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 1970s 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.
Please remember that Tropes Are Tools and not to use this as a Take That page.
Examples of artists, albums, and songs using Auto-Tune as a method of distortion include:
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Brian the robot's voice in British commercials for Confused dot comnote Replacing the cartoon ads based on the song "YMCA", to the disappointment of many
Electric Light Orchestra's Time album: the first track, "Prelude", contains what many consider the first ever use of auto-tune in music history. Listen for yourself.
Jars of Clay used autotuned backing vocals on the song "Headphones" (from The Long Fall Back to Earth).
Quietdrive's cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time" uses it subtly but noticeably, as does Ashley Tisdale's version.
Used twice on their album Amnesiac. In "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box", Auto-Tune set to extreme settings was used to distort the vocals into a vaguely unsettling robotic melody (the Broken Record lyrics don't help), and on "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", Thom spoke the lyrics instead of singing them and then ran them through Auto-Tune, producing crazy pitch-shifts that fit well with the already very Paranoia Fuel music.
On "TKOL RMX 1234567," two songs feature Auto-Tune; 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 Auto-Tune 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.
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.
"Bastard Wants to Hit Me" is more of a stealth parody. As for its use on The Else, it surprisingly was NOT used on "I'm Impressed". Word of God says the vocals are strange in that song, due to the fact that demo for that song ended up on the final product, with the demo itself being captured on a very lo-fi mp3 file.
George Strait's recording of Rodney Crowell's "Stars on the Water".
The pop mix of "The Way You Love Me" by Faith Hill has Auto-Tuned backing vocals.
The album Discovery. 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. The band themselves were once asked what they thought about Auto-Tune, and Thomas Bangalter compared the opposition to it to a near-panic in France when they were children, where some musicians attempted to ban synthesizers.
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 Auto-Tune/vocoder plague:
April — Hanami, from Super Eurobeat 196.
David Dima's Eurobeat remake of Duran Duran's "Save A Prayer".
Jay Lehr's "Little Little Star".
Lilly — "You Got the Power" and "Back into the 80s", a rare use of Auto-Tune by Hi-NRG Attack.
Hot Chip uses this occasionally, although they mostly avoid it.
Kandystand's "Black Pearl" and "Disco Queen" blatantly feature Auto-Tune.
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.)
ATC's "Around the World (La La La La La)" didn't originally use Auto-Tune, but Auburn's "La La La", which samples that song, uses it to excess.
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".
Not necessarily Auto-Tune, but Assemblage 23's "Automaton" uses a robotic vocoder, which is fairly uncommon for him.
Little Boots in "Remedy". Most of her other songs avoid it or use it more subtly.
Inna uses it in "Wow", "Club Rocker", "More Than Friends", and many other songs on I am the Club Rocker and Party Never Ends.
Cylab, in the bridge section of "Greys".
mind.in.a.box's "Unknown" uses it alongside other vocoder effects that make the male singer's vox sound female. Also used in "Second Reality".
"Mayhem of Life" by Oscalator and Rogard.
Unusual for darkwave, Midnight Resistance used it in "Wastelands".
Black Eyed Peas. While the guys use it frequently, in a 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.
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.)
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".
Sufjan Stevens uses it extensively on The Age of Adz, although mainly for aesthetic purposes.
Galneryus vocalist Masatoshi Ono/Sho uses Auto-Tune effects on both studio recording and in live performance. The results receive mixed reviews, although the sound is reminiscent of what would happen if someone created a Vocaloid based off of Toshi. Fans of Yama-B (who sang without autotune) are generally not pleased.
Ark Music Factory's entire output applies heavy doses of Auto-Tune. 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.
Gackt, on almost anything studio recorded since around 2008. It has become harder to tell him and his Vocaloid Gakupo apart due to this - a properly Auto-Tuned Gakupo sounds nigh-indistinguishable from post 2008 Gackt.
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". Ditto for the chorus of Minaj's "Starships".
and indeed most of the dance music Minaj is increasingly making
Rihanna uses this in a few songs, notably "Disturbia" and her T.I. collaboration "Live Your Life". Justified in these two; in "Disturbia" it is used to create distortion to aid the dark atmosphere and vibe of the song, and in "Live Your Life" it's used only on the chorus, and there's a slight surprise when it's not used on her verse.
Played straight in "S&M"
The Madonna cover group Mad'House, especially on "Holiday".
K-Ci and Jo Jo's Crazy overloads on the Auto-Tune, mostly on the background choruses, but on the radio version, there's a LOT more Auto-Tune on the lead vocals.
"If I" by Fiori.
The 2007 Maroon 5 album It Won't Be Soon Before Long. Maroon 5 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 Ben had trying to communicate; Ben has severe cerebral palsy and used the Vocoder to speak. 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. A recent review suggested that Neil had been paying attention to Kraftwerk as well.
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.
Also Played for Laughs on a sketch on Saturday Night Live with host Kristin Wiig; an infomercial advertising a CD for socialites and by socialites entitled "Classy Sexy Elegnace" (yeah, that's what it's called). Everything on that album is haphazardly produced, by their HUSBANDS, no less, (Except for one song in which her husband Craig T. Nelson hires a black producer who "pretends to like her music..."), which results in HEAVY use of the Auto-Tune. The real payoff moment comes near the end, when all three women are singing one song using EACH OF THEIR RESPECTIVE AUTO-TUNE SETTINGS (in different keys and modes). The result is hilariously scary. Hell, EVEN THE ENDING ANNOUNCEMENT is auto-tuned!
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.
On 30 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 Auto-Tuner) "Liz Lemon One, doo doo doo doo." That was me, singing The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" for free.
The storm surrounding its use during the auditions phase may be what finally kills the UK version of The X Factor.
A subject of much contention on message boards devoted to the TV series Glee. Was even lampshaded in the first episode of Season 2.
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.
Glorious Dawn and the other Symphony of Science songs Auto-Tune and set to music various related phrases said by scientists. Some of them are good, others less so.
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.
Rock Band 3 has this (in real-time) for vocalists as an optional feature.
Justified with "Still Alive" (Portal) and "Want You Gone]]" (Portal 2) , since it's meant to sound like a computer is singing it. Not Auto-Tune, per se. There are lots of tutorials on the Internet showing the procedure Valve likely used for the GLaDOS voice effect (it comes VERY close, even with other voice actors).
The same applies to Kate Bush's 2011 reworking of "Deeper Understanding", much for the same reason.
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.
Lollipop Chainsaw has Josey Jones, the Funk Zombie who speaks much likes Zimos. When Juliet first hears him however, she thinks he's imitating Stephen Hawking.
Using Auto-Tune in wildly inappropriate contexts (e.g. babies crying, cats meowing, normal conversation settings) has become something of a meme on YouTube. The video series "Auto-Tune the News" does this with various news clips for comedic effect. It's hit a popular zenith with the "Bed Intruder Song".
Todd in the Shadows discusses Auto-Tune in his review of T-Pain's "5 O'Clock". Unlike most music critics, he doesn't mind it, calling it "a tool to be used well or used badly, just like anything else." He also Auto-Tunes the next two sentences of the review just for fun. At the end of the review, he makes his own verse about how the song would play out in real life, also done by him singing with Auto-Tune.