The History of Auto-Tune

The History of Auto-Tune

Auto-Tune is a proprietary audio software program that alters pitch.  The program was released by Antares Audio Technologies in 1997 and until recently has played an integral, but discreet, role in music sales.  Lately Auto-Tune has begun to influence the industry’s sound openly, such as in the TV Show “X-Factor,” which openly uses the program to tweak contestants voices. (X-Factor contestant Gamu Nhengu shown above)

Reposted from: More at: The history of Auto-Tune, -Ben Gilbert

This time last week, most people had never heard of Auto-Tune. Now everyone is talking about it. Despite playing a key role in selling millions of songs over the last decade, it’s taken a hugely controversial appearance on the ‘X Factor’ to raise the profile of this recording studio tool. But what exactly is Auto-Tune?

It’s pitch-correcting computer software devised by US scientist Andy Hildebrand, after he was challenegd by a dinner party guest to invent a machine to help people sing in tune. His firm Antares Audio Technologies launched it in 1997, armed with the adage “I can’t believe that’s possible” and innovative products to match for musicians, producers and engineers.

Originally intended to correct any sharp or flat notes from a singer’s recorded performance, Auto-Tune quickly became a top secret hit in the music industry. That was until Cher‘s 1998 smash ‘Believe’ exposed exactly what was going on in recording studios across the world, as Hildebrand confirms.

“The studios didn’t like to talk about what they were doing, in general. I mean, this was in the fall-out of Milli Vanilli. So they didn’t advertise the fact they were fixing the singer’s pitch, but they did, and they all knew what it sounded like if you set that control to zero. She was just the first to make it public,” he explained.

Instead of attempting to make subtle adjustments to the track, producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling reportedly reset the software’s “retune speed” and came up with the mangled, robotic effect which spawned a global smash and blew the Auto-Tune lid wide open. From tinkering with studio equipment for a joke, the creators of the song had invented the now inescapable “Cher effect”.

Auto-Tune has taken on a life of its own, becoming a production staple in the worlds of R&B and pop. US rapper T-Pain is now synonymous with the studio technique, inspiring the likes of Snoop DoggLil Wayne and Kanye West to follow suit. In fact, the latter even recorded an entire album, 2008’s ‘808s & Heartbreak’, with the software.

However, controversy has also followed, with music lovers and performers leading a backlash against a tool that can, after all, make singers sound pitch perfect when they are nothing of the sort. In 2009, Jay-Z issued ‘D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)’, telling his fellow hip hop stars that it was time to ditch the technology, which industry experts claim is now used in 99% of recorded music.

Now Britain’s favourite TV programme is gripped by accusations that contestants on Saturday’s opening show of the series had their vocals tweaked. ‘X Factor’ chiefs admit that auditions by Gamu Nhengu, G&S and Shirlena Johnson were altered in post-production, with some critics suggesting it throws the authenticity of the entire show into question.

What do you think of Auto-Tune? Is it good or bad for music? Should it be used in ‘X Factor’ or does it defeat the entire point of the show? Have your say below…