Line6Piper (aka Matt Piper) explains how a vocoder works, and teaches you how you can use Propellerhead Record + Reason to vocode with your guitar! Matt is the in-house Propellerhead Product Specialist at Line 6, and the author of the acclaimed instructional guide, Reason 4 Ignite.
I have always been attracted to the sound of a vocoder. I remember the first time I heard “Let’s Groove” by Earth Wind & Fire, the first time I witnessed the shiny metal Cylons on the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, and the first time I heard “Mr. Roboto” by Styx. Although vocoding is a relatively old technology, it still seems like magic (and so much fun) every time I hear it – or especially when I see someone doing it.
Vocoding was developed in the 1930’s for encoding speech for encrypted transmission (voice + encoder = vocoder). Here’s how it works (in its common musical application): A human voice is split into separate frequency bands. The ever-changing levels of these bands are used to continuously equalize (filter) audio signal from a synthesizer. So the “shape” of the human voice signal is applied to the synthesizer signal. The audio signal from the synthesizer is called the carrier signal, and the voice signal is called the modulator signal, because it modulates (modifies) the carrier signal.
Propellerhead Reason has included a virtual vocoder for some time, but since Reason has no audio input, only previously recorded signals could be vocoded. However, by using Reason together with Propellerhead Record, live vocoding is possible! And you don’t have to use a synthesizer if you don’t want to – you can use an electric guitar instead! Although we have all heard famous recordings that feature use of a talk box (Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do,” Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way”), I have personally never heard a guitar used for vocoding before. But that’s exactly what the following video is going to teach you how to do!
Technical notes about the video: You will notice I added a compressor to the vocal signal. I did this to provide a smooth, consistent audio signal for the vocoder’s modulator input. The compressor decreases the difference in signal level between the loudest and softest audio passages. The effect is subtle and the step is optional. Also, your ears may detect that I added some reverb, but I did not include that step in the video.
Need to vocode right away? Download the setups used in the video! To download Record setups for vocoding with guitar, vocoding with Thor, as well as the “Boogie on Down” Thor patch used in the video, click here!