Auto-Tune: A Deeper Look at the Controversial Vocal Effect   

    Migos

    With technological developments that have helped audio engineering expand its boundaries over the past several decades, music production continues to evolve. In turn, producers are more popular than ever and often bigger than the musicians with whom they collaborate with (see Timbaland, Zedd, Calvin Harris, Diplo).

    Cher: First Use of Auto-Tune in Mainstream Music

    Being able to utilize various audio software for music production is not only about being meticulously familiar with them, but also knowing which elements to accentuate and shape. While producers of today have multitudes of different tools to create music it’s quite common to see artists across genres utilize Auto-Tune. Omnipresence of Auto-Tune is independent of genre.

    Auto-Tune is the effect in music production used to modify vocal recordings to sound pitch perfect. It was invented in 1997 by Andy Hilderbrand who admitted how he was not aware anyone would be interested to use something like that in their songs. Only a year later, Cher would sing the famous words “Do you believe in life after love?” and became the first musician to bring Auto-Tune to the masses. On “Believe”, Auto-Tune was used sparingly which is in contrast to a number of songs in popular music today.

    Daft Punk “Around the World”

    One of the electronic music’s biggest acts to utilize vocal effects throughout their career is Daft Punk. Their idiosyncratic use of vocoder on massive hit Around The World from their debut album Homework became their trademark of intertwining visual and audio identity. The duo did not use Auto-Tune to cover up vocal shortcomings, and instead created a unique sound which was not possible to hear before.

    T-Pain, Kanye West, and Migos

    T-Pain made Auto-Tune his trademark in 2005. His debut album Rappa Ternt Sanga is marked by everything but subtle use of Auto-Tune. The album pioneered the use of the audio effect and it would soon become prominent in hip-hop and RnB.

    Three years later, Kanye West used Auto-Tune to record an album that is generally considered to be one of the most influential records in hip-hop history – 808s and Heartbreak. The use of Auto-Tune created robotic vocals which contributed to the obscure and cold atmosphere West wanted to accomplish. It was the main reason music critics acknowledged 808s and Heartbreak as a material that pushed the boundaries of creativity.

    There are a plethora of contemporary artists who have been criticized for “overusing” Auto-Tune. Among the biggest targets have been Migos. The Atlanta rap trio burst on the scene with “Versace” in 2013. Four years later, the group’s album Culture would go platinum with hit singles “T-Shirt”, “Slippery” and “Bad and Boujee”. While Migos have continued to garner mainstream success and have collaborated with artists huge artists such as Katy Perry, Major Lazer, Post Malone, Calvin Harris and Steve Aoki, critics of the group point to their use of Auto-Tune in a live setting to be inexcusable

    Where We Are Now

    While people can argue on whether or not musicians should be allowed to use Auto-Tune in concerts, there is no denying its had a major role in music from the 2000s and 2010s. And while critics of Auto-Tune often bemoan it’s constant usage in modern music, the praise and awards bestowed among artists such as Kanye West, James Blake, Frank Ocean show its worked its way to credibility.