural variation in their pitch. Really! Listening to recordings of great vocalists from the analog era can really drive this home.

7 Tips for Transparent Vocal Tuning (1)

David Bowie – Heroes (Official Video)

Ever hear someone say “David Bowie could have really been huge if only someone had fixed his vocals?” Yeah, me neither. Could you make his vocal in “Heroes” sound more in tune? Sure — but why?


Every tuning plugin offers some way to control its intensity. If a tuned note is a totally static event with no natural wobble or drift, that’s a good sign you’ve gone too far. Tune it until you find yourself not being distracted by pitch issues. Don’t aim for “perfection” if you want the performance to sound human.

3. Don’t Go Too Fast

The intensity of vocal tuning isn’t the only thing to keep an eye/ear on. Its speed can have a huge effect on how natural a vocal ends up sounding.

Singers will often slide into notes, exploring spaces between pitches before landing on “in tune” notes. Though this can sometimes be a sign of a singer who lacks confidence, it can also be something a vocalist does intentionally. Too-fast tuning can iron out this type of movement in a vocal recording, making it sound robotic and quantized in the most extreme cases. At minimum, tuning a vocal too fast can put the vocal into sort of an “uncanny valley,” where the singer seems to find each note just a little too easily.

Tuning software with more “manual” controls (Melodyne, Waves Tune, Flexpitch) gives you the ability to control the speed with which one note glides into the next. More “automated” tuning plugins (Auto-Tune or Waves Tune Real-Time) have more straight-ahead speed controls.

7 Tips for Transparent Vocal Tuning (2)

The circled section shows controls dialed for a more leisurely, natural tuning style

Fast tuning is crucial for the classic, stylized Auto-Tune sound, but it’s something to avoid if you want tuning to sound natural. Set your tuner’s speed control just fast enough that it keeps notes from straying out of tune long enough to be noticeable. If transitions from notes are totally “stepped” like on a keyboard instrument, you’ve gone too far to still be transparent.

4. Leave Some Sections Untuned

Is this the laziest tip possible? “The key to transparent vocal tuning is, like, not tuning the vocals!” But seriously — maybe try, you know, not tuning vocals… when you can get away with it.

If I’m using Auto-Tune or a similar plugin to tune vocals, I’ll often dial it in and commit a pass of that tuning, having previously saved the untuned take. From there, I’ll go through and find moments where the tuning feels like it’s too much or unnecessary, and sub back in the original vocal. In some instances, it’s really just certain moments that need tuning, and the song is better served by leaving the rest untouched.

Make an honest assessment of the song, the vocal performance and your intention for the production. It might be that a more natural delivery has intrinsic value that outweighs a more technically “perfect” vocal production. This is going to be more true for styles where authenticity is important, compared to ones that feel inherently processed and unnatural. Figure out where your track sits on that spectrum and plot a course from there.

5. Tune Doubles Less Intensely

7 Tips for Transparent Vocal Tuning (3)

…no you’re out of tune!

When I have two vocal tracks and one is clearly the “primary” one (rather than two equally important vocal tracks), I will more often than not tune one more heavily than the other. Which I tune more aggressively kind of depends on the specifics of the situation. Sometimes, the more natural move is to really clean up the lead, letting the secondary vocal be a little quirkier. Other times, it makes more sense to let the lead have a funky character, while the double is tuned heavily to keep things from getting messy.

7 Tips for Transparent Vocal Tuning (4)

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Whatever the process, the goal is ultimately the same: the doubled vocal should sound raw and natural, but free of distracting pitch issues.

This trick works just as well with backup vocals, by the way, whenever each backup vocal line is double tracked. With these sorts of vocal harmonies, the “main” track is always the one I’ll tune more thoroughly. That primary track provides the meat of the part, while the double helps it feel fuller and more vibrant.


6. Know the Strengths and Limitations of Your Tuning Plugins

I’m not here to debate the relative merits of one tuning plugin over another. I use a few, personally, depending on the situation. Do you swear by Auto-Tune? Great. Think Melodyne is the best? Love it. Waves Tune? Flex Pitch? Revoice? Yes, yes and yes. Do what works for you.

Any tuning software will have the ability to do some things more or less “automatically.” Some allow you to control the pitch and tuning of a vocal manually. Most will lean more in one direction or the other, while still offering workarounds that let you do it all.

