Designing Sounds for Film Using Melodyne w/ Steve Tavaglione

Learn creative sound design techniques using Celemony Melodyne to create unique sounds for film, TV, and video games with Musician/Sound Designer Steve Tavaglione.

Steve Tavaglione

Introducing Steve Tavaglione

You may not have heard of Steve Tavaglione before, but you’ve almost certainly heard his electronic sound design work on countless film and TV shows such as Wall-E, Finding Nemo, CSI:New York and Las Vegas, Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels, American Beauty, and Road to Perdition to name a few. Tav is probably one of the most ubiquitous laptop musicians in the world, having carved out a unique niche for himself in Hollywood as a creative sound designer and computer-assisted session musician. He has also designed sounds and presets for Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere synth and several sample libraries from Tonehammer and 8dio.

Having worked on major film and TV projects for many years, Tav has gained a unique perspective on the business of music for picture and trends in the industry. In this article, we explore some of the software techniques he uses to make new and exciting sounds for the Hollywood stage.

Designing Sounds for Film

There are actually two basic types of sound designers who work on major projects in Hollywood. The first type, usually credited simply as ‘Sound Designer,’ is the person or team who create and place NON-MUSICAL sound effects in the film, like the sound of a laser gun firing, an explosion, or a car’s engine revving up. For example, the legendary sound designer Ben Burtt created the sound for the blaster pistols in the original Star Wars films by striking high-tension wires with various objects such as a metal wrench. Read more about this here.

The second type, sometimes credited as ‘Score Sound Designer’ or ‘Electronic Music Programmer,’ works directly with the film composer to create MUSICAL sounds and textures that can be used as part of the score. This role has become more and more important over the years, as electronic sounds have come to play a more integral role in film music. Steve Tav has made a successful career in the studio as this latter kind of sound designer, working on countless major film productions with Hollywood composers such as Thomas Newman, David Holmes, Aaron Zigmund, Paul Haslinger, and Trevor Morris.

With so many commercial sound libraries available these days aimed at the soundtrack market, it isn’t too hard for contemporary composers to find quality electronic sounds to use in their scores. In this environment, the most important job of a sound designer is to come up with fresh, creative sounds that CAN’T be found in sound libraries, and figure out how to make these sounds work MUSICALLY with the score. The secret of Steve Tav’s success is his ability to consistently come up with out-of-the-box electronic sounds and make them work, often by juxtaposing musical ideas and concepts in strange new ways that no one else has thought of before. He always keeps his mind open to new ideas and combinations no matter how absurd they might seem on the surface.

Creative Techniques with Melodyne

One of Tav’s favorite software tools for coming up with unusual new sounds and effects is Melodyne from Celemony. Melodyne is an amazing application essential for pitch and timing correction. Melodyne lets you work with audio in an entirely new way. It offers several editing possibilities, outstanding sound quality, and intuitive operation that allows you to make anything from the subtlest to the most far-reaching enhancements to your audio material. Analyzed notes are displayed in Melodyne in the form of “blobs” and the precise path of the pitch is indicated by a wavy line. With Melodyne’s tools, you can analyze any type of audio source to determine how the audio material will be interpreted and displayed within the Editor where you can edit individal notes directly and modify all important musical parameters such as pitch, vibrato, pitch drift, volume, timing, and more in a highly intuitive manner. Melodyne is also equiped with algorithms for every type of audio such as vocals, instruments, percussive sounds, noise, and entire mixes. To get started, simply analyze any type of audio source and Melodtyne will determine how the audio material will be interpreted and displayed within the Editor.


Melodyne is widely used in many areas of the music industry to ensure sounds, vocals, and final mixes are tuned and optimal. However, Tav tends to use Melodyne somewhat differently, testing its limits to do things that the developers may not have intended in order to come up with creative new sounds and effects. For example, one of his favorite techniques is to take some complex audio material such as a modern classical piano piece and use Melodyne to analyze all the notes in it and then export them as a MIDI file. Then he will take this MIDI file, import it back into Ableton Live (his favorite DAW) and play part of it back using another sampled instrument of his own design in Kontakt or Omnisphere instead of the original piano sound. These could sounds like  rain or the sound of a park bench being struck by various objects.

“I’d like to hear Meshuggah do a film score with orchestra, and then put the vocalist from Meshuggah into Melodyne and use that to control a water drum or something like that.” – Steve Tavaglione

Another technique of Tav’s is to use Melodyne’s ability to analyze the overtone structure of a sound to transform its timbre. For example, he might record the sound of a single sustained note being played on an instrument with a complex timbre, such as a bowed upright bass. Then he will import that into Melodyne and look at the relative volume of the different overtones that make up its sound. This is where it gets really unearthly – by taking the overtones and changing their relative pitches, he can make new timbres and sounds that are truly unique.

After transforming sounds in Melodyne like this, Tav will often sample them and then move them into a powerful sample-based software instrument like Kontakt or Omnisphere in order to further manipulate and tweak of the resulting sounds. Finally, storing the final results in these instruments also gives him a way to keep track of his work and the ability to easily access th original sound libraries at a recording session when every second counts.


Kontour Tutorial

Sound Design Komplete Program

Finding the right sound can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Learn the fundamentals of synthesis and sampling and gain the depth of knowledge to shape sounds the way you want them or make your own sounds from scratch.

About This Program

Become fluent in the language of sound design and synthesis with this comprehensive program. This six-level Sound Design program uses Native Instruments’ Komplete as a platform for learning synthesis and sampling techniques. Starting with an introduction to the properties of sound, this comprehensive series of courses covers the major techniques used for contemporary sound design.

You will learn to create your own sounds with a variety of techniques and add a personal sonic signature to your tracks. We introduce you to the latest synthesis and sampling technologies and show you how to use the world’s largest and most diverse sound library. In the advanced levels, you will acquire total control over all aspects of the Komplete instruments while practicing genre-based sound design.

What’s Included

  • Sound Design Level 1: Introduction to Komplete
  • Sound Design Level 2: Synthesis with Massive, FM8 and Absynth
  • Sound Design Level 3: Sampling with Kontakt and Battery
  • Sound Design Level 4: Advanced Sound Design
  • Sound Design Level 5: Reaktor Ensembles and Production Techniques
  • Sound Design Level 6: Reaktor Programming and Instrument Building

Additional Information

Visit the Music Foundations course page for detailed information on this program here.

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