Autotune has always played a big role in the music industry for a decade. Using autotune, even a bad pitch singer can now overcome the hardship of recording their voice repeatedly. However, some people do not like the idea of artists using it as they considered autotune cheating as they think it covers up the artists’ natural talent. People think that it is not needed to produce good tracks, number 1 hits even. So, the question is, why do singers use it?
Why do singers use autotune?
One of the main reasons artists use autotune is to correct the artist’s sharp or flat pitch during recording. It is time and cost-efficient because artists do not have to spend lots of time in the recording studio to rerecord tracks. Another reason is purely artistic purposes because some artists like the robotic sound that autotune helps them achieve.
We will discuss more on autotune’s history, what it is exactly, how it works generally, and a more in-depth discussion regarding the technicalities on autotune and why it has garnered such a negative connotation to the general public.
What is Autotune?
We will touch on the brief history of how autotune came to become one of the most controversial issues in the music industry.
Autotune is invented by Dr. Andy Hildebrand, who got his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Illinois. The debut of autotune was way back in 1998 when Cher released her big hit single ‘Believe’.
The 90s is an era where autotune truly boomed due to multitudes of artists using it. Among them is the aforementioned Cher, but there are also some artists like Kanye West, Snoop Dog, and Drake who also use autotune.
Autotune is a piece of software that digitally corrects the pitch of an artist’s voice; this can also be used to autotune instruments. Engineers use something called a Phase vocoder to do autotune.
You might be thinking, what is a phase vocoder? Well, I will discuss how it works by explaining what a vocoder is, in general.
A vocoder works by singing into your microphone while you are playing an instrument and what the vocoder does is it adjusts your voice to better suit the notes being played by your instrument. So, this is a more drastic change to your voice because no matter how off your pitch is, it will adjust it to the notes your instrument is playing.
A phase vocoder works like that in the sense that it also adjusts your tone to the closest note to your set reference range, which is a less drastic change to your voice compared to a regular vocoder.
In autotuning, there are three main aspects that you should keep in mind, which are:
- Key Reference
- Input Type
- Retune Speed
Before you autotune, you have to set the key reference that the autotune will refer to when it is correcting the vocals of an artist or an instrument. Without this, you cannot be able to autotune your tracks because you have nothing to compare them to.
The input type is where you determine what you are autotuning. In some autotune plugins, there are options for you to choose from, ranging from different types of vocals, like soprano or alto, to different types of instruments, like the piano or guitar.
The retune speed is where you set the pace of the autotune in terms of identifying and correcting notes that are off in the recording. The fastest speed possible is set at 0; however, if you want the autotune to be less noticeable, you can set the retune speed between 20 and 150.
Now that we know what autotune is and the basic aspects of it, I will further explain how autotune works in the next section of the article.
How Does Autotune Work?
Autotune uses a set reference point, like a scale or a note, and everything that would be outside of this reference scale or note will then be digitally corrected with autotune. The most common reason for artists to use autotune, especially during live shows, is when they have to portray a certain range of emotions throughout the song, and they slip or mess up a few notes; this is when autotune saves the day.
Moreover, another advantage of autotune is that during recording, you do not have to rerecord and start all over again when you mess up a few notes because they are already digitally corrected. The same thing goes with pre-recording of instruments; you do not have to play the whole song again just because the instruments missed a few notes because autotune will step in and correct it.
If you think about it, it’s a step forward in terms of being efficient in the recording studio because you do not have to rerecord until you get the almost perfect recording of a particular track or song.
Does Autotune Make You Sound Better?
Yes, it does make you sound better. Since the goal of using autotune is to correct notes that are off, it will make you sound better, as if you did not mess up at all.
However, there are limitations as to how much autotune can help you sound better. Having a perfect pitch or being in tune with a track or performance is just one aspect of being a great singer; there are other aspects to it. Stage presence, emotions during the song or performance, articulation of lyrics, and breath control are some of the other aspects of being a great singer.
In conclusion, yes, it does make you sound in tune and have perfect pitch but overdoing autotune will just end up making you sound like a robot and unless it is intentional or for artistic purposes, sounding like a robot is not good.
Is It Considered Cheating to Use Autotune?
This is one of the negative connotations that surround artists and the use of autotune, in general. People look for authenticity when listening to various artists, and usually using autotune too much on a track is only acceptable when it is intentional for the specific track.
