The Acceptance of Autotune
In 1997, a new recording device was launched that made it easy to correct any slightly flat or sharp notes of singers. The device was called Auto-Tune, and it immediately became popular with record producers and recording engineers, as they didn’t have to record a track over and over until it was sung perfectly.
The device was a filter that tuned the note of a singer up or down until it reached the correct note of a given key. As the producers played around with the device, they found that it created a somewhat robotic sound to a voice undergoing ‘auto-tuning’.
Rather than keep the device secret to preserve the vanity and fragile egos of singing stars, one of the stars recorded a song that brought the device into the public eye. Cher’s “Believe” turned the Auto-Tune from a nondescript gadget in a recording studio to an onstage device used by pop, hip-hop and rap artists to add color and texture to their vocals (and to make sure they sang in the correct pitch).
Autotune was Controversial
It’s been 20 years since “Believe” was released and swiftly reached the top of the charts. The use of Auto-Tune caused a storm of controversy that wasn’t directed at Cher particularly. Everyone knew that she could sing. But rising young singers that displayed a lot of natural talent were listened to closely to try and detect whether they were using Auto-Tune or not.
Luckily for these singers, Auto-Tune imparts a certain sound to a voice that can be picked up by a lot of listeners once they’ve heard the device enough times. In other words, it failed at its primary function of correcting the ‘off’ notes of singers. Auto-Tune added its own colors as well. This ‘failure’ was part of the reason for its ultimate success in the music business.