AutoTune has caused quite the controversy in just over 30 years in the music industry. Some love it, some hate it and see it as a ‘cheat code’ for bad singers. Whether you’re a fan or not, you can’t deny the huge impact it has had on today’s music. The distinctive, robotic sound has coloured many records, spanning a range of genres from pop to rap. So, where did it come from and does using it actually make you a bad singer?
History of AutoTune
Interestingly, AutoTune was not designed for music. It was born out of the oil industry – yes you read that right! Dr Andy Hildebrand developed Antares Audio Technologies while working for Exxon. He created a complex set of algorithms that interpreted sonar-generated data and helped locate underground oil deposits.
His colleague joked that the technology might make her sing in tune and that’s when Dr Hildebrand connected the dots and applied his algorithms to pitch correction.
First Mainstream Use Of Autotune
Cher’s 1998 hit ‘Believe’ is regarded as the first record that commercially used AutoTune. If you listen to the word ‘believe’ in the song, you will hear a rapid, ear-catching pitch shift on the phrase, which creates a robotic effect.
The T-Pain Effect
Although Cher was the first commercial artist to use the technology, T-Pain really drove its popularity and built his entire brand around it. He even collaborated with Antares on creating a mobile app with this iconic effect. Many people are surprised to find that T-Pain is an incredibly accomplished vocalist and doesn’t ‘need’ to hide behind the guise of AutoTune. He simply loves the effect and has made it his signature sound.
Death of AutoTune
Unsurprisingly, there are many people in the music industry that are against the use of AutoTune or any type of pitch correction. In 2009, Jay-Z even made a song called ‘Death of AutoTune’ to express his frustrations with the widespread use of the software. However, despite the pushback from some musical purists, the effect is alive and well. It is still widely used today.
AutoTune vs Other Types of Pitch Correction
It is somewhat ironic when people refer to AutoTune as ‘cheating’. Sure, the software does alter the pitch of your voice and may correct singing out of tune. But it does it so robotically that it’s often very noticeable. You can adjust the intensity of pitch correction to make it more subtle, but when people are looking for that ‘AutoTune’ sound, they are looking for obvious, distinctive pitch correction.
But there are other ways to tweak the vocal which are much more subtle and designed to sound natural. Software such as Melodyne allows for manual, detailed pitch editing that can often go unnoticed when used well. But does that actually mean you’re a bad singer?
Is Pitch Correction Made For Unaccomplished Singers?
In short – not at all. You could be a talented vocalist like Cher or T-Pain and enjoy the robotic, yet mesmerising sound that AutoTune creates. Many artists use it for creative vocal effects.
But even if you are using the more subtle options like Melodyne to ‘disguise’ pitch correcting your voice, this doesn’t discredit you as a vocalist. It’s in fact used on so many records which are performed by world-class, accomplished singers. Why? Record production, particularly in genres like pop music allows less room for imperfections compared to live performance. You may not notice a vocalist wavering slightly off pitch when they’re singing live, but you will on a record that you listen to repeatedly.
Those slight imperfections are totally normal. Furthermore, you may capture the perfect vocal take with excellent dynamics and beautiful emotion and there are just subtle vocal tuning tweaks needed. Why throw it away when you can fix it and keep that emotive performance in the final song?
Of course, it is without a doubt, that proper vocal training and pitch accuracy will help you get the best take. Laying the foundations for your song starts at tracking stage and the better you perform here, the better the result. But don’t worry if it still needs a bit of tightening – it’s a normal part of music production process to meet the current standards of musical records.
Train Your Pitch Accuracy
To get the best performance right off the bat and eliminate the need for pitch correction, we must train our pitch accuracy. Singing scales and arpeggios is a great way to start. You can also try improvising over a loop or a series of cords. This is an excellent exercise to help you get out of your head and learn to trust your musical intuition. Try coming up with some simple melodies, moving on to more complex runs and intervals. You will soon get more comfortable as you practice. Singing harmonies is another fantastic way to improve. These will help you maintain your melody line, even while other vocalists are singing something completely different.
Many aspiring singers claim they are tone deaf, but the chances of this are actually relatively small. Only 5% of the population have a condition called amusia, which prevents you from distinguishing changes in pitch. So, unless this is you, pitch accuracy is a skill like any other and it can be learned. Sure, some people are naturally more musically talented, but remember to trust the process, go at your own pace and you may just surprise yourself at how much you can accomplish. Of course, a great vocal coach helps too…
Discover Your Vocal Talent With London Singing Institute
We specialise in providing an encouraging space for adults who are ready to embark on their singing journey. No matter your background, we believe everyone can learn to sing or improve on their current level! We take an individual approach with our students, helping them hone their natural, unique sound. With courses available in London and remotely, spanning across genres like pop, musical theatre, jazz, rock, blues and classical, we have something to suit everyone’s abilities. Our vocal coaches are delighted to hear from you – contact us today to find out more!
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