Do you know where you were when you first heard Auto-Tune in action? I do. Kitchen table. Cher came on the radio. My first thought was, “Hey, that’s neat!” Years later, I don’t think it’s so neat anymore. The word “overused” comes to mind.

Cher, T-Pain, and the like have certainly exploited the hyper-tuning capabilities of Auto-Tune, but that’s not the purpose of this article. Yes, you can use Auto-Tune as an over-the-top effect, but what about using it as an engineering tool? Is it cheating?

I’d love to know your opinion. Be sure to leave a comment below. I’ve thought through this a lot over the years and talked with many an engineer, and I’ve formed my own opinions on the matter, so here’s what I think.

Auto-Tune is just another tool.

Auto-Tune is not the savior of the modern recording world. It’s also not evil incarnate, some malicious technological force on a mission to ruin the recording industry as we know it.

There are a lot of singers out there who are adamantly opposed to Auto-Tune. I can’t say I blame them. If their vocal take has to be tuned, then that means they must be imperfect. Nobody wants to be told they’re imperfect.

However, I am a singer, and I have no issues with Auto-Tune. Singing into a microphone while wearing headphones is an unnatural experience. It’s not how singers are trained to sing. I learned to sing by just singing and hearing myself naturally, without the aid of any headphones or amplification.

Because of the unnatural nature of headphones, sometimes it’s hard to hear subtle changes in pitch. I can deliver an awesome, emotional performance, but there may be a few places here and there where my pitch fluctuates a bit. Sure, I can re-sing the part (and I do), but sometimes the best take may be the one that’s a little bit out of tune. The timbre and energy of the voice may be perfect, but the pitch is just a little off.

In instances like this, I have no problem whipping out Auto-Tune and fixing a few things.

It’s not meant to be over-used.

A lot of engineers put Auto-Tune in a “Cheating” category. I don’t think that’s quite right. I put it in the same category as every other plug-in I use.

Any plug-in can be the bad guy. They can all be over-used — too much low frequency boosts with an EQ, too much compression, too much reverb, too much distortion. We’ve all heard mixes with any or all of these, and chances are we’ve all done our fair share of each of them.

Does that mean we should get rid of all these plug-ins? Of course not. If the guitarist’s tone is a bit too bright, it just makes sense to turn down the highs a bit with EQ. If the drummer’s timing is a little off, it makes sense to pocket things a little bit. If the singer is a little off-pitch here and there, it makes sense to correct it. At least, that’s what I think.

One Final Thought

Everything I mentioned above was written with the understanding that none of us are trying to fix a horrible vocalist. Your singer needs to have talent. You can’t make a bad singer sound good with Auto-Tune. You can fix pitch issues, but you can’t fix the timbre and energy of the voice itself.

Alright, it’s your turn to weigh in. What do you think? Leave a comment.

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