By Andrea Moor
T-Pain and Kanye West come to mind when it comes to recognizing the giants and pioneers in Auto-Tune. This software that corrects pitch and timing errors, and manipulates a vocal recording until it is in tune, regardless of whether or not the initial recording was in tune.
Not to be confused with the first pitch-altering vocal effect, the talkbox-Autotune was oddly born out of the oil industry, thanks to Dr. Andy Hildebrand, an electrical engineer who studied at the University of Illinois. To locate oil deposits below the surface, Hildebrand produced complex algorithms for Exxon.
With his technical expertise and passion for music, Hildebrand founded Antares Audio Technologies in 1989. Hildebrand realized his geological system could be applied to pitch correction after a colleague jokingly asked for an instrument to help her sing in tune; he developed auto-tune as a result.
Cher’s notorious 1998 hit “Believe” is typically recognized as the first commercial track with Auto-Tune. The sonically deviated attributes from the single have since been dubbed, “the Cher effect”. Producer Mark Taylor initially resisted admitting the use of the software, arguing that it was the byproduct of a Digitech Talker vocoder pedal. Cher herself later told the New York Times she adamantly refused her label’s requests to remove the effects.
By the time 2009 rolled around, there was a mass appraisal and disapproval of Auto-Tune, especially in the specter of hip-hop. With prominent influences from the release of Jay-Z’s track against Auto-Tune, “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune), the opinions of the software were all but singular.
Even today, many people still argue that Auto-Tune is derivative of generally-agreed subpar talent and lackluster skills. When prompted, plenty of individuals told me that their frustration comes from the sense of ‘cheating’ or fueling underproduced work.
For those who feel this way, I pity you. To argue that art is not worth its value or influence on the premise of modification is to say that something is worth less than a rendition. You cannot magically bestow genuine craft into work by simply adding Auto-Tune. It is a tool, a tool in the same sense that other fields of art or general practice also use.
Thanks to the invention of this software, it’s given life to complex deviations of what may have been previously thought of for music. It’s birthed new subgenres and aided artists in achieving what we all tend to expect from them- damn near perfection.
Featured Image by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images.
Written by: Preethi Mangadu