How to create an instrumental melody line that follows the vocal using Band-in-a-Box and Melodyne

If you want a detailed step-by-step guide on how to make and perform with Band-in-a-Box backing tracks, have a look at my eBook "Band-in-a-Box 101: A beginners guide to making and performing with Band-in-a-Box backing tracks"

For more information on creating your first song using Band-in-a-Box and RealBand check out my online video course First Song with Band-in-a-Box for Windows

In this blog post I will walk you through the process that I use to create an instrumental melody line (say with a flute) that follows the vocal melody in a song. 

Have a listen to this song I recorded a while back. It is a cover of John Denver's "Shanghai Breezes"

You will immediately notice the instrumental flute in the introduction and in the instrumental break that follows the melody line of the song. (Yes, I know it needs a little bit of reverb but I mixed this quite a while ago.)

The first thing to note about these flute phrases is that they are produced using MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and not with audio. This means that the actual musical "performance" or notes are stored as data and not as sound waves. I do not want to get technical about MIDI (mainly because I don't understand all of it) but suffice it to say that, with MIDI, the computer can interpret the data in various ways and turn that data into musical notes that we can hear. Based on the instructions you give it, the computer can turn the data in to flute sounds or piano sounds or even kazoo sounds. 

So now, we understand that the instrumental melody that I made in the above example is made with MIDI and not with me actually playing and recording a flute (I wish I could!) and also not by recording on a MIDI device such as a MIDI keyboard (my keyboard playing is also slightly lacking!).

The next point to note is that the MIDI performance is made by converting the vocal audio track (that I made when I recorded my lead vocal) into a MIDI file that can be imported into my DAW and used as I please.

You will need the Melodyne Assistant version (or higher) of Melodyne to save audio as MIDI. Here is a link for you to find out more information about Melodyne.  Melodyne Home Page There is also a trial version (which lasts a month) that you can use to try this out. If you are serious about improving the sound of your vocals then Melodyne is an absolute must and is well worth the money spent. I know there are other tools for converting wave files to MIDI but Melodyne is the one that I use.

So with that background, lets dive into my process.

1. Record your vocal in RealBand or Band-in-a-Box

For this blog post I will assume you know how to record into RealBand or Band-in-a-Box. If you record into Band-in-a-Box, the wave file of your vocal will be stored right alongside your Band-in-a-Box file and will have the same name as your Band-in-a-Box file. So, in this example the file "14 - Shanghai Breezes" Wave file is the audio of my vocal recording.

If you are recording with RealBand, then export the vocal track as a wave file. Make sure that you have audio that goes right to the beginning of the RealBand track. In RealBand right click on the track with the vocal on it and select  "Select whole track". 

Make a note of the track tempo and meter. In this case meter is 4/4 the track tempo is 103. 

Please note: I have not had much luck with using this method for waltz tracks. If anybody else has, please let me know how you did it!

Now go to "Render" and select "Export Highlighted Section (or entire track) to wav....) and save the vocal as a wave file. 

2. Open Melodyne in stand-a-lone mode and edit tempo

I know it is possible to use Melodyne as a plugin but I have found it much easier to work with it in stand-a-lone mode.

Before you import the vocal, update the meter and the tempo. Then import your vocal and make sure that the tempo has not changed. You need to be precise about the tempo otherwise the MIDI file will not line up properly in your DAW.

3. Tune your lead vocal 

This step is not strictly necessary but you will find you will get the best results if you tune your lead vocal first. This in itself is a very deep topic and wont be covered in this particular blog post. If you would like to learn more about tuning your vocals using Melodyne have a look at this video.

4. Export your vocal as a MIDI file

Now go to "File" "Export"

And save as a "MIDI" file.

5. Import Midi file into RealBand, edit and assign instruments

Now comes the fun part. Import the midi file into a track in RealBand. In RealBand go "File" then "Import" and select the MIDI file you have just created.

Solo your vocal and solo the midi track. 

Note; By default it will be the "General Midi piano" that is playing.The MIDI track should follow the vocal line quite nicely. There will, however be some "bad"  notes that will need to be edited. I find the easiest way to do this is by using the "Piano Roll" function. Using this screen is a little bit of a fiddle but you will soon learn your way around it.

You can delete notes, move them around and also change the note duration.I find it best to simplify the MIDI track by removing passing notes (or the "little twirly bits")  and lengthening the more prominent notes.

Once you are happy with your MIDI track you can experiment by assigning different instruments to your MIDI track.

If you have a MIDI synth module, assign it using the "Specific VSTi/DXI Synth for MIDI Track. (I use Dimension Pro from Cakewalk which is awesome but not cheap!). Otherwise, use the "Program" option to assign instruments using your default instruments. I often like to try out the string and synth options to thicken out the sound in the chorus. Another neat trick is to transpose the entire midi track up and down an octave. (Click the MIDI track, then click "Edit", then "MIDI", then "Pitch Transpose MIDI Music).

6. Convert MIDI track to audio and add effects

This is another optional step because you can just work with and edit the MIDI track as it is .However,  I do find it easier to convert the MIDI track to audio and work with it as audio. This is because I often fiddle around with the track quite a bit and find it easier to do this fiddling on audio.  For example I like to fade in and out and stretch it and add effects and cut and paste it to another region of the song, etc, etc, etc..)

Well, that is about it for my process. I would love to hear your process and if you have other ways of achieving the same result.