The point is, whatever it is you use, understand what you can and can’t do with it. Got a vocal part that moves between keys, or has lots of chromatic notes? It’s going to be hard to get a plugin like Auto-Tune to work naturally without a little extra effort on your part. Need to do a basic tuning job on a vocal take in a hurry? You might find Melodyne gives you a little more friction than the result is worth.

Not forcing a tuning plugin to work too hard outside of what it excels at is an easy way to get a more natural result. No one of them alone is perfect, which brings me to my next point…

7. Combine a Few Different Types of Tuning Software

You should own both a screwdriver anda hammer. Why? Don’t screws and nails do basically the same thing? I guess… but try doing every project with only one or the other and you’ll quickly realize why that’s a stupid idea.

The same principle applies here. Sometimes I can dial in settings on Auto-Tune and get a vocal 90% of the way there. But that last 10%? It either sounds over-tuned and robotic or it sounds stubbornly pitchy. That’s when I’ll pull up Melodyne to fine-tune the rest. It’s workflow is slower, and it comes with its own, different set of artifacts, but between the two I can usually get a result I’m happy with.

There are, of course, other options, but they tend broadly to fall into one camp or the other in terms of how they function — though I’ll give a shoutout here to Synchro Arts Revoice Pro for truly bringing something new to the table! Whatever your preferences are or whatever your budget allows, I think it’s worth having one tuning plugin that excels at correcting an entire part with the twist of a few knobs and another that allows you to fine-tune things by hand.

Logic users will find that Flex Pitch functions more or less like Melodyne. Waves Tune Real-Time offers an Auto-Tune-like option that will set you back a lot less. The original-flavor Waves Tune is another one in the Melodyne camp, for those keeping score.

I know, I’m kind of telling you that you have to buy plugins here, which I generally don’t love doing. But if you want to do vocal tuning right, it’s really an area where having a diverse toolkit pays off. And for what it’s worth, there is at least one free option out there.

Yup, you need both a screwdriver and a hammer. Get them both — you won’t regret it.


Whether it’s adjusting tape speed to make the key more comfortable for a singer or just comping a vocal from a few takes, there have been ways to “cheat” a better vocal performance in the studio since the earliest days of recording. Tuning software is just the latest and greatest. Not wanting a vocal to end up sounding like Cher isn’t a viable excuse for avoiding vocal tuning anymore. The tools at your disposal are flexible; the options limited only by your imagination.

I was staunchly opposed to vocal tuning when I first began engineering professionally, but eventually I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t avoid it. When I tune vocals now, I do it on my terms, and I can still get results that make clients happy. With the right approach, there’s no reason you have to compromise.

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7 Tips for Transparent Vocal Tuning (5)

Danny Echevarria

Danny Echevarria is a producer and audio engineer born, raised, and based in Los Angeles. When he isn't tightening his mixes or sawing a fiddle on the honky tonk stages of the greater LA area, he can be found chasing ever-elusive fresh mountain air. Get in touch at dandestiny.com.


How do you tune your vocals perfectly? ›

7 Tips for Transparent Vocal Tuning
  1. Figure Out the Key of the Song. ...
  2. Don't Go Too Hard. ...
  3. Don't Go Too Fast. ...
  4. Leave Some Sections Untuned. ...
  5. Tune Doubles Less Intensely. ...
  6. Know the Strengths and Limitations of Your Tuning Plugins. ...
  7. Combine a Few Different Types of Tuning Software.
Jun 4, 2022

What should my retune speed be? ›

A Retune Speed around 25 tends to work quite well for most melodic vocals if a natural sound is what you're looking for.

Should Auto-Tune go before or after EQ? ›

In general, effects like high pass/low cut filters, subtle EQ, de-essers, and gentle compression/dynamics should be used before Auto-Tune in the effects chain. All other processing such as delay, reverb, spatial effects, distortion, etc should be applied after Auto-Tune.

Why do I sound bad with Auto-Tune? ›

Autotune uses software algorithms to quickly change the current pitch of a note to the desired pitch. This is not something a human being can do, therefore it tends to sound quite unnatural, even robotic.

How do you EQ out harsh vocals? ›

When working with a harsh vocal, you can typically tame it by attenuating frequencies above 2kHz and below 12kHz using a subtle bell filter via an EQ. Attenuating 3-5kHz will help significantly, as will using a de-esser on 5kHz to 12kHz to reduce harsh-sounding sibilance.

