What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (2023)

Have you ever wanted to make a vocal track artistically sound like a robot? Well, a way to achieve that is to use a vocoder effect.

In this post, you’ll learn how a vocoder works and how to use it in your music production.

Let’s get started!

A vocoder is an analog device or software plugin that manipulates the voice using a musical synthesizer to produce speech sounds. Sounds, like a mouthful? Let’s simplify that.

Essentially, a vocoder manipulates the human voice by filtering out all but a set of frequency bands. That gives you that robotic voice effect in pop music.

Here’s an example of a vocoder effect, in The Middle by Zedd (you’ll hear the vocoder kicking in at 0:30):

A vocoder is a great tool for creating exciting vocal effects – especially when you’re looking for that extra excitement, asides from the usual effects you add to a vocal track.

What are vocoder effects?

The vocoder was created in the 1920s, and you’ll hear them on many records from the 1970’s era. Vocoders were also used extensively by artists such as Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Stevie Wonder, and Daft Punk.

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably got interested to use them in your music – due to their resurgence in pop music.

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (1)

The Vocodex Vocoder in FL Studio

First of all, it’s important to note that you’ll find both hardware and software-based vocoders.

(Video) Setting Up Your DAW with Softube Vocoder – Softube

Hardware Vocoders

Hardware vocoders usually come in the form of keyboard synthesizers. Here are some popular hardware vocoders, that are also used for stage performances asides from production work.

Korg MicroKORG

The microKORG is a compact synthesizer and vocoder that uses an analog modeling tone generator. It includes a mini-mic and processes external audio via its audio inputs – opening up a world of creative possibilities.

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (2)

Roland VP-03 Boutique

An affordable, portable version of the VP-330 Vocoder Plus, one of the most popular vocoders in the industry, the Roland VP-03 brings together synthesis and human voice to create an interesting sound. The vocoder comes with the microphone for you to sing into, together with onboard human voice and string sounds.

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (3)

It has to be paired up with an additional keyboard unit, called the K-25M keyboard that is sold separately – to extend its playability.

Roland JD-X

Big sounds in a small package, the Roland JD-X is another example of a digital/analog synthesizer that enables you to explore vocoder effects as you perform on it with the gooseneck mic and AutoPitch effect. A powerful compact synthesizer that packs a lot of fun.

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (4)

Software Plugin-Based Vocoders

If you have a computer capable of running a DAW, you already have everything you need to start using vocoder effects. Most DAWs come with a stock Vocoder plugin. In FL Studio, for example, it’s called Vocodex (which we’re using for the tutorial in this post).

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (5)

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If you don’t like the Vocoder plugin that came included with your DAW, there are many third-party vocoder plugins that are more robust and add more creative possibilities, such as:

How does a vocoder work?

For a vocoder to work it needs a Modulator signal (usually a human voice) to analyze. The vocoder splits the signal into multiple frequency bands. These frequency bands are then set as bandpass filters, following the same frequencies.

Then a sound source, called aCarrier,is sent through the bandpass filters. The carrier signals are filtered, with harmonic content following the frequencies of the modulator signals – resulting in the sound source sounding like a robotic voice (when the signal passes through fewer frequency bands).

Software vocoders have a lot more freedom in how many bands can be used. For example, the one I use in FL Studio has 100 bands available.

Kraftwerk’s song “The Robots” is a good example of using a lower number of bands to achieve a very synthetic robot sound.

Daft Punk is famous for their use of vocoders. Here is a good example:

How to set up a Vocoder in your DAW.

In this tutorial, we’ll use the vocoder plugin in FL Studio. Don’t worry if you’re using a different DAW, because fundamentally, the steps to using a vocoder are similar.

Once you are familiar with how to use it, then you can begin exploring more creative uses. Lets’ move on.

Step 1 – Record your vocals.

Record a vocal that you want to use for the Modulator.

Even if you already have a lead vocal track you want to use, it is still good to record a version for use in the vocoder. The reason for this is you want to have an exaggerated pronunciation in the vocal. This enables the vocoder to switch bands more easily.

Ideally, you can record the lyrics by just speaking them instead of singing them, to get a more robotic sound. Then to create an interesting sound, layer the lead vocal with the vocoder track.

(Video) Sound Design with the Vocoder in Studio One 6

Step 2 – Launch the vocoder (on its on track)

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (6)

Open your vocoder plugin on its own track, not on the vocal track. The vocoder acts as an instrument on its own, so make sure that it’s not loaded on your vocal or synth track (in the next step).

Step 3 – Launch a synth & program a chord progression.

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (7)

Launch a synth and load up (preferably) an unfiltered saw wave sound. Add some unison voices to fill out the patch for a more fuller sound.

Then program a chord progression to fit with your vocal track. Once you’ve arranged a chord progression, here’s the important part: make sure to sidechain the output of the synth track into the vocoder.

