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Vocal Production

February 16, 2015
Sound Engineering

Recording through AutoTune

Ok it’s happened again.. I can no longer sit idly by and keep my mouth shut.

I got another record sent to me with the vox recorded through auto tune. It was a major-label artist and to make it even worse, auto tune was set to chromatic.

I’ve been getting more and more records like this and I don’t know who’s telling these kids it’s a good idea but I can tell you exactly why in 99 out of 100 cases it’s a TERRIBLE idea.

The most obvious reason is that once you print it with auto tune, it can’t be un-printed.. It’s on there.. All the nasty formant-shifting bends from when an artist glides between notes will be for evermore. What’s far worse though is auto tune’s assault on vibrato. As the pitch goes up, auto tune pulls it up to the next note then when it goes down, it tries pulling it down to the lower note. It happens too quickly for AT to adjust the formant (which AT does terribly anyway). You end up with that weird wobbly alien vibrato that makes you change your station from Kiis FM to NPR. Which isn’t too bad all things considered. FYI the formant is the tonal center – think a man has a lower formant, then woman higher, then child, then chipmunk. Hence badly auto tuned work sounding artificial or chipmunky (yes it’s a real word in the industry).

Even when auto tune isn’t working too hard it still has a ‘sound’. It’s not a bad sound and if used properly it sounds pretty good, but if you’ve printed through it you can’t go back.

Back in the day when computers weren’t so powerful, AT used to use up a lot of CPU power and putting it on as a plugin on every track, especially if it was a thick RnB harmony record with maybe 80 tracks, just wasn’t feasible so printing was the only option. Today, this is not a problem, hundreds of instances of auto tune will hardly put a dent on your CPU cycles.

So what’s the solution? Quite simply, record it without and put it on as a plugin… The artist can still record hearing the effect, you can take it off later, you can tweak it, twerk it, you can change the speed, you can automate it to speed up, slow down, bypass etc. If you’re aiming to protect an artist and not send any untuned vocals then print them as an audiosuite (for god’s sake Save As… first).

Even better, take all the auto tune off and manually tune in Melodyne. I have tuned nearly every major artist this way and have tuned over 500 major releases like this, it’s the only way for a natural clean vocal. Yes I use auto tune as an effect or even for it’s sound if it’s a pop record, however if I tune it in Melodyne then I can get the auto tune to do what I want it to do, not the other way around (In Soviet Russia etc..).

So when I’m sent a record printed with auto tune, I just couldn’t be madder. It’s such a shame that a vocal with so much potential will forever be tainted, forever have that artificial, manufactured twang.

When is the one situation where I would do this? If I was working with a songwriter and we were churning out a lot of material, at least a couple of songs a day and I had to protect the writer, then I would print through. This would only be the case through if the songwriters vox were never to be used commercially (even as backgrounds). I defy you to give me another situation where this is beneficial.. It’s like ‘destructive record’ in pro tools, like really, who’s ever used this? Maybe there has been 1 valid situation, perhaps if you were recording in the middle of the rainforest onto a 2gb thumb drive and you couldn’t afford to keep any unwanted takes..

My friends, recording through AT is the same, I don’t want to hear about it unless there’s bloody macaws and monkeys in the background.




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