Hi all. Let me preface this post by saying it comes from a place of deep respect and appreciation with the goal of improving custom song releases, both past and future.
Recently I was playing with my band mate and we both got a bit frustrated with a great pack of awesome songs all by the same artist from the same author. My band mate always sings and I always do backing vocals while playing guitar or bass. We both noticed during these three songs that we were getting slaughtered on expert vocals, and, frankly, we're pretty damn good singers. She aired her frustration and I understood how she felt, but now that I'm an author myself I understand how to address the root of her frustrations. I told her that it seems like many authors use MIDIs to chart their vocals, and that's fine, but it causes big problems for vocalists because it's playing a synthesized melody performed by a robot. The problem is: humans aren't robots, and this is compounded by the fact that microphones don't easily pick up every noise we humans make when we sing.
Privately, I've always told fellow authors that "less is more" when it comes to placing vocal tubes in Reaper, but now I want to publicly expand on that idea. It comes down to this philosophy: you want the vocalist to hit the mark, not fill the tank.
"What the hell are you on about, bra?"
Fill the Tank
I use this phrase because so often while singing vocals for custom releases (and, not infrequently, even with Harmonix songs) I have to sing very unlike the actual singer of the song I'm hearing on the track. I have to hold out notes for much longer than would be natural in order to fill the tank enough to please the game engine and get an Awesome, and it really snuffs out the spark that makes karaoke so fun. As an author, you should want your singer to sing as if they're the real performer and to have fun while doing it. Playing a Chili Peppers song? You're now Anthony Kiedis. Jamming to some Arctic Monkeys? You become Alex Turner. Nobody likes pretending to be Vocalbot9000. Filling the tank is bad. So what mind set should you have when charting vocals?
Hit the Mark
The way I chart vocals for Rock Band 3 customs (both for my own releases and my many contributions to other authors) is to make it so the player just so happens to be hitting the same note as the performer in the source audio at critical times. This means the vocalist shouldn't have to try to fill the tubes. That's no fun, son. And this doesn't mean you can't use MIDIs as the base for your vocals chart! You just need to make sure you shorten every tube at both the beginning and end of the tube. I really only place tubes where there's an unmistakable vowel sound happening.
Less is More
Generally speaking, 90% of the customs database could benefit from these ideas. Many customs of otherwise dazzling quality still are a bit lacking in the vocals department... and I understand why: charting vocals is tough and very time consuming. But nothing sucks more than singing on expert difficulty (with a partner!), sounding solid, and being told you're Messy. So where do I think authors should pay the most attention to tube length?
1. The very end of tubes. This is the sssssin we've all had to sssssuffer through, so we just need to be aware of it. And many more soundssssss other than ssss are problematic. If the singer has already hit the note at the beginning of the tube, he or she shouldn't be punished for not holding it out for the exact duration of the singer in the source audio.
2. The downward slide at the end of tubes. You know what? JUST DON'T CHART THESE UNLESS the singer is aiming for a very specific note which you can identify and fits with the melody. Frankly, it's absurd to expect a vocalist to trail off at the end of a word just like the performer, and this is one of my biggest pet peeves.
3. The very beginning of tubes. I never, ever have a tube beginning at the very start of a measure... because most consonant sounds aren't going to be picked up! So truncating the beginning of a tube is a good idea. But even worse...
4. The upward slide at the beginning of tubes. So many authors don't chart this but really should. Having a tube without the necessary upward slide absolutely punishes good singers for trying to do a good job and is extremely frustrating. I speak from experience!
When I began charting vocals that were good enough to be released, I was using the 128th tip brush. I've learned that this is rarely necessary and am now saving myself a significant amount of time when charting by using the good ol' 64th tip brush. Just make sure you're scrubbing accurately and often (that is, constantly). I learned how to scrub from Nyxyxylyth's tutorial on YouTube, which you can find here, but you might also want to check out my post in this thread.
I hope this post is helpful, and I welcome feedback, comments, suggestions, or criticisms. Thanks for reading!