Ditty-A-Day #003: Vocoders can be useful.


Love or hate ’em, you probably have the ability to do some type of vocoder action in your electronic rig. Many of us have these features built-in in our modern (and vintage) hardware synths and DAWs, but seldom use them. I’m not sure why others don’t use them as much (step learning curve? difficult to setup and use?), but for me it was a creative block or the “my idea is not good enough” syndrome, as applied to vocoder use. But I found a way to embrace vocoding: simply pre-record your source material beforehand. That’s it.

Simple Process: Prepare good, clean hi-res audio files ahead of time, and run them through a vocoder after-the-fact. So go dust off your seldom-used vocoder software/hardware and try it out.

I used a vocoder in a live electronic music festival (EM2011) last September: the Korg MS2000R hardware synth, which has a stereo line-in that can be used for running any sound source through its vocoder. My pre-recorded material was played back from Tascam DR-03 digital hand recorder into the vocoder inputs. I produced the synth notes & vocoder balance manually from the face of the Korg (no need for a midi controller in this case). This setup was used to open my set with spoken words of my son & I quietly chanting “Mind, Body, Heart, Soul.”

What you hear in this Ditty file:
The dry “Mind-Body-Heart-Soul” pre-recorded chant with some reverb on it, which slowly fades into being a vocoded sound while the notes are triggered in real time. For those not in the know, the Korg MS2000R is the predecessor of the popular microKorg; and in fact uses the same patch data structure.

iPad/iPhone/iPad Touch users:
CLICK HERE to hear this track.

  1. jerde said:

    Listened to this last night and have been thinking about how overused vocoders have become. At least for all the wrong reasons (pitch correction). And I do think some people may shy away from them because they can be quirky. I’ve had my share of a learning curve with the EHX Voice Box and the multiple vocoder options in Reason. Even as a singer who is used to working without all those frills, it’s nice to explore different textures and personas. Like anything else, use in moderation is the key.

    The trick of recording a dry track and applying to vocoder later is a good one. This also lets you audition various sounds easily.

  2. @Jerde: I feel the same way about pitch shifting, and similarly about the Ring Modulation and Bit Crunching effects.
    Alternately… you can never have too much delay or reverb. That’s the space music artist in me saying that last sentence.

  3. Thomas said:

    Autotune SUX with an X, but this is clearly not that. I love the honey dipped goodness of vocoder efx. Listening to this just makes me yearn for a baseline to drop so I can swirl in all its deliciousness 🙂

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