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Sound Design: Digital Voice

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Hey everyone—thank you once again for reading my tutorial! Today we are going to take a voice (singing in this case) and make it sound like it "digitally breaking down." What do I mean by that? Well have take a listen to the example and find out! Ready to go? Then lets break some bits! (Or bytes if your prefer.)

Step 1: Creating the Digital Sound

First we need to determine what the core sound should be that we will use to break down the vocals. When I think of something sounding "digital" I usually think of wind chimes. Wind chimes have a very bright attack, a quick decay, but a long sustain (especially if the chimes keep hitting one another) and you could say it is like little pieces of data being quickly sent off somewhere.

And while this is all well and good, if we use wind chimes as they are, we will get a smooth fade away that to me doesn't sound much like a break down. But fear not we can get that sharp breaking effect from some simple sample manipulation.

  • First load your sample into your DAW of choice, in my case I am using FL Studio's Audio Clip instrument. I recommend using a sample that has plenty of sustain notes and plenty of louder harsher notes so you have some variety.
  • Next reverse your sample so that the attack of each chime note is now towards the end of your sample. For those of you using FL Studio's Audio Clip, the sample reverse button is in the bottom left of the Audio Clip box.

Here is what it should sound like thus far:



Step 2: Setting Up The Voice

In this next step we will set up the vocals so that we can manipulate them with our digital sound. For this I decided to use a sample of little kids singing ring and the roses from freesound.org submitted by studiorat. Here is the part that I used:

Really creepy huh? To setup this sample make sure it setup in a mixer track next to the one that holds your digital sound. On your effects inserts, place a vocoder. Note that this vocoder must be side chainable! Without the ability to side chain the digital sound into the voice this tutorial will not work. For FL Studio users I recommend using Vocodex as it is by far the of the most powerful vocoders out there.

Step 3: Side Chaining

Now that we have laid out the groundwork by setting up our digital sound and voice of choice we need to connect them. To do this we need to side chain the digital sound's track to the voice track. Unfortunately every DAW tends to be different in how they handle side-chaining. In almost every case though, there will be an auxiliary or AUX send from the digital sound track to the voice track.

For those of you using FL Studio, here is how you set up an AUX send:

  • Click your digital sound track, then under the voice track there should an arrow pointing upwards that when you click turns yellow. Afterwards a small potentiometer should appear (it looks like a pan pot).
  • Turn this pot until it is all the way down to the left and at 0%.
  • Next go into Vocodex in your voice track and set the modulator side chain input to 0 and the carrier side chain input to 1. For those of you who know anything about vocoders, you will have probably realized that we in fact are not actually modulating the voice with the effect. In actuality we are using the voice to modulate the effect, essentially making the digital sound talk.

The reason we have the new pot set to 0% is because in FL Studio you would actually hear the raw chime sound on top of the processed effect from the side chain. I know it is a little odd but if you want to effect the voice without hearing the digital sound then this is how you must do it.

Step 4: Vocoding

Now that we have everything lined up we need to actually place our digital effect inside our time line. If you picked a good sample then it will have plenty of variety in swells and softer passages. Cut up and copy your sample across the length of your voice clip. You will only hear the voice when there is a digital effect sample aligned with it; remember this is where you can get creative with your effect.

Once that is done head back to your vocoder and hit play. Now you will probably not be completely satisfied with the results yet; I know I wasn't. The biggest issue with vocoders tends to be the intelligibility of the diction in the voice. Now you will most likely have to adjust your vocoders settings to bring out the clarity of the voice a little more. While I cannot speak for every vocoder, if you are using Vocodex these are the parameters I changed:

  • The Wet/Dry mix was at 100% wet
  • The number of bands was 40
  • The band order was a second level order
  • The band width was a 150%

Here is our sound now:

Step 5: Final Touches

At this point our sound is basically constructed and the core idea is there. Now you have options if you want to play with it further. If you want a really cracked and broken sound I would recommend adding a bit crushing distortion to the effects chain. If you want something more liquid sounding try playing flanging to see what kind of sound you get.

I personally wanted something very cold and empty sounding so I went with some simple reverb. However if you do use any of these effects. Try playing with them being placed before and after the vocoder to see what kind of sound you get. Remember also that you will need to keep the diction of the voice to get any real effect so careful how much processing you use.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and hope you have learned something valuable in sound design and vocal processing. Thanks!

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