Many beginners miss out on this part when they attempt using vocoders for the first time. Remember, for a vocoder to work, it needs a Modulator signal, which in this case is our synth chord progression track.

Step 4 – Sidechain the vocal track into Vocoder.

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (8)

Next, we’re going to sidechain the earlier vocal track into the vocoder plugin. The steps to sidechain a track might be different depending on the DAW you use, so make sure to check out how to do sidechaining on your DAW.

Step 5 – Select input tracks on the vocoder plugin.

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (9)

Launch the vocoder plugin effect. You’ll find that you have two input tracks on the top part of the window.

Choose to input both tracks – Modulator (vocal track) and the Carrier (synth track) into the vocoder plugin. Make sure to choose the correct tracks.

That’s it.

Hit play on your DAW and your vocoder should be working, producing a robotic-sounding vocal track. Once you’re able to accomplish this, play around with the settings and experiment producing a unique sound.

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How to alter the sound of the vocoder.

Here’s a quick run-down of what the dials and knobs on most vocoders do.

What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (10)

Bands – On all software vocoders you can select the number of frequency bands to affect the sound. Generally, the lower the number of bands – the more robotic the sound and visa-versa the high number – the more natural sounding.

Bandwidth – This simply changes the frequency range of each band. You can increase the bandwidth so that the bands cross over one another and this creates a shimmery effect.

Modular Pitch or Formant control – Much like in Pitch Correction plugins, the modular pitch gives you the ability to choose whether the sound is high pitched or low pitched without changing the notes.

Filters – For the Carrier and Modulator signals. These respective filters just allow you to cut out unwanted frequencies from the input of each.

Attack and Release – Effects like compressors have this function and in the vocoder, it works in much the same way. The attack and release control the envelope and determine the speed at which the effects will work on the sound. For vocals, it is better to have a fast attack and release to get more sibilance.

Unison – This control allows you to add unison voices to the sound that are slightly offset to give the impression of a fuller sound.

Carrier – By changing the tonal quality of the carrier you can make the sound of the vocoder drastically different. Play around with different synths to get the sound you want.

Getting creative with vocoder effects.

Vocoder effects are usually used for vocal tracks, but there’s no reason why you can’t experiment with other sound inputs. Use it on guitars, drums, keyboards, and sound effects, to see what interesting sounds you’ll get.

The best way to learn to use vocoders is to practically use and experiment with them. I hope reading this post has given you some ideas about using a vocoder, but the magic comes when you launch your DAW and actually use it.

How are you creatively using vocoder effects? Let me know in the comment section below.

Guest post by:

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What is a Vocoder & How To Use it on Your DAW - Audio Mentor (11)Graeme is the founder and chief editor at HomeStudioLabs.com. His goal is simple…to help you cut through the fluff and figure what you need to make great music at home. He’s been a working musician and hobbyist music producer for the last 17 years. He studied music in Canada and received a Bachelor of Arts in Music. In 2004 he bought his first audio interface and a copy of Pro Tools. Since then he has spent countless hours learning, recording, and mixing. His passion has been his Home Studio.

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FAQs

What is a vocoder and how does it work? ›

A vocoder works by analyzing the sound of a modulator signal, which is usually a human voice. The modulator signal is split into many frequency bands. The level of each band is sent as a signal to a corresponding bandpass filter. The filter is set to the same frequency that was analyzed.

What does a vocoder do to a sound? ›

A vocoder is an audio effect that lets you impose the dynamics and changing spectral content of one sound (the modulator) onto another (the carrier). The modulator is usually the human voice, speaking or singing, while the carrier is usually a bright synthesizer.

What is a vocoder in simple terms? ›

A vocoder (/ˈvoʊkoʊdər/, a portmanteau of voice and encoder) is a category of speech coding that analyzes and synthesizes the human voice signal for audio data compression, multiplexing, voice encryption or voice transformation.

Is vocoder the same as autotune? ›

Auto-Tune and vocoders are completely different animals, although both can be used creatively to impart an artificial, synthetic timbre to a singer's voice.

Do you sing or speak into a vocoder? ›

Carry on singing

Note that it's the voice characteristics that are imposed upon the carrier, not the voice pitch, so to make your voice 'sing' you talk into the vocoder and generate the required notes by changing the pitch of the carrier, perhaps by playing a keyboard.

What kind of sound does a vocoder make? ›

The vocoder is a device first developed by Homer Dudley in 1928 to generate continuous human speech electronically. Now, for a music producer, it is a plugin that imparts the characteristics of the human voice on another sound like a synth pad. It is what generates the “robot-like” singing voice.

Why is vocoder important? ›

The most important aspect of the vocoder is it's ability to make a synthesized sound mimic a real world sound. It is through this 'transformation' that it is possible.

What was the first song to use a vocoder? ›

Carlos' soundtrack for “A Clockwork Orange” in 1971 is one the earliest known uses of the vocoder in a musical setting.

