Listen to the radio. Maybe your favorite CD. If you’re listening to the vocals, it will seem like every single word is exactly where it should be.
Not that every word is perfectly on the beat, but it is exactly where it feels right.
But why are they like that? Is it because the vocalists are just that good? In most cases – no. In most cases, it is because the vocals were well produced and pocketed.
So what does it mean to pocket a vocal? Does it mean using elastic audio or flex time to analyze and move the words to the grid? Nope. Does it mean using pushing the notes around until they’re exactly on the grid? Nope. Then what does it mean?
Pocketing vocals is not simply using whichever tool you prefer to put the vocals on the grid. While this may be the best approach for some styles of music when it comes to the drums, bass, or other instruments, it is never the case for vocals.
Even rap songs are not always on the grid – but they can be perfect nonetheless.
Because the vocals are so natural to us – we know what it sounds like when someone sings or talks – it can sound terribly robotic when a vocal is put on the grid. That is why the first secret to pocketing vocal tracks like a pro is put it where if feels right, not where it looks right.
Even if it’s slightly behind the beat or way out in front of the beat, if it fits the song and feels right, that’s where it should be. Don’t even look at the grid when you’re listening back – just feel the performance and nudge it until it’s absolutely perfect.
The second problem with putting each word on the grid is that it can completely change the vocalist’s inflection. When a vocalist sings a track, certain phrases are strung together for effect, and it sounds good when they are done well. Good editors know this, which is why the second secret to pocketing vocal tracks like a pro is move phrases, not words. Nudge words, not syllables.
It is essential to keep a vocalists inflection if at all possible, and moving words within key phrases can sometimes mess all that up. Nudging syllables is also not a good idea – keep it at the word level.
With these top tips, you should be able to get stunning vocal performances out of your tracks. Try them out using whatever pocketing method feels best for you! (I like using Melodyne for pocketing, but EA, manual, or other tuning plugins will do the trick!) Let us know if there are any other top tips you’ve picked up along the way for pocketing vocals like a pro!