How do you master vocals like a pro? ›

  1. Remove silence and noise. The first step is to remove the silent parts on your vocal. ...
  2. Volume automation. It's only natural for a vocalist to sing different parts with different intensities. ...
  3. Auto-Tune (optional) ...
  4. Subtractive EQ. ...
  5. De-essing. ...
  6. Compression. ...
  7. Additive EQing. ...
  8. Reverb & Delay.
Nov 9, 2021

What is the best input type for Auto-Tune? ›

The first two are for, you guessed it, instruments, which you don't have to worry about if you're using Auto-Tune on vocals. Soprano is for singers in a higher register, while Alto/Tenor is a good middle ground for most voices. Setting the right input type will help Auto-Tune be more accurate and sound better overall.

Is Post Malone's vibrato natural? ›

Although some refer to it as the “Post Malone Effect” or “Post Malone Vibrato” — he has a natural vibrato but you can hear it infused with this feature on songs like “Circles” — it's also jokingly referred to as “Billy Goat Vibrato” or “Goat Vibrato,” used to describe anyone who may have a noticeably strong vibrato in ...

What do singers use to sound better? ›

Each has a different purpose and can create a unique sound.
  • Condenser Microphones. A condenser microphone can capture a large frequency range and has the ability to reproduce the full spectrum of a voice. ...
  • Dynamic Microphones. ...
  • USB Microphones. ...
  • Ribbon Microphones. ...
  • Autotune. ...
  • Pop Filter. ...
  • Monitor Headphones. ...
  • Vocal Effect Processing.
Apr 15, 2020

Should I compress vocals before EQ? ›

As a rule, using EQ in front of your compressor produces a warmer, rounder tone, while using EQ after your compressor produces a cleaner, clearer sound.

Where do I start Eqing? ›

To start, you need to find an EQ permitting you to manage the targeted frequency. To find it, increase one band to its highest level. Afterwards, play a sound and carefully check the frequency from top to bottom till you locate the spot where the tone you want sounds the loudest.

Should I always use dynamic EQ? ›

Dynamic EQ works well wherever you need an extra layer of control over your sound's frequency balance. Dynamic EQ works well wherever you need an extra layer of control over your sound's frequency balance.

How can I make my voice sound better with Auto-Tune? ›

How to use AutoTune?
  1. Choose Input type. First, I set Input type. ...
  2. Find your Key and Scale. ...
  3. Choose between Auto and Graph mode. ...
  4. Play with Formant and Throat. ...
  5. Don't change Transpose. ...
  6. Use Detune if you have a different reference pitch. ...
  7. Set up your Tracking. ...
  8. Choose Retune speed for your recording.
Oct 18, 2021

How do I get strong Auto-Tune effect? ›

Setting the Scene. The most essential setting to getting the Auto-Tune Effect sound is a fast Retune Speed. In Auto-Tune, Retune Speed refers to how quickly the plugin adjusts the pitch of an incoming note to correct it. So, naturally, the faster the Retune Speed, the more inhuman and apparent the effect.

Can Auto-Tune make me a good singer? ›

Autotune will always be a 'hot-button' issue for some people, but it really doesn't have to be! If you don't feel like using it to improve your song, it's a great tool to improve your craft and help you become a better singer.

How do I make my voice clearer with EQ? ›

How to EQ vocals
  1. Remove unwanted low end (1 Hz–100 Hz) ...
  2. Balance body and warmth (100 Hz–400 Hz) ...
  3. Remove hollow or boxy frequencies (400 Hz–800 Hz) ...
  4. Remove unwanted resonances in the nasal cavity (800 Hz–1.5 kHz) ...
  5. Improve presence and intelligibility (1.5 kHz–5 kHz) ...
  6. Address sibilance (5 kHz–8 kHz) ...
  7. Add sparkle (8 kHz–12 kHz)
Dec 20, 2022

What frequency should I cut for harshness? ›

Often, you will find that cutting a harsh region, like 2.5kHz to 3.5kHz on a lead vocal and then slightly boosting just above that range, like 6kHz to 8kHz, will add back the shine so that the cut doesn't result in a dull tone.

What are the best equalizer settings for vocals? ›

600 Hz–3,000 Hz (Mids)—the range that humans can hear the best. The majority of the sound of vocals is here, so EQing this range represents the perfect equalizer settings to play with if you want to affect someone's voice. 3,000 Hz–8,000 Hz (Upper Mids)—most audiophiles handle this range with care.

Do you master vocals and beat together? ›

If during the creative process of development in the music field you have a question, should I master my beat before vocals – the answer will be that there is no clear order and it is best to do it at the same time! The learning process will be much more lively and active if you do it at one time without delay.

