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"That's Auto-Tune, son! It lets you sing... even if you can't sing!"—Thugnificent, The Boondocks, "Bitches to Rags"
Auto-Tune is a pitch correction software suite offered by Antares Audio Technologies. While neither the only software of its kind on the market nor the first method of pitch correction, its high flexibility and ease of use quickly shot it to such prominence that it may qualify as a Brand Name Takeover.
Auto-Tune was conceived in the mid-nineties not by an audio engineer, but a seismic analyst working for Exxon named Andy Hildebrand. When asked at a party if he could use his software to modify a singer's pitch, he developed Auto-Tune. The first version of the software was released in 1997.
Auto-Tune was originally intended as a way to correct notes sung flat or sharp by less than a semi-tone, but it was discovered to create a robotic sound when driven much further and combined with abrupt pitch shifts. The first (successful) usage of this style was on the 1998 number one Cher single "Believe", but because this method was kept as a trade secret at the time, it took a couple years for other artists such as Daft Punk to discover it.
The act of distorting vocals for a robotic effect is not new in and of itself, having been used since the 70's with the vocoder, but this was mostly relegated to funk and electronica, both niche markets. Using Auto-Tune for a similar effect didn't become prominent until the arrival of T-Pain in 2005. Unlike other artists that relegated it to subtle uses or genres aiming for a digitalized sound, T-Pain used it obviously and flagrantly on nearly all of his releases. His huge success led to a slew of imitators within pop, R&B, and hip hop. Within a very short period, Auto-Tune distortion became the norm rather than the exception.
With the wide adoption of Auto-Tune, the technique quickly became a source of controversy both within and in discussion about the music industry. The major criticism is how the program strips all the personality and subtle harmonics from a performer's voice, leaving those who utilize it sounding near-identical with each other. This ties in with the criticism that it is inherently lazy and dishonest: because the software ensures perfect pitch, the actual capabilities of the singer are a moot point. These arguments exclude artists who use it primarily to distort their voices into the aforementioned robotic sound, but they catch their own flak for their (perceived) unoriginality. Auto-Tune is such a source of Internet Backdraft that in many circles, it's actually used as a general insult against singers regardless of context.
Still, with the majority of the best-selling singles and albums utilizing the method, it's unlikely to fade away any time soon.
See also the Loudness War, the other major controversy within the music industry.
Compare Synthetic Voice Actor.
- The They Might Be Giants song "Bastard Wants To Hit Me". For... some reason.
- It is also used more seriously (ha) on most of their following album, The Else.
- Radiohead used it twice on their album Amnesiac. In both examples, Thom Yorke spoke the lyrics, then applied autotune, distorting the vocals into a vaguely unsettling robotic melody on "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" and crazy pitch-shifts on "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", that fit well with the already very Paranoia Fuel music.
- On "TKOL RMX 1234567," two songs feature autotune; like on Amnesiac, it's used for artistic purposes. "Codex (Illum Sphere RMX)" and "Little By Little (Caribou RMX)" use it to alter the melody of the original song into an entirely new one.
- "Kid A" (the song, not the album) features an autotune or vocoder effect that distorts the vocal part and makes it entirely incomprehensible. This was done because, while the lyrics themselves are simply rather unsettling, they apparently represent something truly horrific to Thom Yorke, and he wanted to separate himself from it. He's never confirmed what exactly that horrific thing is, but considering the pied piper imagery and the disturbing lyrical outtakes that can be found on the Radiohead website, it looks rather like it's about rape or pedophilia. Other theories include mind control and the first human clone. The song was written while Yorke was regularly hallucinating and having out-of-body experiences, among other things.
- Quietdrive's cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time" uses it subtly but noticeably, as does Ashley Tisdale's version.
- It's safe to assume that pretty much any pop/country/R&B/etc singer performing after the advent of Auto-Tune uses it. Once you start hearing it, you can't unhear it.
- Hell, even long-established country stars like George Strait.
- A more obvious example is the end of "Stuck Like Glue" by Sugarland.
- ...All of it?
- 2 Girlz is what you get when you apply Autotune to the Cascada "hands-up" style.
- Caramell of "Caramelldansen" fame.
- The album Discovery by Daft Punk. Although, to be fair, Guy and Thomas also employed other voice processing tactics such as vocoders and talkboxes.
- Since the entire point of the band is to sound like robots, nobody is complaining.
- Electric Valentine, especially "Automatic" and "Chasing The Sun". They also frequently use vocoders. Averted by their live performances.
- Not even the Eurobeat genre is safe from the Autotune/vocoder plague:
- April - Hanami, from Super Eurobeat 196.
- David Dima's Eurobeat remake of Duran Duran - Save A Prayer uses Autotune and vocoders a bit too much.
- Jay Lehr's "Little Little Star" uses Autotune.
