Vocal riding

Vocal riding is the technique of controlling the volume of the vocals using the DAW’s automation. Minor miracles can be worked in this way, as vocal expression has much to do not only with intonation and timing but also with dynamics.

Many singers (especially the less practiced) never succeed in devoting their full attention to every last syllable. They reserve their concentration for the parts of a song that are technically difficult to sing, and the apparently easy bits – often individual words or syllables – just have to look after themselves. When these technically easy bits, to which so little attention is being paid, include key passages of the lyrics, the impression is given that the singer is just going through the motions and any hope of grabbing the audience where it lives, is lost. One way to dispel this impression ex post facto is to redraw the volume curve in the problem areas using volume automation.

Comping, too, gives rise to a need for volume correction where it involves a restless chopping and changing between multiple takes, as this is hardly conducive to the development of a smooth volume flow. This problem, too, can be solved through volume automation.

It is possible to use DAW automation to weld a plethora of tiny snippets into a coherent whole, but you can do the job more easily and swiftly in Melodyne. This is because:

  • The syllables there are already neatly isolated
  • You can identify breaths and sibilants visually, before selecting and editing them separately
  • The Amplitude Tool and corresponding shortcuts allow you to make volume adjustments rapidly
  • Since Melodyne is inserted ahead of the compressor in the signal chain, volume outliers (notes that are way too loud/soft) can be caught early at the blob stage, which leaves you free to make more conservative – or more creative – use of the compressor later.
  • It frees the DAW automation from the task of vocal riding, letting you dedicate it to more sweeping changes. The automation picture in the mix is accordingly clearer.

The quickest way to control the volume in Melodyne is by means of the keyboard shortcuts:

  • Use the right/left arrow keys to move from syllable to syllable

  • By holding down the Shift key and using the arrow keys, you can select successive blobs

  • The Cmd-up/down arrow combination increases/decreases the volume in 1 dB steps

  • By holding down the Alt key at the same time, you reduce the increments/decrements to 0.1 dB

It is also possible to type volume values directly into the inspector field:

Please note, however, that if the value displayed or entered is, for example, 0 dB, this is not to be understood in an absolute sense (as on a mixer, where if the fader is on 0 dB, you would expect the track in question to be relatively prominent in the mix). Instead the value should be understood as a relative one: 0 dB (for example) represents no change relative to the original recording. So if you type in 3 dB, this will make the blob 3 dB louder.