By Jye Smith Aug.4.2008
In: Commentary

2008 the year for key specific auto-tune in pop

Now, let’s get one thing straight – auto-tune is very real in today’s music. The more I learn about recording and the sharper my ears become, the more I notice the layers and levels in every day pop tunes.  Listen to anything on TodayFM and you’ll instantly hear the artificial layers and harmonies, and the disgustingly obvious auto-tune.

Auto-Tune  – It seems that in today’s pop music this is no longer a dirty word. It’s very acceptable.  For someone like me, it’s a great way to save time if there’s a couple of off notes on an otherwise decent demo recording. There’s also a great effect that allows you to remove any frequency from the recording that isn’t strictly in the song’s key.

Put simply, what this does is make the vocal sound like it’s jumping from note to note with a guitar/piano-like leap, and make sliding between notes sound like perfect steps in key. Very cool when used effectively, and can create some interesting contrast with songs.

The first instance this was ever used was in Cher’s “Life after Love”, definitely not one of my favourite songs, but also in classics like the chorus California Love (Tupac) and One More Time (Daft Punk).

So yep, I love this effect. I use it (in a much more industrial tone) in my upcoming solo project, but what I don’t like is artists (or more to the point, their producers) relentlessly bashing it out through the entirety of the song.

Here’s a list of 2008’s pop tunes that slam it out, and my brief opinion on better ways it can be used, and then I’ll go over some dos and don’ts.

Chris Brown featuring T-Pain – Kiss Kiss
Now, in my opinion, I think both Chris Brown and T-Pain used the effect really well. It’s only implemented on the longer notes and through the chorus, which makes it a flavour rather than an over-powering layer.  But for some reason they both fucked it up in their singles.

T-Pain – Buy You A Drank
Great when he’s just freely singing the ‘ohs’ and sliding between notes. But totally destroys his rap (you’ll hear the end of the words ‘wobble’ between notes) because it also cuts your phonetic sounds. Not cool.

Chris Brown – Forever
Now this song sounds like a bad remix of itself.  But again, you’ll notice Mr. Brown is wobbling on all the ends of his notes.  It’s like he and the sound crew just got lazy, rather than creating a decent effect.

I don’t usually listen to the radio, but I’ve found myself tuning in every so often to The Edge for my guitly dose of gangster rap.

If you want to use the effect, do it.

  • Do use it with some care, don’t base your song around it,  and your listener won’t notice it in the end
  • Don’t use it with short words or phrases, or it will make it wobble and lose all power

It seems this effect has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  Audiotuts (one of my new favourite sites) ran an easy tutorial on it, and it seems YouTube has had it’s share of instructional video on the topic too. Apparently the world hasn’t noticed this until now, and people seem to assume that T-Pain has somehow started something that has been done for years.