Commentary
10:15 am
Tue December 6, 2011

Into it: Auto-Tune

Auto-Tune has become an overwhelmingly familiar sound in music.

From overt shifts to subtle nudges on albums and in live concerts, Auto-Tune has become a ubiquitous force in pop music since its release. Its first notable appearance was in Cher’s 1998 hit “Believe.”

This musical manipulator has its origins in an unlikely character. Andy Hildebrand was an oil industry worker who created software that interpreted the reflection of sound through a mathematical equation called autocorrelation. With this advance, Hildebrand was able to retire at forty, only to soon reemerge with an audio technologies company.

Auto-Tune has shaped songs from musicians across every genre, from Britney Spears to The Dixie Chicks to Faith Hill and Snoop Dog. It has even become a consumer product. For 99 cents you can help T-Pain cash in on his reputation by purchasing the “I Am T-Pain” app.

Of course, many artists protest. Indie-rock band Death Cab for Cutie came to the Grammies with blue lapel pins, mourning the loss of “blue notes,” those slightly irregular pitches that give the human voice character. But it will take time for tastes to change, for a popular resurgence of “blue note” hunger, before we move away from the pitch-perfect world of Auto-Tune.


T-Pain. “Best Love Song (Featuring Chris Brown)” from Revolver.
Cher. “ Believe” from Believe.
Jay-Z. “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” from The Blueprint 3.

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