Why is it so hard to mix vocals? ›

Vocals are tricky. They're often the loudest thing in a mix, which leaves little room for error. And since we're so familiar with the sound of the human voice, we're quick to notice any imperfections.

What Auto-Tune do professionals use? ›

Antares Autotune Pro by Antares Audio Technologies

Considered by many to be the best autotune and pitch correction software, Antares has been at the top of the game for decades. Their software is used as the standard when it comes to the big leagues in many of the top recording studios worldwide.

What is the difference between self tuning and auto tuning? ›

“Self-tuning” refers to such procedures continuously executed while the controller is online regulating the process. “Autotuning” refers to on demand procedures executed while the controller is offline.

What is a good use of Auto-Tune? ›

Auto-Tune can also be used during live performances on a singer's voice. While some may call this “cheating,” using autotune during a long, live show, can help the artist give a great vocal performance without worrying about their voice hitting too many sharp or flat notes.

Why did old singers use so much vibrato? ›

Voice types in opera often differ to those in musical theatre, using much more vibrato – and are often much louder. This is because of the long history of the form, which was performed before microphones were created, so opera singers had to project over the orchestra without amplification.

What does natural vibrato feel like? ›

Some people feel vibrato as a quivering of the pitch. Others feel little bursts of air hitting the back of their throat. There's no right or wrong answer. The only right way to learn vibrato is to find an exercise that works every time.

Why do some people sing with so much vibrato? ›

The key to vibrato (which comes from the Italian 'vibrare' – 'to vibrate') is about warming your voice up and helping it carry. It also makes a singer sound more human, and helps you identify with what they are singing.

How do singers keep their voices clear? ›

Drink plenty of water, especially when exercising. If you drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol, balance your intake with plenty of water. Take vocal naps—rest your voice throughout the day. Use a humidifier in your home.

What do singers use to clear their voice? ›

A more effective treatment might be medications that thin the mucus, such as guaifenesin or acetylcysteine. Singers are often told to clear mucus with a voiceless quick exhalation of air, so throat clearing without the grunt.

What do singers use to keep their voice clear? ›

Hydrate your voice.

If you're wondering what to drink to sing better, the answer is simple: water. Water is one of the best drinks for your singing voice, with herbal teas (but not too hot) in second place. Drink water throughout the day, and keep a water bottle nearby during lessons and rehearsals.

At what volume should I mix vocals? ›

Thus, it is best to record vocal renditions with an average of -18 dB, assuming you are using the standard definition 24-bit. However, louder parts such as screams or breakdowns should be -10dB. This works the other way around – the loudest and quietest recordings should be at least -24 dB.

Should vocals be louder then the beat? ›

Your vocals should sound louder than the beat between -10dB and -15dB. A reliable method would be to set your lead vocal track to -12dB, then push back your instrumental tracks accordingly.

How do you know if your vocals are too compressed? ›

Too much compression produces a flat, non-dynamic performance that doesn't have a “live” feel to it. An overly compressed vocal will feel unnatural and dull to the listener, so it's key to avoid this point if at all possible. Lead vocals should be consistent, but still, have a degree of dynamic fluctuation.

What frequency should I EQ my voice? ›

Here are some of the effects EQ can have in regards to intelligibility.
Frequency (Hz)Effects
160 - 250Voice fundamentals
315 - 500Important to voice quality
630 - 1000Important for a natural sound. Too much boost in the 315 to 1K range produces a honky, telephone-like quality.
1250 - 4000Accentuation of vocals
2 more rows
Jan 7, 2015

How do you make a clean mix? ›

How to Make a Clean Mix
  1. Check out the Low Mids.
  2. Pick Saturation Types Carefully.
  3. Kick and Bass Ducking.
  4. Try Harmonic-Based Equalization.
  5. Gate Before Low-Level Compression.
  6. Balance Dynamics with Clip Gain.
  7. Ensure In-Time Effects.
  8. Distort Mid, Amplify Side.

Is it okay to EQ master? ›

Why Is EQing Your Master So Important? Applying EQ as part of your mastering process is a really valuable tool. It can allow you to get way more out of your mastering process, and it's a huge help in finalizing your tracks and getting more of a sense of coherence across a body of work.

How do I optimize my EQ settings? ›

First, position speakers for best sound. Next, set equalizer controls to neutral or 0 before adjusting to your listening preference. For brighter treble, reduce mid-range and low-end frequencies. For more bass, tone down treble and mid-range frequencies.

