In Defense of Autotune

Antares Autotune
Antares Autotune

Okay, so I got your attention. I am not really going to defend the overuse of autotune in current pop music. I can’t stand much of what is being done in popular music today and especially vocal music using Autotune.

However, consider this scenario: You are in the studio recording and you are really “in the zone”. You manage to come up with a really original, exciting, and beautiful performance that you didn’t think you were capable of delivering. You don’t even know where it came from; It is inspired. Yet, in the middle of that performance, your voice produced some unwanted harmonics that made you sound sharp. In the old days, your producer would have hit a button, producing a rude noise which would signal you to stop. You would have lost the performance, and most likely you would no longer be “in the zone” and you would waste many hours on take, after take, trying to get it “right” yet never recapturing the brilliance of the original performance. What a colossal waste of time.

You can understand the temptation to use a tool like Autotune, especially if you are paying by the hour for studio time. Is there an alternative? In fairness, you don’t have to use Autotune in an automated mode that would make your entire song sound unnaturally pitch perfect.

You may also want to consider another vocal performance modifier called Melodyne, made by a company named Celemony. One major difference between this tool and Autotune is that it allows you to listen to the performance while you are correcting it. This is Huge because it allows you to apply Hippocrates’ rule of “first do no harm”. So, in the example above, you could just alter the unpleasant harmonics and preserve the rest of the performance.

My main objections to the use of autotune are: it is used to prop up mediocre or downright bad vocalists, it sounds annoyingly artificial (because it is often not used surgically and subtly, as in my example above), and, it is overused as an effect (to give a robotic or vocoder-like sound to a vocal).

Hopefully, we are at the end of a cycle where the overuse of Autotune has run its course. At some point in the future, Autotune will be viewed as being terribly dated, like the Wah-wah from the 1970’s. Then, someone will come along who will use it in an appropriate and creatively original context and we will appreciate it anew. Such is this thing we call music.

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