Ever since urban music consumers have become familiar with the term Auto-tune, they have not ceased to shake it up and use it as a weapon to launch an easy argument about the mediocrity of many singers. But before we get into the subject, let’s talk about Auto-tune for a moment.
Brief history of auto-tune
The famous effect was created by Andy Hildebrand, a geophysicist and amateur musician who developed complex algorithms for Exxon to interpret data generated by a seismic wave in order to find underground oil deposits. Interestingly, the algorithm ended up having a much more successful lifespan than it first appeared.
T-Pain was one of the pioneers in using the Auto-tune effect, and like him also other artists such as Cher, known for being one of the first artists to use the vocoder effect, also known in some of her most emblematic songs as vococher (in honour of her stage name), a robotic effect that also tunes the voice, very similar to the one we are discussing today.
The underlying problem
The issue behind all this is that many people think that the effect is a false antidote against mediocrity, given that “singers” with voices lacking technique such as Kimberly Loaiza, Jhay Cortez, Kiko Rivera, Paulina Rubio or Enrique Iglesias -among a long etcetera of them- use it.
And yes, these singers have neither technique nor good voices, nobody denies that. But there is one aspect of Auto-tune that people don’t know about, and that is that above all it is an aesthetic element. And why do I say “above all”? Quite simply: nowadays the Auto-tune is used much more often as a robotiser than as a tuner.
Opening your eyes
That’s right, there are other digital plugins in production software that do not involve robotisation and also fine-tune the voice: the best known is Melodyne. Any producer will use this plugin before Auto-tune, as it is much more precise and does not create a sense of artificiality (it does not generate a robot effect). When artists take buy rap beats, trap, dembow (etc) on their side, the reason they contact me is to edit only the vocal part. In my case I usually use a plugin from the Waves suite (Waves Tune), which is very similar to Melodyne and is equally capable of correcting out of tune.
Let’s look at how much of an aesthetic effect it is: the very famous chorus effect also robotises the voice (as much or more than Auto-tune). What happens with this effect is that it gives a sense of widening in voices, and it is regulated in such a way that it is not very noticeable, but it is an effect that basically creates a delay that robotises and adds layers to the voice. The use of chorus is practically obligatory in urban music vocals and I have never heard anyone complain, firstly out of ignorance (the masses are familiar with chorus), from which the second explanation is that there is no prejudice about it.
There are brilliant voices in urban music to which Auto-tune is applied because the artists themselves ask for it, and many believe it suits their style. Examples of virtuoso vocals using Auto-tune are endless. Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Ariana Grande, Rosalía, etc. Here are a few examples of some of the most recognised voices on the pop scene, which often use Auto-tune (some more than others) but don’t really need it given their high level of technical perfection:
I also think it is necessary to clarify that if a person sings badly, Auto-tune will not fix their voice, as many people think. The voice can be significantly improved with many tricks, Auto-tune is just one of them, and it doesn’t have as much scope for action as people think. Voices are shaped and improved much more with equalisation and excitation.
Obviously the best way to make your voice sound good is to train it. So if you’re a singer, I can recommend a wonderful beginners singing course that has already made many people’s voices much better than autotune and whatever effect you can think of:
Remember that you can buy rap, trap, dembow, pop, r&b, dembow, reggaeton… instrumentals! A la carte.