- Lilly - "You Got the Power" and "Back Into the 80s", a rare use of Autotune by Hi-NRG Attack.
- Hot Chip uses this occasionally, although they mostly avoid it.
- Kandystand's "Black Pearl" and "Disco Queen" blatantly feature Autotune.
- Just about all Nu Italo does this. E.g.: Eiffel 65 - "Blue"; Kim Lukas - "All I Really Want"; Sarina Paris - "Just About Enough". It's a defining feature (and, depending on who you ask, not necessarily bad.)
- Oscillator X, particularly "Party People All Night Long", "Dynamo", and "Safety Net".
- Genki Rockets, the band of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of Lumines, Rez, and Child of Eden. Most notably in "Breeze".
- Owl City uses vocoder.
- Covenant and Necro Facility's "Lightbringer" uses a T-Pain-like vocoder on the verse vocals.
- Dune - "Dark Side of the Moon".
- Groove Coverage used it in the chorus of "A Million Tears", and a few other songs.
- Black Eyed Peas. While the guys use it frequently, in a recent song Fergie opted to go with a robotic voice so different from her normal sound that it was unmistakably Auto-Tuned but really hard to tell that it was Fergie.
- Kanye West's album 808s & Heartbreak features nothing but autotuned vocals, apparently because West thinks autotuners are the funnest things ever. Judging by the weirdness of the video for "Love Lockdown", the album's first single, the sterility was a desired effect.
- Older Than They Think, though: Kanye actually first used Auto-Tune in his 2004 debut album to modify John Legend's voice on a track.
- Kanye has also used Auto-Tune for rapping (like on T.I. and Jay-Z's "Swagga Like Us") and in combination with distortion and other processing for more dramatic effects (like the coda to his song "Runaway", where he sounds like a guitar solo.)
- Hip-hop/R&B artist T-Pain is the Trope Codifier, though arguably different than most usages since he uses it blatantly to sound like a robot and not just to make it sound like he can sing.
- He recently stated that he wants to move on from using Auto-Tune and instead start using different vocal effects called the "T-Pain Effect."
- Epic Rap Battles of History uses this for Stephen Hawking rather than the program the real Hawking uses to speak. This is because if you've ever heard Stephen Hawking speak, you know you can't rap with that program.
- Many songs from Disko Warp Records, including their remix of Melody & Mezzo's "I Wanna Be Your Star".
- Imogen Heap makes creative use of vocal processing, both in her solo work and with Frou Frou. Averted by her breakout solo hit "Hide and Seek", which used a keyboard vocoder instead of Auto-Tune.
- Rediscover is a case of a band with terminal Vocoderitis; seriously, they can't go through at least one song without the thing.
- Bon Iver uses autotune in the songs "Wolves" and "Beth/Rest". Taking it even further, "Woods" is nothing but autotuned vocals, layered one on top of another.
- Ark Music Factory's entire output applies heavy doses of autotune. The most infamous of these is Friday.
- In the aftermath of the 2010 disaster in Haiti, many pop stars released a cover of USA For Africa's Anvilicious yet still well-made and popular collaborative hit, "We Are The World." Unfortunately, since they were primarily modern pop artists, they couldn't record it without auto-tuning it until everybody hated them.
- The Cher single "Believe" is the Trope Maker.
- F.L.Y. egregiously uses it in Retraux synth pop/rock.
- Heidi Montag used an autotuner for her debut album Superficial.
- Darkchild's remix of Jennifer Lopez's "If You Had My Love".
- Kelly Rose (the American one, not the New Zealand one)'s "Stupid Memory" and "Head Turn". Also, the other KR's "Outta Sight".
- Kesha. In "Tik Tok", even the rap/spoken words are autotuned.
- Let's face it, most of her work is vocodered.
- Lady Gaga, in portions of "Monster" and "So Happy I Could Die" and "Poker Face"
- Miley Cyrus in "Party in the USA".
- The Ur Example is Fragments of Life by one hit wonder Roy Vedas.
- With her album, She Wolf, especially the eponymous single, even Shakira has acquired vocoderitis, among other things.
- Jordin Sparks, notably in "S.O.S.(Let the Music Play)" and parts of "One Step at a Time".
- Katy Perry.
- Michael Buble uses it sometimes. Very apparent on "Haven't Met You Yet" and his cover of "All I Want for Christmas is You."
- David Guetta uses for the distortion effect on Nicki Minaj on their song "Turn Me On".
- Jason Derulo.
- "If I" by Fiori.
- The 2007 Maroon 5 album It Won't Be Soon Before Long.
- Maroon 5 basically in general. "She Will Be Loved" marked a point where Auto-Tune was used so excessively to create perfect pitch that it's often the song that initiates casual music listeners to be able to detect its use in other songs.
