Audio Effect Abuse: Auto-Tune

When a vocalist performs on a recording there may be small parts that are slightly out of tune or that may have been in tune but the artists hit the wrong note. Auto-Tune was created by Antares Audio Technologies and is an audio effect that is normally used to correct problems in pitch for post production after the vocalist has already performed their part, but the artist may not be available to re-do certain parts that might be off pitch. Initially this was an exceptional effect to use in post production audio projects and it would enhance a vocal track that might have otherwise had small imperfections in pitch but over time artists started to abuse and over-use this effect creating a dislike for it by listeners and fans.

In most early cases the Auto-Tune effect was used for transparent repair of vocal imperfections and a listener couldn’t really tell if there was an effect used at all but later the effect was used to create a robotic or synthesized effect on a vocal track. This type of effect was made popular by the artist Cher on her hit song “Believe”. Although Cher is a consummate professional and well trained vocalist the effect was used to create a robotic effect to enhance the overall audio material and listener experience.

This robotic effect had been used before by lessor known artists but the fact that Cher is so well known and liked by fans globally helped promote the use of this effect to other recording artists and created a wave of songs that used it to this day. At first the effect was well received because few listeners had heard of it and since Cher is already a great vocalist few fans were upset that she used the effect in a global release. She also didn’t over use the effect or use it to correct the pitch of her voice but instead used Auto-Tune in a tasteful and unusual manner other than pitch correction.

Once her song hit the charts and started selling like crazy other artists assumed it was because of the effect and not because of the combination of other elements such as composition, story and production techniques used to create the song. This caused other lessor known artists to begin abusing the effect and using it in just about every song they released. Once this wave of artists started abusing the effect it no longer was considered unusual and unique. At this point it seemed like every artists on the air waves was using Auto-Tune. Fans started to dislike the effect and began to accuse artists that used it of lacking talent and needing the effect to correct the pitch of their otherwise unprofessional sounding vocal tracks. While this might be true in some cases in other cases the effect was used simply to increase sales of the audio material that the artists released only to backfire and repulse potential fans.

While Auto-Tune is still used today in a transparent capacity the use of the robotic voice effect has diminished considerably and in most cases the effect is currently used to correct pitch without being noticeable to the listener. This is a good example of what can happen when one artist copies another artists’ successful formula because the fans are not as dumb as one might think. In the event of a live show the fans might be able to tell just how far off a vocalist’s natural pitch really is and notice the difference between the live performance and the studio performance. The fans want to be amazed by the natural talent an artist may have and are turned off when they find that the artist is “cheating” by using an effect to improve their performance. This can be compared to the use of steroids in sports revealing that the user does not posses a natural ability or talent.