Using TC Helicon Audio Harmonies

User tips from the PowerTracks Pro Audio Songs Contest and the PG Music forums.

Last updated:  Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Introduction

Solo vocal or instrumental audio tracks come alive with the amazing TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies feature, included in newer versions of both Band-in-a-Box® and PowerTracks Pro Audio. Now it's "too easy" to add backup vocals, a horn section, or layered strings to your songs.

You decide exactly which notes are harmonized, either with the easy-to-use harmony presets or your own custom-tailored parts, and you can change the harmony to use different styles anywhere in the song. Powerful editing features let you create your own harmonies, fine-tuned for your individual song arrangements.

The outstanding entries submitted for the PowerTracks Pro Audio song contest demonstrated how effective the TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies can be for any user. Some entries used simple harmony presets to sweeten a lead vocal or instrumental, while others used fully customized 4-part harmonies for rich musical enhancements.

The PowerTracks Pro Audio Song Contest entries were judged by how effectively the Audio Harmonies were used in the song. As you'll hear when you listen to these examples, it wasn't easy to pick the winners. The judges felt that, in addition to the three prize winners, there were six more entries deserving of Honorable Mention.

All of these people have kindly shared their production tips for using the TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies. Here are their notes, along with audio examples from the songs to demonstrate the techniques described. If you like, you can click on this link to play a file with all of the audio harmonies examples compiled into a "medley."

1st Prize: Orie Clinton - She's Not Crying Over Him Any More

I sang the lead part of the song and used "harmonize to chord symbols of the song." I used 2 up and 1down voices (the 1 Down 2 Up setting). I used multiple mono tracks and harmonized the whole lead track, then I cut out the parts that I didn't want.

On the choruses I used all the harmony voices, the first verse I didn't use any harmony and on the second verse I cut all harmonies except one harmony voice.

1. She's Not Crying Over Him Any More

2.She's Not Crying Over Him Any More

3. She's Not Crying Over Him Any More

I then mixed all the vocals and panned them the way I wanted them and made a stereo wave file. This is where I added a touch of PG Reverb and PG Peak Limiter to bring the song up to good level.

I didn't change any of the default settings of the harmonizer.

Power Tracks is the software that I started on several years ago and that's the one I intend on staying with. I love it.

2nd Prize: Bob Harvey - After the Storm

Although this song had a good piano line for chord analyzing, the vocals didn't line up time-wise when I tried that option. For the choruses I ended up using the "Generate multi-part harmonies from multiple MIDI tracks" option. To do this I played each harmony part on its own MIDI track and then used those tracks in the above option. Next I had to use the Male/Female setting to get 2 guys and 1 girl effect. This took the most patience for getting the desired result. Lastly I played with the Timing and Portamento settings to get a real feel of a group together.

4. After the Storm

For the end "oohs" and "aahs" (at 2:39) I again did each voice on its own track, this time before the words, then added the vocal line "ooh" and "aah" for the phonics. On this part I wanted to get a choir sound so I used the same 2 boys and 1 girl setup.

5. After the Storm

For the third harmonized part (at 2:59) I went for something different and intentionally made the harmonizer synth-like using the available settings. This was using the Female setting to an extreme along with the Portamento more than usual.

6. After the Storm

The whole mix went thru PG Reverb in the Aux1 and PG Peak Limit in the main out.

All vocals recorded with Behringer B1 mic and Behringer MX602a mixer preamps. The rest of the sounds are Roland samples and piano. The guitar was a Strat thru a Boss PRO SE-50 processor.

The song is not done yet - we are adding real drums and will most likely clean up the guitar in the near future.

Most of all I had fun doing it!!

3rd Prize: Richard Harrow - Hobo Train

The Audio Harmonies feature was actually an important part of the writing of the song, as I started with the chorus and quickly sketched in the harmonies - 1 below, 2 above - using the "generate from chord sequence" function. Once the song was finished and sequenced I went back and output the individual harmonies to separate tracks, and made a few changes to finesse the parts using a guide MIDI track to re-output the voices (still 1 below, 2 above). I then created a lead vocal double with the MIDI guide and added it at a low level in the mix.

The drums and bass came from an Alesis D4 and a Korg M1R as virtual tracks, while the electric and acoustic pianos and the cymbals came from Gigasampler LE and were rendered as audio tracks.

