The History of Auto-Tune

Few innovations in the music industry have polarized artists and audiences as much as Auto-Tune. CNN hailed it as “the invention that changed music forever,” while a popular track from Jay-Z’s album The Blueprint 3 declared the “Death of Auto-Tune.” 

For better or worse, Auto-Tune has been used by artists as varied as Kanye West, Radiohead and Katy Perry. Here’s a look back at some highlights in the history of Auto-Tune.

Birth of Auto-Tune

Ironically, the seeds of what would become Auto-Tune grew out of the oil industry. Dr. Andy Hildebrand, working for Exxon, created a complex set of algorithms to interpret sonar-generated data and locate oil deposits far underground.

In 1989, Hildebrand combined his technical know-how and his passion for music to found Antares Audio Technologies. After a colleague jokingly requested a machine that would help her sing in tune, Hildebrand realized the logic behind his geological system could be applied to pitch correction, and Auto-Tune was born.

Cher Brings Auto-Tune to the Masses

Cher’s comeback smash “Believe” in 1998 is recognized as the first commercial release featuring Auto-Tune. In fact, the robotic yet mesmerizing sound of the song came to be known as “the Cher effect.” 

Producer Mark Taylor, originally reluctant to admit to the use of Auto-Tune, claimed the vocals were created with a Digitech Talker vocoder pedal. Cher herself later told the New York Times she adamantly refused her label’s request to remove the Auto-Tune effects.

“The Impresario of Auto-Tune”

Rapper/songwriter/producer T-Pain has essentially built a career on Auto-Tune, with his name becoming virtually synonymous with the software. In 2009, 20 years after Antares Auto Technology came into being, the company partnered with T-Pain and app start-up Smule to release “I Am T-Pain.” The app essentially turned iPhones into Auto-Tune karaoke machines.

Auto-Tune Backlash Begins

By 2009, the music industry was deep into a love-hate relationship with Auto-Tune. While the technology was being used throughout all genres of music, almost no one wanted to admit it.

That same year, in addition to Jay-Z’s anti-Auto-Tune song, members of independent rock band Death Cab for Cutie turned up at the Grammys wearing blue ribbons to “raise awareness about Auto-Tune abuse.” 

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