- Among the strangest examples of this was Neil Young's largely forgotten experimental album Trans. On several of the tracks (including a remake of "Mr. Soul"), the vocals were 'sung' using a Vocoder. According to Young, the album was in part inspired by the difficulty which his son, who has severe cerebral palsy and used the Vocoder to speak, had trying to communicate with other people. Others feel that it was also meant as a reaction to the rather jangly synthpop coming out at the time, however. Regardless of the intended message, the album was a flop, though some critics saw it as a bold effort.
- Used for hauntingly beautiful effect on Safety Suit's album closer "Life Left to Go", a song about trying to keep a friend from committing suicide.
- Used in Paz's Image Song "Love Deterrence" in Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, possibly for deliberate Anachronism Stew effect since the game is set in The Seventies.
- Sonic Generations uses it for their classic remix of "Escape from the City". Justified as it's paying tribute to and trying to match the pitch of the Endless Mine melody.
- Glee uses this by necessity, since TV production schedules don't allow them to do the number of takes that regular musicians would.
Examples of Auto-Tune as a topic of discussion and within contexts other than music include:
- Auto-Tune is part of the iPhone application "I AM T-PAIN". The backing tracks to a selection of T-Pain songs play and the user can sing along with their voice being distorted in the same style.
- Jay-Z released a song called "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" as a criticism of the method. After half the hip-hop community went up in arms over him performing the song live with T-Pain, he elaborated that the message was to leave the Auto-Tuning to people who actually use it for an artistic effect, as opposed to just for cleaning up sloppy vocal tracks. This group includes T-Pain and Kanye, and apparently Lil Wayne to a lesser extent. Whether his own blatant use of Auto-Tune on various tracks, including all of the sung parts on "Young Forever", counts as hypocrisy shall be left as an exercise for the reader.
- Using Auto-Tune in wildly inappropriate contexts (e.g. babies crying, cats meowing, normal conversation settings) has become something of a meme on YouTube.
- In Adventure Time, Finn swallows a computer, which enables him to distort his voice.
- In an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a siren sings with an auto-tuned voice.
- In the live-action episode, Frylock is played by T-Pain, and several of his spoken lines are (appropriately) distorted.
- In one episode of The Simpsons, Bart, Milhouse, Nelson and Ralph get drafted into a Boy Band. The band depends entirely on computer wizardry to make their singing listenable (which turns their singing voices into those of guest stars *NSYNC).
- Mentioned in this episode of Boondocks. (About 1:47 in.)
- Played for Laughs on this Jeopardy! category from June 2010. You haven't lived until you've heard auto-tuned Trebek doing "Go Down, Moses."
- Korean rapper San E deals a Take That to this, and to "hook songs".
- The Leverage episode "The Studio Job" has Hardison attempt to pass Eliot off as a country music star by providing a real-time auto-tune effect for him. He's horrified when he realizes it's not working, but it's okay: it turns out that Eliot doesn't need it.
- Rock Band 3 has this (in real-time) for vocalists as an optional feature.
- On Thirty Rock, Tracy is trying not to be seen acting badly at work while he's being filmed for his wife's reality show, which Liz uses to her advantage. Tracy then finds a loophole and starts singing everything to the tune of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl", because the show can't afford the licensing rights. Liz counters with Auto-Tune to make the melody incomprehensible.
Liz: (flatly, into the autotuner) "Liz Lemon One, doo doo doo doo." That was me, singing The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" for free.
- Fox Sports Midwest has a commercial with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, stating that they are going to start broadcasting entire baseball games using Auto Tune. Joe Buck's reaction is priceless.
- The storm surrounding its use during the auditions phase may be what finally kills the UK version of The X Factor.
- Glorious Dawn and the other Symphony of Science songs autotune and set to music various related phrases said by scientists. Some of them are good, others less so.
- A subject of much contention on message boards devoted to the TV series Glee. Was even lampshaded in the first episode of Season 2.
- All the songs from Total Drama World Tour. Oddly, two of the songs you can download on their website right now lack the auto-tune, and everyone is ridiculously off-key.
- "Don't Copy That 2", the sequel to "Don't Copy That Floppy", uses Autotune on B Sheba's vocals during the bridge.
- Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff's "movie" deliberately invoked it as part of the video's Sensory Abuse shtick, because everyone hates gratuitous Auto-Tune. WII-IIITH THEIR TOKEN BLAaAaAaAck FRIEND, GEeEeEeEeROOoOoOoOoOMYyYyY!!
- Justified with "Still Alive" and "Want You Gone", since it's meant to sound like a computer is singing it.
- This version of Dragon Soul has some rather noticeable spots where Auto-Tone is applied to Sean Schemmel's voice.
- Saints Row: The Third has Zimos, a pimp who after getting a tracheotomy had Auto-Tune installed in his voice box. In addition to the effect, it tunes his voice randomly.