Why Autotune is Bad

Autotune is one of the most controversial developments in modern music, created by Antares Audio Technologies in 1997 it works by shifting the pitch of a vocalist to the nearest semi-tone (or note in the key signature). The technology originally was not a music breakthrough, instead the mastermind behind it, Andy Hildebrand, designed the technology for seismic data analysis, only to later realise the potential it had in music. While it is designed for pitch correction on a small and subtle scale, it was used much more aggressively at the cost of transparency from pretty much the start of it's history. Known as the "Cher" effect it was used to give the vocals a heavily synth-like, unnatural sound. (Note that this post will be followed by a "Why Autotune is Good")

The heavily effected pitch of autotuned vocals in pop music has led to much controversy among musicians and listeners. Singing, what was once a skill could be done by pretty much anyone now, pitch perfect.

People argue that autotune removed all the skill from singing as well as destroying the minute inaccuracies that were the soul of many songs. The slight inaccuracies that are so very human about music were now gone.

Pop music, an already over-processed genre now had robotic sounding vocals which became harder to relate to due to their unnatural sound. Some musicians such as T-Pain took it a step further and pioneered his sound using the extreme aggressive setting of autotune, completely removing any life from his sound.

Pop music during the late 90s and early noughties took on a very childish sound. Especially as the industry was trying to figure out the use of the effect, it became a dark time for pop music. A hole in the quality of sound, coupled with the surge of computer production, which still was quite young and developing tore into popular music.

While autotune is, on the whole, much more tamed and transparent nowadays, there are still some otherwise good songs ruined by the obvious abuse of autotune. Something which is designed to correct vocals to make them sound better, now leaves the listener with the impression that they must have sucked to start with.

Every time I hear the robot voice kick in, I just think how out of tune that singer must have been, and how lazy the producers were to think they could just short cut production by slapping a plugin on instead of comp'ing or ding a retake.

Because this is the thing, a perfect take doesn't do anything to autotune. It only acts on the bad notes. The further off they are, the more adjustment it has to make and so the more obvious it is. Consider playing a song ever so slightly slower or faster. You are not going to notice a difference. But play a song twice as fast and it will suddenly become obvious that it is altered.

There are so many songs where the autotune is almost certainly present but is not apparent due to both a quality singer in the first place coupled with a brilliant studio engineer taking the time to adjust the autotune to taste instead of slapping on a preset and assuming it will go unnoticed.

A tool that had so much potential, mostly ruined by the people who first adopted it. Stay tuned for a follow up article on Why Autotune is Good.