Sound Collective’s Mastering Auto-Tune with Rosemary Minkler will teach you the subtle and the apparent ways of this powerful tool for vocalists! Love it or hate it, Auto-Tune is one of the most widely-used plugins in modern music. It can elevate a vocal line with perfectly pitched tones, subtlety tweak individual melodic notes so that near-perfect take can be salvaged, or transform the voice into something completely unique and exciting!

No matter the use, learn how to work with Auto-Tune and dozens of other plugins and production strategies with a free 30-day trial subscription to Sound Collective by using promo code SCNOW30!

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A snippet of the new Netflix Docuseries This is Pop went viral on Twitter June 21, 2021. It lead thousands of music lovers to defend the legacy of 2000’s RnB Superstar: T-Pain. Within this clip posted by user @LoggingInIsBad, The “Buy U a Drank” singer describes a plane ride where fellow 2000’s pop sensation Usher explains that through popularizing heavy use of the pitch correcting software Auto-Tune as an aesthetic choice, he “F’d up music forever” and “for real singers”.

(Listen here to T-Pain sing Without Auto-Tune.) 

Time would disagree. T-Pain would in fact be one of the several pioneers into Auto-Tune’s proving Auto-Tune was more than a tool initially designed to subtly tweak and perfect vocal takes, and an expressive, powerful vocal effect with the versatility to leap across musical genres. From RnB to Pop to Hip Hop and more, AutoTune is here to stay, and it did everything but screw up music. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the more interesting bits of history surrounding the legendary vocal software, and chronologically track the growth of the software in popular music through these stories.

In 1997, Plugin creator and Research scientist Dr. Andy Hildebrand created Auto-Tune after successfully creating a run of Plugins for ProTools like MDT, using his knowledge of sound once used to find oil below the earth’s surface for Exxon via frequency mapping, to create tools for musicians. Auto Tune uses phase vocoder to correct pitch in vocal and instrumental performances. But it would become so much more than that. Hildebrand was never expecting the backlash, the love, and the radical change to music that would result from his newest creation. According to an article by Thoughtco:

Auto-Tune was designed to be used discretely and no one needed to know that any software correction had been applied to vocal tracks. Hildebrand pointed out that there is an extreme setting available in Auto-Tune called the “zero” setting. That setting is extremely popular and noticeable. Hildebrand was all about giving Auto-Tune users choices and was surprised at the use of very noticeable Auto-Tune effects.” 

It’s fascinating to see the creator look at what he’s created and also feel divided. In another interview with PBS’ NOVA, when asked about how he feels on the backlash to Auto-Tune, and specifically that it allows artists to “Cheat” he replied “…We didn’t intend non-artistic uses of Auto-Tune…. Is the actor who plays Batman “cheating” because he can’t really fly?”

Moving forward a decade to 2008, and the “cheating” became standard production procedure. Allowing artists to perfect their vocals as Dr. Hildebrand intended. However, experimentation with the “Zero” feature continued to a breakthrough album with initially polarizing results: Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreaks. More and more artists would begin to experiment with the idea of Auto-Tune and what It could provide an artist creatively all while the backlash continued amongst the likes of Music purists and people who were divided on the concept of Auto-Tune in a performance aspect . Being seen as a pinnacle in the Hip-Hop movement of the Late 90’s, the 2000’s and eventually beyond, many fans felt betrayed and confused at the sudden change from lush Jazz Samples, Bold Pop Artist features, and Backpack Rap to sparse, loose, bassy beats and Distorted “Auto-Crooning.” The record in concept was designed to mimic the numb, lonely depression Kanye was going through after The Loss of his Mother, Donda West, and his fiancee Alexa Phifer. With Auto-Tune already in the ears of the masses thanks to the likes of the aforementioned T-Pain, who was scoring #1 hit after hit on the Billboard Charts at the time, (Even collaborating with West on his previous record Graduation.) While the album received harsh criticism on release from fans, Even allegedly being one of the spark of inspiration for fellow hip-hop mogul Jay Z’s “D.O.A (Death of Auto-Tune) ”  It still charted at #1 as well for West.

As the Independent would report years later “ artists (Such as) Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Drake have all been influenced by the more introspective and personal content of the album.” Not only so, but Artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Future, BROCKHAMPTON and more would continue to develop the Auto-Croon sound into popular Hip-Hop, detracting from the critics and continuing to pave the lane for Auto-Tune as an artistic Choice. Because of these factors,  Rolling Stone included 808’s in their 40 Most Groundbreaking Albums of All Time list.

As Music has continued to evolve into the modern day, Auto-Tune divisiveness has all but diminished in the public eye. There are few corners of the music industry that haven’t or aren’t toying with either it as an audio effect, or as a tool to refine a good vocal take to its full potential. Upon realizing there will always be spaces for talented vocalists, (Ex. Sister Duo Chloe x Halle who pride themselves on the lack of pitch correction and flawless live performances. Videos like the one above have comment sections full of praise for their natural talent.) the Auto-Tune was accepted as an aesthetic choice and a tool to improve the entertainment value of a track.

And then, a decade after Kanye’s Groundbreaking Auto-Tune Opus, came a band called 100Gecs.

Seasoned Producer Dylan Brady and underground alternative pop artist Laura Les joined forces and created what might be this generation’s groundbreaking, divisive work. Essentially birthing the style known as Hyperpop, or at the very least, paving its most popular lane. Combining genres born from the strangest corners of the internet such as Nightcore with everything from traditional pop forms, ringtone music, Avant-garde MIDI Sound FX Music (?) and even Ska and Hardstyle, 2019’s 1000Gecs was also drenched in disturbingly high-pitched, high octane, abrasive Auto-Tune. To the point of near parody of pop music. The reaction was, surprisingly positive: The New York Times listed it as one of the Best Albums of 2019. Critics adored the project for its weirdness, and there are already hundreds of bands innovating on the blueprint The Gecs left behind. However it’s important to note that music listeners were once again divided on the album’s “Experimental Nature.” that critics seem quick to applaud nowadays. User reviews on Albumoftheyear.org reveal both that it took time to appreciate the boundary pushing, and some who are just opposed to it. An example of the former comes from User “cakenator” explaining the slow burn approach to appreciating experimentation jokingly: 

“October: man this album sucks

November: oh god this really sucks

December: Y’know, maybe its not that bad, its kinda funny

January: its growing on me”

While others, like the most liked review of the project by user “inglume” explains. 

“I get how this record can seem fun and catchy at times, but oh lord is this really, REALLLLYYY obnoxious, and not in a comedic, gimmicky or enjoyable way. Woah it’s loud, it’s EXpEr1MeNtAL woOah, yet it also seems pretty pointless.”

There were a lot of foul words in both of the full reviews and others on this project, but the primary gripe with the album were always the “Chipmunk” autotune vocals. With this style rapidly growing and even appearing in more popular Hyperpop projects, it seems like a new age of Auto-Tune divisiveness is upon us.

No matter your stance on the often controversial history of Auto-Tune, one thing is for sure: Its here to stay, and artists continue to push the boundaries of the plugin as more than it was ever already controversially conceived to be. It’s a way to fine tune the voice as an instrument, and simultaneously a way to make the voice into a new instrument entirely. Auto-Tune will continue to evolve and adapt to the musical landscape and it seems to continue to grow into both a positive and a negative for music listeners, all while paving a lane forward for musical experimentation on all fronts.

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