What does Melodyne ARA integration mean for you as a Pro Tools user?
Comparing the feature sets and relative merits of different DAWs is natural, and while it can degenerate into pointless rows online, if all the other major DAWs have an important feature and yours doesn’t, then that’s not going to go unnoticed. If that feature remains missing for years then frustration is understandable.
ARA is one such feature. It has been notably absent from Pro Tools for years, but in an unusual move, Avid have pre‑announced ARA integration with Melodyne, and this has made many people very happy. It’s not available at the time of writing but is expected for the 2022.9 release of Pro Tools, which will be out by the time you read this. Melodyne Essential has been bundled as part of Pro Tools subscriptions and active support plans since Pro Tools 2020.11. It is a key element in the audio‑to‑MIDI functionality introduced in that release, so when ARA integration with Melodyne becomes available, current Pro Tools users will already have access to Melodyne.
It has always been possible to use Melodyne with Pro Tools, but previously this involved an inconvenient transfer process known as ‘round-tripping’. Selected audio was exported from Pro Tools into Melodyne and, once tuning and timing correction was done, the audio was imported back into Pro Tools. It worked, but anyone who has experienced ARA understands what a vibe‑killer round-tripping is in comparison. Imagine if you had to export audio out to a separate reverb application rather than using a real‑time plug‑in. (Actually, I don’t have to imagine. My Pro Tools 5 LE system with a Digi 001 interface shipped with D‑Verb, and I used to print my reverb sends and import them into Wavelab so I could run them through a better‑sounding VST reverb. I didn’t do that for long...)
This integration with ARA brings Melodyne into Pro Tools, giving a seamless experience between the two applications.
This integration with ARA brings Melodyne into Pro Tools, giving a seamless experience between the two applications. Having had a demonstration I can say I’m really looking forward to getting hands on with ARA Melodyne as, in workflow terms, there will no longer be the flow‑killing realisation that it’s time to stop what you’re doing because you’re going to have to run some pitchy vocals out to Melodyne before you can get back to mixing.
ARA, or Audio Random Access, works rather differently to a conventional plug‑in. It is an extension which allows third‑party software to ‘see’ an entire performance rather than just the information at the playhead. This allows lots of very powerful things to be done which are beyond the capabilities of a conventional real‑time plug‑in. A key difference between ARA and plug‑in formats like AAX is that integration of an ARA application and a host DAW is developer‑specific. This means that the work that Avid and Celemony have done bringing Melodyne to Pro Tools won’t allow other ARA software to work with Pro Tools until the necessary work between Avid and those developers is completed. That being said, there is likely to be much common ground between these integrations, so I would speculate that other software won’t be far behind.
ARA was introduced as the result of a collaboration between Celemony and PreSonus back in 2011, with ARA 2 adding extra functionality in 2018. The integration with Pro Tools is based on ARA 2. It’s simple and very effective. There have been some tweaks to the user interface to accommodate the new functionality, and for typical vocal tuning work, the learning curve will be gentle.
As already mentioned, you do of course have to have a version of Melodyne installed to use these features. Most users will already have the bundled Melodyne Essential, and if you have a higher version of Melodyne, for example Melodyne Studio, then all the features of that version become available through ARA too. As before, audio has to be analysed before Melodyne can get to work, but this is much, much faster than round-tripping. Analysis can be done on a whole track or on a clip‑by‑clip basis, in much the same way as Real Time MIDI Properties or Elastic Audio can be applied to a whole track or to individual clips.
On the subject of Elastic Audio, track‑based Melodyne is accessed through some new additions to the Elastic Audio menu in the Edit Window Track Header. The choice is between Melodyne or Elastic Audio: you can’t use both on the same track, but as Melodyne offers an alternative method of timing correction, that isn’t necessarily a problem. Processing individual clips is done via the right‑click contextual menu.
Clips that have been analysed by Melodyne are indicated with a Melodyne icon in the top right, and Melodyne note data is overlaid over the waveform in the clip. This note data’s appearance is customisable in the Custom UI pane of the Colour Palette, and note data updates to reflect any pitch changes made in Melodyne.
There is a new Tabbed Editors area at the bottom of the Edit Page, which accommodates the new Melodyne Editor. This area was previously occupied by the Docked MIDI Editor, an editor I’ve always overlooked in favour of the (functionally identical but bigger) floating MIDI Editor. This area at the bottom left of the Edit Page is now joined by the Melodyne Editor and the Clip Effects Editor, which has been moved from the top of the Edit page where it used to share the area between the Toolbar and the Rulers with the Universe View.
When editing in Melodyne, the transport, zoom and selection are linked between Pro Tools and Melodyne, so if you make a selection in Pro Tools, the same data are displayed in Melodyne and vice versa. These can be unlinked, though I’d expect that the vast majority of users would leave them linked. It’s a similar situation with the ability to unlink Timeline and Edit Selections in Pro Tools. It’s useful to be able to unlink them occasionally, but most of the time, linked is the way to go.
With Melodyne Essential you have access to all the algorithms except DNA. DNA is necessary for polyphonic analysis and editing, so Essential is suitable only for monophonic use. The Main Tool is capable of pitch and timing editing, including note separation, but while you can see the glide data, you can’t edit vibrato or pitch drift in Essential. For that you need a higher version of Melodyne. As previously mentioned, higher versions are also ARA‑compatible with Pro Tools.
Melodyne edits can be committed to Pro Tools using a right‑click, and if you have uncommitted Melodyne data in your session it is saved in the same way as conventional plug‑in settings. Melodyne settings can be saved with track presets, and you can access them through Import Session Data, though be aware that Melodyne doesn’t like sample‑rate differences between sessions.
When using Melodyne in Pro Tools the processing can be bypassed, rendered or cleared by right‑clicking, making it easy to check your tuning and timing decisions. And if you are using Melodyne for harmony generation, you can duplicate a processed track, clear the data and create new parts quickly.
Melodyne via ARA is so easy to use I’m sure I’ll make fixes which I previously would have passed over.
Having seen it in use I think the integration strikes the right balance between depth and simplicity. An interesting side note to this is that the Pro Tools ARA integration with Melodyne supports multi‑channel audio up to 7.1.2 for Dolby Atmos!
The speed advantages of ARA are well known, and while Pro Tools users have been tolerating round-tripping to Melodyne, RX and the like for years, this is one of those features that I’m fully expecting to wonder how I ever got by without it when it arrives. There will definitely be no going back. It reminds me of the introduction of Clip Gain or, going all the way back to Pro Tools 11, faster‑than‑real‑time bounces (I remember the justifications I used to try to convince myself that it was a good thing to have to wait for real‑time bounces…).
Melodyne ARA integration into Pro Tools isn’t like that, because I’ve never thought there was an up side to round-tripping. I’ll be glad to see the back of it, and because Melodyne is so easy to use via ARA, I’m sure I’ll make fixes that I previously would have passed over. Whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen, but that’s about the operator, not the tools!
Melodyne integration is expected to be available in the 2022.9 release of Pro Tools (at the time of writing the current version is 2022.7). I can’t wait to see what ARA‑compatible software will be integrated next. I’d love to see iZotope's RX, and Synchro Arts’ VocAlign would be cool. Time will tell...