Should I Use Auto-Tune? How Pitch Correction Affects Music

There has been a lot of debate floating around lately in the world of music production regarding auto-tune: particularly whether or not it should be used and whether it is helping or harming the music industry.  Some people swear by it while others are totally against it.  On the other hand, some individuals are still undecided, which is probably what brings you here.  After coming across an article on Examiner.com called “Auto-tune is it good or bad for music?” I was inspired to offer my input on the matter.

Antares Auto-Tune 5 Pitch CorrectionCredit

Until recently, I steered clear of auto-tune.  This is because in many aspects, I do think it has a negative influence on the music industry.  It is yet another production tool to polish up the vocals, and often instruments, to help make a song sound pristine.  All too often, it is overused to buffer up music recordings to the point of absolute perfection.  The problem with this is that the human characteristics of songs are stripped away and you begin to feel like you are listening to productions rather than bands or musicians.  It becomes more difficult to picture actual people playing these songs on stage.

Imagine a theoretical percentage scale.  Let’s say a phenomenal singer, such as Adele, has a level of imperfections in her pitch lower than practically anyone else at 0.02%.  Remember, this is just theoretical.  Such a minimal amount could never be detected by human ears as flawed.  Instead, it is what reassures listeners that they are listening to an actual person’s amazing sounding voice. Adele’s voice could be sent through auto-tune to achieve absolutely 0% imperfections. However, that would be sort of like scanning a Picasso painting and touching it up in Photoshop before reproducing copies to put on shelves in stores.  Sometimes pitch correction can strip the art out of music and make it sound computerized.  I am not going to argue whether or not auto-tune is used on Adele’s voice, but I will say that when I hear her voice, it sounds natural to me.  Therefore, any production tricks-of-the-trade used on her vocals are utilized so subtly that all of the human characteristics of her voice remain intact.

Lil Wayne at a recording studio

{link:http://rapradar.com/2010/11/14/lil-wayne-completes-first-post-jail-song/}Lil Wayne at a recording studio{/link}

Let’s face it: auto-tune is not going anywhere any time soon.  When a producer releases a track, it is thrown into a pool of millions of other modern songs, most of which have some level of pitch correction.  I don’t think it is fair to be critical about whether or not auto-tune was used in a track.  Instead, we should have a close ear on how it was used, and whether we can even detect it by listening.  I think a lot of people might view auto-tune as being either on or off, while really there is a whole variety of ways it can play its role in a song. If it is being used as an intentional effect to completely alter the sound of a person’s voice, such as with rappers like T-Pain or Lil Wayne, then I don’t see a problem with that. Obviously, this is the way the song was intended to sound. If it is used to touch up vocals in a couple of places and sounds transparent enough to the point where even an audio professional would have trouble pointing it out, then that’s okay too. What gets me is this… More and more frequently, auto-tune is being used as a tool try to make a mediocre track sound magnificent – and what is worse is that many records produced in this manner are hitting the top of the charts. The reason is because the general public does not understand or care what auto-tune is or how it is used. All they care about is what they are listening to. However, anyone that is familiar with auto-tune can easily recognize when it is being used too heavily. It is bothersome that the public is being fooled so easily into thinking that certain bands are completely flawless, while really they are just very heavily produced. Personally, that all just sounds unnatural and robotic to me. Additionally, it makes an artist less inspired to improve when they hear their “perfect” sounding auto-tuned voice and they are selling tons of records. When I hear a song, I want to feel like I am listening to music, not a money machine.

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    Beneficial information! I have been seeking something such as this for a time now. Appreciation!

    • Todd Millett

      Thank you! Glad I could write something to help you find what you were looking for!

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    • Todd Millett

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  • Sanz

    Good information mate. Really helped alot. And your right many people listen only to music without knowing if is really natural or just mecha stuff. Its like some people are trolled or something. Thanks for this mate.

    • Todd Millett

      Thanks Sanz! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • MarkB

    that’s true! I love hearing pitch perfect tracks but it also have to sound human unless the singer is going for some creative effects that not necessarily achieved by autotune.