Yedavalli: Auto-Tune is here to stay


Mikinna Kerns/Iowa State Daily

Lead singer for Cheat Codes Trevor Dahl performs at the SUB Spring Concert on Sunday, April 22. 

Ashwin Yedavalli

Andy Hildebrand is the proud inventor of one of the music industry’s most prominent technologies. It is one of the foundations of modern pop music.

T-Pain, Kanye West, Daft Punk and Travis Scott are just a few of today’s music legends that have utilized it.

Let’s talk about Auto-Tune.

Auto-Tune, currently produced by Antares Audio Technologies, alters an audio track to correct pitching and timing errors. Since its release in spring 1997, Auto-Tune has found its way into almost every genre of music.

In theory, the record should sound better after being altered this way. However, the tool has a love-hate relationship with society.

Initially, artists used Auto-Tune to give their hits a more futuristic vibe. Twenty-one years later, the use is so widespread that it holds a special place in contemporary music.

In 1998, Cher’s “Believe” was one of the first commercial records to utilize the effect and it took the industry by storm. Dubbed the “King of Auto-Tune,” T-Pain started using it in 2005. Snoop Dogg embraced its impact in 2007, and Lil Wayne took advantage of it the next year in “Tha Carter III.”

West also whoopity-scooped the technique to use in 88.3% of his singing on the 2008 platinum album “808s & Heartbreak.” Use of Auto-Tune has skyrocketed since then.

If Auto-Tune is so popular, then why does it get so much hate?

Hip-hop legend Jay-Z is one of many artists who was seemingly perturbed by the innovation in music. In 2009, he released a track titled “D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)” where he begs artists to “Get back to rap, you T-Paining too much.”

Heavy users of Auto-Tune are accused of having no talent. The truth is, though, technology can act as either aid or an inhibitor.

For example, look at how effectively Auto-Tune enhances T-Pain’s and Scott’s music — they consistently dish out platinum-selling records. On the other hand, a classic case of Auto-Tune as an inhibitor is the devastation that is Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” The excessive Auto-Tuning paired with the horrifically vapid lyrics proved that you still need talent to sound good when utilizing Auto-Tune.

Auto-Tune lets artists hit that note — but that is all it does. It is ancillary recording technology that gives already talented artists supported vocals and a highlighted, futuristic sound.

One must have excellent vocal talent and an emotional connection with their music to succeed with Auto-Tune in the music industry. For example, Lil Wayne comes up with more similes than an English book and that’s not because he puts his voice through some software.

Innovation still drives popularity and success in music, and it sounds even better with Auto-Tune.

West’s “808s and Heartbreak,” one of the first Auto-Tune heavy albums, is listed as one of Rolling Stone’s 40 most groundbreaking albums of all time because it “served as a new template for up-and-comers in hip-hop and R&B.”

Unless one is talented enough to write and express their music effectively, they will probably sound like a robot with the flu rather than a radio mega-hit.

Apart from the craze of Auto-Tuning an entire song, it has more subtle appearances than you may imagine. It may seem surprising that Charlie Puth, the artist best known for his emotional hit “See You Again,” basically taught himself how to sing using Auto-Tune.

He said “I cried because I could hear my voice in the way that I wanted it to sound. That plug-in has been so important, and I am not ashamed to admit it… everybody uses it.”

Everybody uses it, and these brilliant singers and songwriters use it when they cannot realistically hit a note. When an artist can envision songs with no limit on what notes and keys they’re able to sing, we can be confident the result will sound amazing.

Auto-Tune is to music as Photoshop is to photography: a tool that everyone uses because it enhances their art, but one that people are misled to believe makes artists’ creations fake.

Auto-Tune is a staple of modern music. In some ways, it is more reflective of contemporary pop culture than pop singers who can sing perfectly.

Not everyone can hit notes like Beyonce, but artists will use all their resources to try.

Music has been evolving. That is a fact. So if a song sounds good, then why does it matter what means are used to make it?

So instead of disgracing artists for using Auto-Tune, let’s embrace it.