The Photoshop of Music: Autotunes

Elly Zulaikha
July 24, 2020
3 minutes

We’re here with a quick introduction to what autotune is, how it started and why most people are divided with the innovation that has brought both good and bad things for the music industry.

What is autotune?
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Introduced in 1997 by Antares Audio Technologies, owned by Andy Hilderbrand, Auto-tune is an audio processor that employs a proprietary device to measure and alter pitch in vocal, instrumental music recording and performances. Originally, the use of autotune was meant to disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies, making vocal tracks seemed perfectly tuned. 

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Its use is now deeply ingrained in any music more than ever.

First breakthrough

A year after its inception, most first time listeners were blown away by Cher’s half robotic sound in one of her chorus in her hit song “Believe” in 1998. 

However, it is worth noting that auto-tune is generally meant to go unnoticed, as well as allowing recording artists to lay down their vocals with less repetition. But of course, it’s something artists and sound recording engineers kept it as their “little secret”. As the practice is now being used in almost every, if not all, parts of the track, this invention went on to produce the current generation of pitch-perfect pop vocalists. 

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Not to mention, auto-tune can even be used in live performances that certainly guarantees a good performance experience both for the artist and audience. 

Love and hate relationship

Since its accidental inception, auto-tune drew a line between those who see the good in auto-tune and those who think otherwise. 

Some auto-tune skeptics like bassist Nick Harmer, who told MTV News in an interview, “Musicians of tomorrow will never practice, [they] will never try to be good because you can do everything on the computer”. In fact, it is becoming impossible to deny the bad reputation it garnered over the last decade. 

Under its umbrella, auto-tune is blamed for the lack of talent in pop music, the lack of quality in pop music, the homogenization of pop music, and of course, the general decline of American culture. 

However, the late audio engineer named Seth Firkins, once explained that even the most musically talented singers need to auto-tune in some of the time, but they generally use it when there’s a need. “It’s gotten such a bad name for so long because it’s like ‘Oh, you use Auto-Tune? Yeah, of course, you use Auto-Tune,” he says. 

“It doesn’t mean you’re not talented. It means you’re talented and somebody has the foresight to apply some great technology to your project. [Then] that’s not a bad thing; that’s a good thing”.

One thing is certain; auto-tune isn’t as bad as most people assume, even though it did raise some questions over how it has been used excessively in modern pop but rather, its breakthrough came from tireless trial-and-error that eventually led to more discoveries and creative twists for future generations of artists.