If you listen to music, you probably have an opinion on the use of Auto-Tune.
Did you know Cher popularized Auto-Tune vocals 25 years ago? The inventor initially created it to correct pitch, but it has many other uses.
What else can Auto-Tune do, and is it cheating when vocalists use one?
Let’s find out!
What is Auto-Tune?
Auto-Tune is an audio processor introduced by Antares Audio Technologies in 1997. It uses a patented device to measure and alter pitch in musical recordings and performances. The company originally intended for it to correct off-key vocals, making them perfectly tuned.
Andy Hildebrand, a Ph.D. research engineer in digital signal processing and stochastic estimation theory (the probability of various outcomes,) invented Auto-Tune. He came up with the idea after a colleague’s wife joked about needing something to help her sing in tune.
The original purpose is in the patent. “When voices or instruments are out of tune, the emotional qualities of the performance are lost.”
People previously thought that autocorrection wasn’t practical because of the computational effort needed, but Hildebrand found a simpler mathematical way. His simplification changed a million multiply adds into just four.
Hildebrand’s method for detecting pitch using autocorrelation was far superior to previous attempts because of his mathematical breakthrough.
Performers and producers now use Auto-Tune extensively to correct pitch in the studio and live recordings. However, not all artists use it, and there is some negative stigma attached. Artists who don’t want to use Auto-Tune believe that talent, hard work, and practice should create perfect pitch.
There are a lot of musicians who use it to create special effects, such as a robotic voice. It can also enhance specific types of modern music such as trap, hip-hop, and electronic dance.
How Did Cher Popularize Auto-Tune?
Cher’s 1998 hit Believe was the first to popularize the use of Auto-Tune. She and her producers decided to use the machine in its most aggressive setting to achieve an artificial and robotic effect. But how did they choose to do that?
Cher’s popularity had been waning, and her previous album released in 1995, It’s a Man’s World, had been a flop. She needed a hit and wanted something that resonated with her gay fan base. She decided to make an electronic dance album.
The song Believe was supposed to be her big comeback, but something wasn’t quite right. After months of playing around with it in the studio, she and her producers felt frazzled. Cher suggested taking a break and listening to a CD by British singer/songwriter Andrew Roachford. This track used a vocoder, the precursor to Auto-Tune, to manipulate his vocals.
Cher suggested using a similar technique, and her producers went to work. The final version became the mega-hit that revolutionized the use of Auto-Tune and won Cher a Grammy for Best Dance Recording.
What is the Cher Effect?
The Cher Effect is a term that describes an extreme digital pitch correction that creates an artificial voice sound effect. The voice sound is extremely robotic and futuristic. The Auto-Tune flattens the minor pitch variations in a human voice, gliding between the notes.
Since Cher’s hit Believe, this technique has become popular with many recording artists, mainly in the genre of electronic popular music but in others as well.
Other Artists That Use Auto-Tune
The hip-hop/R&B artist T-Pain is another example of an artist using extreme Auto-Tune to distort his vocals into different sounds. He believes that a voice is another instrument added to the music and that he “got a lot of influence from the 60s era, and I thought I might as well just turn my voice into a saxophone.”
Many rappers like to use Auto-Tune for emotional expression in their voices. Snoop Dog, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, The Black-Eyed Peas, and Daft Punk are just a few examples. Pop artists such as Brittany Spears also use it.
Paul McCartney released the song Get Enough in 2019 using Auto-Tune. He knew fans might criticize him for it but decided to experiment. As one of the best vocalists of all time, he decided that he could take the risk!
His thoughts were, “You can’t be so straightlaced to not expose yourself to experiences in life. If we’d had this in The Beatles, John, in particular, would be all over it.”
Do Singers Use Auto-Tune in Concerts?
Yes, many vocalists use Auto-Tune in live concerts. When an artist uses Auto-Tune in a recording studio, they record the music in their natural voice. The song is then fed through the correction software and rounded to the nearest pitch.
In live concerts, the auto-tune is applied to the voice signal in the microphone before it hits the speakers. The Auto-Tune is pre-programmed for the key in which each song is sung. This means that the singer must hit the notes reasonably close, or the program will correct to the wrong pitch.
Some artists wear an in-ear monitor to help pitch their voice correctly. Auto-Tune can also be turned on or off by the singer or someone at their sound controls. It’s usually on when they’re singing and off when speaking to the audience. Using Auto-Tune in a live concert is a technical dance that requires its’ own kind of artistry!
Is Auto-Tune Cheating?
There’s a debate about whether using Auto-Tune is cheating or that the artist is “lazy.” Those against it say that it encourages bad vocal technique and “lazy” singing because the artist doesn’t have to work as hard. Eventually, it can make it harder to sing naturally in perfect pitch because they’re out of the habit.
Some vocalists feel pressured to continue using Auto-Tune because audiences are accustomed to that sound. However, some disagree that using Auto-Tune is cheating. It makes harmonizing easier and pitching notes more accurate. It can be less exhausting on an artist’s voice, especially on extended concert tours.
The software also creates special effects that are a signature for some artists, such as T-Pain. Auto-Tune is a tool that artists can utilizet to enhance their music and performance, just like instruments, speakers, and microphones.
Cool Tool or Crutch?
Hildebrand invented Auto-Tune to help artists sing more in tune. However, it can’t fix the voice of someone who can’t sing. It’s become a beneficial tool for many artists and recording studios to make enjoyable music or create special effects and unique sounds.
At the end of the day, Auto-Tune is a tool people use in many ways. An artist can choose to use it or not, but there’s nothing wrong with the device itself.
What do you think about Auto-Tune? Let us know in the comments!