The vocal and acoustic guitar were recorded using a Yamaha 01V mixer which I also used to mix the song back to a stereo track in PowerTracks Pro Audio. The whole thing was done on a rather modest P2 500 with an ADAT interface to the Yamaha mixer.

7. Hobo Train

By the way, I have owned PowerTracks since version 6 and absolutely love it! You make an excellent product! I have a day job as a mastering engineer at Canada Disc & Tape here in Calgary (www.candisc.com), and use (state-of-the-art programs) on a regular basis, but PowerTracks is it for me for my own projects. The standard notation with movable stems concept is brilliant - obviously made for musicians. I am about to finish my second CD totally written in PowerTracks. I have mixed it in surround and plan to release it in the SACD format which we are now capable of doing.

Thanks again for the prize and thanks for making such a great product!

Bob Harvey - Tunitup

See Bob's notes under "After the Storm."

Russ Stanton - Meat on the Bone

Doing the song was, really, pretty simple. Here's exactly what I did.

1. Created the basic song in Band-in-a-Box®.

2. Using a keyboard I created the melody line then chose a 3-part harmony to suit.

3. Exported midi file to PowerTracks Pro.

4. Sang the basic tune and then duplicated it 3 times, 3 for main vocal and 2 for harmony tracks.

5. Cut out the main vocal parts and left just the harmony parts I wanted for the last 2 tracks.

6. Applied the TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies, using the harmony MIDI tracks.

And there you have it in a nutshell. The TC-Helicon has become my personal magic wand. Thanks for such a great program.

8.Meat on the Bone

Murray Robinson - Power in the Tracks

Boy, I have got to be the worst example to use to demonstrate TC-Helicon. The bottom line (if I understand this correctly) is that the TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies feature REQUIRES MIDI information (notes or chords) to give it a reference when generating its harmonies. I did not know this and had quite an adventure trying to get it to work. As a demonstration of TC-Helicon was a requirement for the song contest, in desperation I finally just accepted the defaults and ran a 3 voice harmony on the "steel gang chant" vocal track of the song (with not a single note of MIDI in the entire song) and got several tracks of junk... BUT it did generate one REALLY interesting very deep voice that I was able to use.

The funny part is that in the feedback I got about the song, this part of the song using the TC-Helicon got the most praise.

9. Power in the Tracks

So... in all fairness I think it is important to point out to no-brainers like me that TC-Helicon NEEDS some MIDI chords or melody notes and for that reason it is not really a straight audio harmonizer as I believed it to be. But having said that... it gave me a really great affect without a single note of MIDI so what can I say? Having heard some of the examples by MIDI-smart users I am very impressed and will look forward to working with this harmonizer again.

Technical Note: The TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies feature in PowerTracks Pro Audio will generate harmonies from the chords of a song or from selected MIDI tracks. The chords for any song - MIDI or audio - can be typed in to the Chords window. If your MIDI file doesn't include chord symbols the PowerTracks Pro Audio MIDI Chord Wizard will interpret them for you.

John Dodge - Ruth and Sammy

I had only been using PowerTracks Pro Audio 9 for a few weeks when I entered the songs. I did most of the work on Band-in-a-Box® then tried to apply PowerTracks Pro Audio 9. I still have a lot to learn about PowerTracks Pro Audio 9. PG Tech support was a lot of help.

Note: John used the Audio Harmonies on his sax lead to create 3-part harmonies.

10. Sammy

Allanah Fuhre - Altered Glances

I first used melody pitch tracking to fix my vocal. Then I used the 1 Up 2 Down harmony output to a single stereo track and panned to center behind the lead. Then I used combinations of chordal harmony to wind up with 2 Up 2 Down mono harmony tracks which I panned to improve separation. Where there were repeated instances of the same harmony sections, such as '"altered glances," I cut the harmony from one and pasted it to the other to improve the ambience.

11. Altered Glances

The amazing thing is I had only one vocal track and the TC-Helicon harmonizer did all the rest.

Tips from the Forums

The TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies are a very popular feature of Band-in-a-Box® and PowerTracks Pro Audio. Many visitors to the PG Music forums have shared their ideas and techniques. Here are some great tips for using TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies taken from the Band-in-a-Box® and PowerTracks Pro Audio forums.

1. If you do not want to harmonize the whole song, I like to start a new track and sing unison with myself just on the parts where I want harmony. Then eliminate the lead part in the harmonizer. That makes the parts just a little different in timing and phrasing from the lead. If you don't want to do all that, the humanize controls on the right make some difference.