What instruments are in vocoder? ›

A vocoder is a special type of synthesizer that changes how your voice sounds. By running your vocal track through the vocoder, you can make it sound more robotic.

Is vocal synth a vocoder? ›

The classic “talking synth,” the Vocoder gives you the vocal sounds you know and love from famous recordings such as Michael Jackson's “P.Y.T,” with the flexibility to create something new. Choose from 10 distinct presets and three distinct vocoder types, and fine tune with the Shift and Scale controls.

How do you make your vocals sound crisper? ›

To create crisp vocals, use a higher shelf, moderate saturation, then for your de-emphasis attenuate less than you originally amplified. This causes the saturators to work harder on high frequencies, resulting in a crisp sound and then balances out the spectrum so the effect isn't too aggressive.

Is there a device that can change your voice? ›

SOUND CARD VOICE CHANGER

It can be used directly on your favorite headphones, mobile phones, and computers, and the sound will change according to your preferences. The mini voice changer is compatible with a variety of devices, including gamepads, ps4, notebooks, computers, tablets, mobile phones, etc.

What is the best auto-tune for vocals? ›

1. Antares Autotune Pro by Antares Audio Technologies. Considered by many to be the best autotune and pitch correction software, Antares has been at the top of the game for decades. Their software is used as the standard when it comes to the big leagues in many of the top recording studios worldwide.

Which autotune do professionals use? ›

The Professional Standard for Pitch Correction

Auto-Tune Pro X is the most advanced Auto-Tune edition ever. It includes a redesigned Graph Mode for detailed pitch and time editing, Auto Mode for real-time correction, runs natively on Apple Silicon, and has ARA2 support for Logic and Studio One.

How do you open your throat when singing? ›

One helpful technique for ensuring that the resonating spaces are open is using the neutral vowel 'uh' in the larynx and pharynx - that is, assuming this shape within the throat - before bringing focus into the tone and singing the desired vowel. This technique allows the open pharynx to be established first.

Should you feel your throat when singing? ›

You shouldn't feel tightness or pain in your throat. You shouldn't have to tense any part of your body to excess. It should feel GOOD.

Should you use your throat when singing? ›

You should never sing from your throat—the power behind your voice is your breath, and your breath should be supported by your diaphragm. Sing from your core, allow your vocal cords to relax, and let your voice resonate in your chest, pharynx and face. Don't worry if this doesn't immediately make sense to you.

What is the most realistic text to speech voice? ›

NaturalReader, Speechify, and Amazon Polly have the most lifelike human-sounding voices of all text-to-speech applications. Polly's Neural Text-to-Speech (NTTS) makes it a leading choice, with Speechify coming in close behind.

What synth to use for vocoder? ›

Vocoder World

Popular synth models include the Novation MiniNova, Waldorf STVC, Korg microKORG XL+, Behringer VC340, and Roland JUNO-DS88. The input is often an XLR type for dynamic mics, but with a suitable adapter (and perhaps a way to pad the signal) you can use other signal sources.

Can any synth be a vocoder? ›

A vocoder includes sets of bandpass filters and envelope followers in order to detect and control the level of the sound in each frequency band. Not every synth, not even a nice one like the OB-6, has a vocoder. There are some very cheap synths, like microKorgs, that include vocoders.

What's the difference between a talk box and a vocoder? ›

A talk box is a device that uses the human voice to change the characteristics of an instrument (such as a guitar). You can hear it's demonstration on Peter Framptons's “Do you feel like I do?” A vocoder is a device that filters and processes a human voice, and spits it out again sounding computerized and robotic.

Who made the vocoder popular? ›

But if one modern artist stands out for making the vocoder sound a staple of popular music, it's Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force with the breakthrough hit “Planet Rock.”

Is a vocoder an instrument? ›

Although they were originally developed in the 1920s for communications purposes, the vocoder found a niche within electronic music as an instrument for creating “robotic” vocal sounds. In modern popular music, vocoded sounds remain as popular as ever.

What is the oldest known tune? ›

Hurrian Hymn No. 6” is considered the world's earliest melody, but the oldest musical composition to have survived in its entirety is a first century A.D. Greek tune known as the “Seikilos Epitaph.” The song was found engraved on an ancient marble column used to mark a woman's gravesite in Turkey.

Is a vocoder a synth? ›

A vocoder is a special type of synthesizer that changes how your voice sounds. By running your vocal track through the vocoder, you can make it sound more robotic.

How does Vocodex work? ›

Vocodex allows you to change the number of vocoding bands from 5 to 100 (using the Bands selector). Generally the more bands used, the more like the original (Modulator sound), the vocoded sound will be (within the limits of the Carrier's frequency range and timbre, see below).

Does FL Studio have a vocoder? ›

Fruity Vocoder is an advanced real-time vocoder effect with a wide range of adjustable parameters and zero latency. Vocoding is the process of using the frequency spectrum of one sound to modulate the same in another.

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