What type of EQ is best for mastering? ›

The type of equalizer you're using for a mastering session will depend on what you're trying to accomplish; if you want broadband changes to your signal, an analog emulation EQ will work well. If you want to make surgical changes to your master, a digital-based EQ is best.

Can you Auto-Tune a bad voice? ›

I also think it is necessary to clarify that if a person sings badly, Auto-tune will not fix their voice, as many people think. The voice can be significantly improved with many tricks, Auto-tune is just one of them, and it doesn't have as much scope for action as people think.

What is natural vibrato in Auto-Tune? ›

Natural Vibrato: This is independent of your pitch settings and is used solely to tame natural vibrato of a performance. Leaving it at it's default setting of 0, will not affect the original vibrato, but adjusting will minimize the amount of vibrato allowed. Once again, this is independent of pitch controls.

Why does Michael Buble use Auto-Tune? ›

"I use it as a means to get onto pop radio, onto Top 40 radio," Bublé says. "It's kind of an effect, I guess, that you hear so much on modern radio that if you don't have it, you don't really get played." "People's ears are so tuned to it now. It's almost cosmetic surgery — you can fix little things.

How do you make Auto-Tune not sound robotic? ›

Autotune sounds robotic because it is a software algorithm that artificially changes the pitch of a note very quickly. This is not something a human can do, therefore it sounds unnatural. Autotune can be configured to sound less robotic, particularly by using a slower re-tune speed.

What speed is best for autotune? ›

A Retune Speed around 25 tends to work quite well for most melodic vocals if a natural sound is what you're looking for.

How do you tell if an artist is using autotune? ›

You can hear it. If they have cranked it way up, the voice will sound robotic, like Cher in “Believe.” The less they cranked it up, the harder it is to tell. If the voice sounds too perfect it is probably autotuned.

Why do singers sound different live? ›

The vocal cords are also only part of the singing mechanism. The vocal cords cause the vibrations; however, the passing of those vibrations through the rest of the body affects the sound. This is one reason why your voice sounds different to other people and on a recording than inside your head.

Does Auto-Tune do anything with the retune speed at 0? ›

If you want a T-Pain-level of autotune (i.e. to sound like a robot), you can set the speed to 0, which is the fastest retune speed possible. But if you want something effective but less noticeable, you can set the speed between 20-150.

What Auto-Tune does Lil Uzi use? ›

All audio vocal tracks apart from the intro have Antares Auto-Tune as the first plug-in. Uzi hears his Auto-Tuned vocals in his headphones while singing.

How do you Auto-Tune correctly? ›

Auto-Tune can only be used on one track of a song at a time. So the first step is to isolate the track that you would like to pitch-correct and add an instance of Auto-Tune onto that track. If you want to correct multiple tracks, you can do that by creating multiple instances of Auto-Tune on each individual track.

How do I get natural Auto-Tune? ›

For natural, realistic sounding autotune, you'll want a slower retune speed (set it to where you barely hear it and then back it off a bit more) and maybe 10% flex tune to allow some wavering. That's it.

Does tuning reduce engine life? ›

There are many benefits to car engine tuning, including increased horsepower and torque, improved fuel efficiency, better throttle response and acceleration, enhanced engine sound, and increased engine lifespan.

Who was the first singer to use Auto-Tune? ›

Auto-Tune was popularized by Cher's 1998 song "Believe". While Auto-Tune was designed to be used subtly to correct vocal performances, the "Believe" producers used extreme settings to create unnaturally rapid corrections in Cher's vocals, thereby removing portamento, the natural slide between pitches in singing.

Who invented autotune? ›

Andy Hildebrand is the inventor of the voice pitch-correcting software called Auto-Tune. The first song published using Auto-Tune on the vocals was the 1998 song "Believe" by Cher.

Does NBA YoungBoy use autotune? ›

The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time

Thankfully, YoungBoy has cut back on the weepy Autotuned cheese he slathered over past projects like 2020's Top. Here, he deploys it strategically on choruses and a few fully Autotuned tracks like “Home Ain't Home,” his duet with fellow trap crooner Rod Wave.

Is Travis Scott auto tune? ›

Artists like Travis Scott use Autotune with the retune speed on 100%. This basically means that there is no flexibility in the vocal tuning.

Can Auto-Tune fix a bad voice? ›

I also think it is necessary to clarify that if a person sings badly, Auto-tune will not fix their voice, as many people think. The voice can be significantly improved with many tricks, Auto-tune is just one of them, and it doesn't have as much scope for action as people think.


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