2. One thing I've found. It's wise to make a Lead track where you don't use so much vibrato in your voice. Otherwise it tends to sound off balance somehow. Probably what would be best is to have a duplicate track you sing along with yourself on where you cut the vocal vibrato to almost nothing. Then use that one for the harmony. That way you will stand out in the lead but the harmony will sound like a background singing group. You seldom ever hear a group where all the vibratos to the background singers are identical.

3. I also discovered that by adjusting the TIMING (I think it is)... you can force the harmonizer voices to not be so synchronized with the lead vocal. Adds a little "humanization" to it.

4.

a) Sing the main vocal line.

b) If possible copy the track and use tuning software to tune it. This isn't necessary, just nice to work with.

c) Using the main track as reference record a separate MIDI track playing a piano harmony line to the vocals. Try your best to play along with the vocals in perfect time; don't be late with a note as it'll show up later, but try not to be too early either. Go to another track and play a second (and third, again on separate MIDI tracks) harmony line.

d) Open harmonizer and choose the second option-'generate multipart harmony from multiple tracks' and carefully choose the tracks you recorded in each pull down and also make sure your original vocal track is listed in the upper right pull down where it looks for the source. Then click OK.

e) Use 'Preview' to tinker with the Male/Female settings until it starts sounding close to real. The slider on the left is the original vocal line - use it while auditioning but turn it down when you actually process the track so you can use the original to balance with later, this way you're not locked in to a mix.

It's not going to sound perfectly real. It will always have a little bit of the artificial sound but once it's mixed in you can get it to really sound good. Throw some reverb and the Hi Frequency Stimulator on it to put a little life back into it.

If you really want a more real sound try doing each harmony track this way one at a time, rather than a "choir" group version.

Tips from Braden - PG Music Tech Support

a) Try recording a counterpoint melody in places or echoes of the melody line and then applying harmonies to that track.

12. Take

Use the Timing, Pitch and Portamento options sparingly or it will sound like the backup vocalists could not stay in time, and the vocal can sound robotic. The Portamento will add slides or vocal scoops in a way that is not natural, if too much is applied. Be gentle, but experiment. (Less is better.)

b) Recording a track specifically for harmonizing is a good way to experiment with building dynamics from verse to chorus. You can mute tracks to hear different harmony combinations. Adding more harmony tracks at the chorus and less audio tracks during the early sections of a song is a great way to build dynamics in a song. This also applies to Instrumental tracks as well. Generally, less is better. JMHO.

c) When adding harmony vocals, determine the type of sound you are after first. The type of voice you are using to generate harmonies will determine the type of harmony tracks that are needed if you are after authentic sounding vocals.

13. Waiting

If you are going for a tight blended harmony with 1 male lead, and 2 female type backing voices, in real life I would try to give the female singers the harmony parts that forced their voices closest to the male voice. Rather than adding 2 female voices on top of the male voice, I would try a female voice below and one above. This would of course depend on the vocalists' vocal capabilities and the types of voices you are working with. Some voice combinations just do not blend. But, as a producer, that may be the type of sound you are trying to achieve.

With a male tenor lead, using the Audio harmonies, I would do the same as in real life, but on the low harmony voice, I would move the slider towards the female side and on the high voices I would move them slightly towards the male side. I would then generate the harmonies for the whole song and use the parts, cutting and pasting them where I needed them.

d) If you are going for a choral effect, generating more than one 4-part harmony with slightly different settings each time and then blending them will end in a very believable choir effect (if used tastefully).

e) If you can sing a harmony track to a lead vocal track, or get some one who can, you could always harmonize that track instead of using the original for the harmony track. Adding one different human vocal track goes a very long way towards the realism factor.

14. I Need

Mixing in general is an Art, much of it personal. Music is all about "LISTENING". (Big Ears) I for instance, can not work when music is on. I find myself stop working and listening to the mix. The important thing is to experiment a lot. This gets you familiar with the tools and refines your ability to know what you want and how to get it. Listen to your favorite commercial tunes and try to emulate the sounds you hear.

For more information on using the TC-Helicon Audio Harmonies in Band-in-a-Box® and PowerTracks Pro Audio, see the User Guides and Help files. PG Music's technical support staff is always ready to help and other users have lots to offer if you post to the Band-in-a-Box® or PowerTracks Pro Audio forums.

Have Fun!

Braden - PG Music Inc. Technical Support

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