How to use auto-tune innovatively
The human voice is the most powerful instrument known to man
Okay before you click away, I’m not one of those music nerds that seem to have an allergic reaction as soon as I hear the slightest autotune on a track. Nor am I a sucker for drowning someone in so much autotune that they sound like they’re underwater (I’m talking to you D Block Europe fans).
In my personal opinion, there is a fine line between using autotune to enhance the musical experience and using it just because your voice isn’t interesting enough. In other words, shoving a load of autotune over your song doesn’t hide any lack of talent.
A brief history of autotune
It all started in 1996 with Dr. Andy Hildebrand, a research engineer employed in the oil industry.
Okay let’s fast forward a little bit…
We’re in the early 2000’s, and the most prominent user of Auto-Tune is probably T-pain, a rapper who became so synonymous with the effect he released his own iPhone app, I Am T-pain.
Let’s move onto Jesus Walks by Kanye. This is the first time he’d worked with auto tuned vocals commercially, before he mastered the art. Throughout his career, he’s openly talked about being a bad singer. But in the 808’s & Heartbreak he sang every single song. How? With autotune!
Today, thanks to our autotune innovators, it’s now being used in every hip hop song right now. In fact “It’s pretty much used in 99% of recorded music now,” says Daniel Griffiths, editor of music recording magazine Future Music.
But with so many artists using this tool, how do you stand out?
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Tips to use AutoTune artistically
1. Use it as an instrument
The most successful mumble rap tracks don’t exactly read like poetry. And that’s okay because the voices of artists like Playboi Carti or even Travis Scott aren’t supposed to wow us with clever & whitty lines. Instead, they’re meant to enhance our listening experience with sounds, not words.
Soulja Boy’s 2020 album King Soulja 9 features tough, hard hitting trap instrumentals with a load of mumble rap on top. It may not be for many, but the opener, Lambo Urus, utilises the art of autotune incredibly well to prepare you for what’s to come.
2. Use it wisely
Occasionally using it in vocals that genuinely sound better with it. Don’t overload the listener with autotune in every direction. Use it only for choruses, or just little snippets every now and again.
Of course, there are rappers who have got away with using it 24/7 but I’d say that these are a select few who have genuinely mastered the art of this tool.
3. Find your balance
Experiment with how much autotune is the right amount for your voice and musical style. You sometimes hear way too much autotune than is needed, like on the song Day By Day by Wauve.
But let’s take Burna Boy as a great example, he has a perfect balance of voice edits to give you that soothing, holiday vibe.
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The wrong ways to use autotune
Okay there technically isn’t a ‘wrong way’ to use autotune, it’s more an uncreative way.
I’ll try to stay as objective as possible, however there are a few that commit ‘Auto Tune abuse’ and must be stopped.
1. Don’t use it to make you a better singer
If you’re a singer, but you want to have that perfect voice that can only be attained through minor autotune adjustments, then please don’t bother.
Avril Lavigne — Complicated
Maroon 5 — She Will Be Loved
If you need autotune to be recognised as a good singer then you’re not a good singer. mBut if you’re a perfectionist and want every note to be clear and crisp, it’s best to just be yourself.
Fans want realism. They’d prefer to hear a few minor mistakes than hear a perfect voice. They want to relate to someone who makes the same mistakes that they do.
2. Don’t use it as a last resort
Please, do not disrespect the art of making your voice a robot. The consequence? Listen to anything by D Block Europe.
If you sound terrible without autotune, you won’t sound amazing with it. It’s not some magic potion that can make your music dreams come true. It’s an instrument like any other, learn how to play it properly, otherwise you’ll end up with a load of shambles.
3. Don’t overdo it
This is a biggy. I mentioned before about trying your best not to sound like you’re singing underwater. But you should also try not to use it on every track.
Don’t be ‘the autotune guy’ unless you’re adding some unique play on the tool. With 99% of artists using autotune, everyone is the autotune guy, how are you going to stand out?
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Use your voice as an instrument. Listen to Runaway by Kanye, the last 3 minutes are completely composed of Ye singing with heavy autotune, almost electric guitar- like.
Thank you for reading!