It’s almost hard to “Believe,” but the Auto-Tune pitch-correction processor plug-in is over 20 years old now.
I remember when I first read of its existence. The very concept of finally having vocals on my recordings that were as in tune with the track as I had always wished they could be was not only amazing, but suddenly within reach! Soon, all of my productions went up in quality in a very significant way. Of course, the trick was to not make it immediately discernable how that was happening, just to make certain the listener came away from the experience feeling like they’d heard a great vocal performance on the recording.
A lot of care had to go into making sure that the processing wasn’t obvious, which for me relied upon two of the plug-ins parameters: Tracking and Retune. Tracking helped decide how fussy Auto-Tune was about which pitches it was correcting. By relaxing it a bit, more of the human element (read: imperfection) was preserved. Retune allowed you to mellow out the aggressiveness of the processing by selecting the amount of time that the first part of the note was played before Auto-Tune grabbed it and wrenched it into its “proper” pitch. For instance, it’s quite natural for a singer to start a note a little beneath the intended pitch and then bend it up slightly. This imparts a little more soul and honesty when done correctly but if not, it just sounds pitchy.
I was always really happy when things came out sounding right, with no noticeable artifacts. But then something happened. Something I absolutely hated. The sound of Auto-Tune’s processing became not only acceptable, but downright fashionable.
It first hit in a most unexpected genre: country music. What, what, what?!? Song after song started parading down the runway of the airwaves with this weird (to me) robotic flavor to the vocals. Then…Cher.
My personal take on Believe (and I can assure you, I don’t actually know) was that Cher didn’t have a great vocal session that day, or a lot of time (or both) and the frustrated engineers just cranked the attack all the way over to its fastest setting, snapped to the scale and played the intended notes into the MIDI input. The glitchiest feel-good hit of the summer was born. Then T-Pain came along and drove that concept straight through the heart of pop music, maybe forever.
Meanwhile, I was finding that there were other, outside-the-box uses for Auto-Tune. For one, this thing could tune up a bassline like nobody’s business! This was especially useful on upright bass and cello. Fiddle, too, and not nearly as detectable to the listener as vocals. I also enjoyed tuning tom-toms and the kick drum to the scale of a song, which makes for a much more tight and powerful sound! My favorite effect though, was to subtly tune the lead vocal as earlier described and then place the original performance alongside it on a separate track. I’d then gently roll off the highs at about 3k and the lows around 200Hz. Then I’d move that track back in time to make a quick “slap-back” effect and lower it in volume to taste. This would result in what the Beatles called ADT, or Automatic Double-Tracking. Try it sometime!
Speaking of things to try, take a look at the new Auto-Tune EFX+ ($199) the latest variety from Antares (www.antarestech.com). While this version seems directed more toward the creative side of studio work, the core functionality of Auto-Tune (pitch correction with Retune and Humanize controls still remains.
A new multi-effects rack leads us into myriad artistic possibilities, via six new effects modules: Duet, a doubling effect; Vocode, an excellent sounding robotic vocoder; Tube Amp, which covers a wide array of analog tube distortion needs; Mutate, an audio mangling ring modulator; Filter, a high-pass filter for EQ-based effects; and Pitch and Throat, for everything from subtle gender tweaking to radical pitch shifting effects.
Adding a whole other world of depth is a new X/Y Pad, which allows real-time parameter control, so you can take things from understated to psychedelic to downright monstrous!
Helping to familiarize you with the interface is a library of multi-effects patches designed by veteran pros Mike Dean, Jeff Rona, and Richard Devine. This sampling of creative “jumping-off points” will point the way toward the sounds you’re looking for.
The improved Auto-Motion melodic pattern generator lets you create new melodic patterns, arpeggios and hooks from your original tracks, via an extensive library of melodic patterns that can automatically adapt to match the key and tempo of your project.
It should also be mentioned that all of the pitch correction and special effects Auto-Tune EFX+ is capable of can happen on the fly, even during a live performance!
I have been having a ball with this plug-in. Not only does it do a great job of fixing less-than-perfect intonation in real time, it takes your tracks to unreal places you haven’t yet imagined.
Part tool. Part toy. All good.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning artist and producer who digs toys, tools, and great intonation. Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org.