A lot of people shame artists who use autotune because some of them are looking for the raw voices of these artists. However, back when autotune was just becoming a big thing in the music industry during the 80s, it was not kept a secret by the artists, like Madonna, that they, indeed, use autotune for their tracks.
Moreover, according to the inventor of autotune, Dr. Hildebrand, it is not cheating when you use autotune. His reason was because of autotuning recording studios have a more efficient time in recording vocal tracks of artists because it makes it easier to get great results in a shorter period of time. Not to mention that it is also cheaper on their end to use autotune.
Autotune has been widely used in the music industry, and I do not think that they will stop using this in the near future. It serves a great purpose because it could help produce big hits, which will rack in money for the business. It could also help artists be more creative with manipulating their voices.
Admittedly, hearing the raw human voice from artists we look up to is really extraordinary, but we have to admit that we use a lot of equipment that engineers have invented to make recordings sound better through the years, and autotune is just one of many.
How to Tell if an Artist Is Using Autotune?
Well, it depends on the sound engineers who are working on the track. Bad autotune is easily detectable by the common listener because of how robotic the voice of the artist would be, but if the autotune is done by an expert, then it will be harder to notice if the track was autotuned or not.
Below are some signs that you have to look out for:
- Robotic Vocals
- Emotionless tracks
- Barely understandable lyrics
- Muddy-sounding tracks
- Camouflaging Vocals
I will discuss them one by one in this section, and we will hopefully get a good sense of what signs to look for in a track.
As mentioned a while ago, with tracks that are done by professionals and good sound engineers, you can barely hear the difference between the original vocals and the autotuned vocals. However, if the autotune is done badly, you can really hear how it distorts the vocals of the artists to sound more robotic.
A lack of emotion in the track is also another sign that it might be autotuned. The rawness and delivery of emotion using different notes and vocal techniques are some of the reasons why we like listening to artists. Some of these emotions are conveyed by their screams, soft tones, vibratos throughout the song. We say that a great artist could make you feel a connection to what they are singing, and without this connection, the song or track would be lifeless. If an artist is using a lot of autotune in their tracks, the rawness and emotions are, most of the time, lost because of it.
Barely Understandable Lyrics
Another thing you can look out for is the lyrics not being clear. There are some tracks where you can barely understand what the artist is saying because of the excessive use of autotune to perfect those incorrect tones. However, it is important to acknowledge the fact that not all artists have great diction, so you have to be a bit more cautious with concluding that a certain artist is using autotune. Nonetheless, this could also be a sign that a track is autotuned.
One of the things that is a telltale sign that the track was autotuned is when the frequencies in the track are overlapping and clashing, which results in the sound being muddy. One way to check this is to use the effects on your speakers like the reverb, distortion, delay, etc. If adjusting any of these effects results in the track sounding more cleaner than the original, then it is most likely that it is autotuned.
Lastly, another sign that you can look out for is the vocals getting mixed into the instruments in the track. Usually, autotune that has been done badly would result in this effect because the vocals have been digitally processed to the point where it just blends in with the other elements of the track. Supposedly, your goal with autotuning is to be able to subtly correct the pitch on your vocal track. So, unless you want a track that has barely audible lyrics that just blend in with the instruments, then you might want to consider cutting back on the autotune.
Overall, if you want to hear or spot if a track is using autotune, then the best way is to understand different principles surrounding the technicality of it all. It is also good to train your ear to different autotuned tracks and ones that are raw because this is a helpful tool when you have become accustomed to what things should sound like raw compared to autotuned ones. This also applies to if you are looking to find out how to properly autotune tracks; you can look out for these signs while you are autotuning.
Whether people like it or not, autotune will be used by a lot of artists of different genres in the music industry, especially in the pop genre, because of several different reasons. This is because of the different advantages of using autotune, like being able to have something to correct your pitch for either recording tracks in the studio or because you need to use it during a physically demanding live performance that will surely leave you out of breath.
Even if autotuning is great for pitch correction, there are still limitations as to what it can do for an artist. There is a misconception that using autotune can automatically make you a great artist, and that is not the case. It takes more than just having the perfect pitch to be able to say that you are a great artist, like being able to translate your emotions throughout the song you are singing, good diction, etc.
I hope that you have gotten a clear and new perspective regarding autotune and what it does. People should not try and keep giving it a bad image because it can be able to help a ton in the recording process.