So you're starting your music production or musician journey and you're wondering what the hell is autotune. Well, fear not, you're in the right place to answer that very question! We took our 8+ years of experience in the music industry and knowledge on autotune to write this article for you so you can understand what autotune is, how to use it, where to get it and so much more. Enjoy!
What Is Autotune (TL;DR Answer)
Autotune is music production software that automatically tunes any audio run through it a selected key. Autotune is commonly used to pitch-correct vocals and gives that signature robotic sound many hear in popular Hip Hop, R&B, and Pop Music tracks.
Autotune can additionally be used to naturally pitch-correct vocals and make them sound more pitch-perfect.
A common myth about autotune is that it's for people who can't sing.
Although it can be used for people who can't sing, autotune is used widely across music everywhere as a tool to capture the best emotional qualities of a performance from a singer.
Autotune is 100% used on your favourite artists songs, and even for artists who are incredible singers such as, Adele, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and more.
Using autotune means that studio engineers can choose the most emotional, hair-pricking vocal take, rather than having to pick the pitch-perfect one, because it can be fixed in post. Mixing and Mastering engineers want emotion over the perfect pitch because emotions are how people connect to a song.
In the studio, Melodyne is the most common auto-tuning tool used to correct vocal pitch, as it provides the most transparent, accurate results. Although many use Antares Auto-Tune software for the same reason, Antares is known for its signature vocal pitch correction technology, which excels at hard-tuned styles like modern Trap, Hip Hop, and R&B vocals.
When Was Auto-Tune Invented?
Auto-Tune was invented by Antares Audio in 1996 to provide a vocal tuning solution that did not distort the audio or make it sound overly robotic. The current solutions at the time were vocoders and talk boxes, which gave a certain cyborg-style sound to them.
The name and brand Auto-Tune are directly trademarked to Antares, meaning that the only true auto-tune is technically Antares' very own software.
However, other companies have taken the invention and improved upon it, using different brand names and terms to market the products. For instance, Waves Tune and Melodyne are both auto-tuning technologies.
Antares' Auto-Tune is widely known for its hard-tuned sound but is capable of natural pitch correction too, it's just not as good as other alternatives like Melodyne anymore.
What's The Difference Between Auto-Tune and Pitch Correction?
So, what's the difference between pitch correction software and autotune?
Autotune automatically tunes your audio to a select key, offering the ability to edit and fine-tune your work. Pitch correction is a manual piece of software that allows you to directly edit the pitch of individual notes, offering extreme precision.
For instance, when comparing Melodyne and Antares Auto-Tune, they are both technically autotuning plugins. However, Melodyne falls more into the pitch-correction category because of its ability to individually edit notes on a graphical note editor.
Auto-Tune has since implemented the same graphical note features, but it is only monophonic, whereas Melodyne is polyphonic (allowing you to edit chords and other rich pieces of harmonic content).
When comparing something like Waves Tune to Auto-Tune, they are essentially the same piece of software. They both automatically tune vocals to a select key, and neither offers very much in terms of individual note correction.
Additionally, when comparing Flex Pitch to Auto-Tune, Flex Pitch is a pitch-correction tool, because of the manual input and individual note selection. You can lock it to a key, but it doesn't act in the same way auto-tune does.
To put it simply, pitch correction is more capable of applying natural tuning to vocals and audio, due to the manual editing and note selection features. Auto-Tune is better at creating a hard-tuned T Pain style sound, due to its automatic tuning capability. Auto-Tune is additionally better used in a live scenario as it can tune vocals in real time.
How Can I Use Autotune?
Autotune is best placed on vocals to tune them to a particular key. However, Autotune can also be used for creative sound design sessions and to tune instrument takes. Due to its monophonic pitch correction, however, it is best at tuning single-note melodies, rather than beds of chords.
There are many ways you use autotune for your productions and we'll cover a few different ways you can access autotune below.
The easiest way to get the autotune sound is to use free autotune plugins in a free DAW (or a paid one). Free autotune plugins offer an automatic pitching solution and can help give you the desired T Pain/hard-tuned effect most people want on their vocal tracks.
To use free autotune plugins you simply download them, install them as plugins in your DAW software, record some audio, and then open the plugin to apply the effect.
The downside of free autotune plugins is they don't provide any graphical note editors to manually pitch correct vocals and do not provide a natural sound. Additionally, free autotune plugins tend to create a lot of artefacts in your audio. So, proceed with caution!
Another way to get the autotune sound is by using autotune apps. This is the simplest way to achieve autotune for most people who are not DAW trained or skilled in music production.
Apps can be downloaded on both iOS and Android, and many are very simple to use, offering great features like EQ, Delay, Reverb, and other creative effects. Most even offer lyric writing notepads you can pull up while recording your vocals.
Additionally many provide free beats that you can record your vocals over.
These aren't as good as having a fully-fledged DAW to record in, as you can't compose your own music and many of the mixing and mastering tools are behind paywalls. You're much better off downloading a free DAW on your phone (like Garageband) and using a 3rd party autotune auV3 plugin.
As we mentioned above, Garageband is a fantastic free DAW with a built-in autotune app. Additionally, you can use 3rd party auV3 autotune plugins directly inside Garageband.
Garageband is extremely simple to use, even if you're new to DAW software, or new to music production in general. Furthermore, Apple provides free events in-store that teach people how to use autotune in Garageband as well as many other features, often even inviting famous names to show what's possible with just an iPhone and an app!
If you want free autotune, we'd recommend this option above all else. It may be a little more difficult to learn, but it's the most limitless option when speaking in creative terms.
To use autotune in Garageband you simply install the plugins. It's an extremely easy process and we have a full guide that covers it all.
If you're not an iOS user, then you can check out some Garageband alternatives. Cubase is great for a phone DAW and offers a similar capability to Garageband.
Another way you can use autotune to correct pitch is through open-source autotune plugins. These are a little more tricky to use than your regular free plugins and are aimed at people looking to tinker with the code or use the code on something like a Raspberry Pi to build small, useful hardware devices to accompany their music production setup.
We do not recommend using open-source software unless you are a developer or learning to code. There is no point because often these softwares are stripped back and create artifacts in your audio.
How Do I Decide Between Melodyne or Autotune?
Melodyne is for non-live, accurate, transparent pitch correction. Autotune is for live pitch correction and the classic hard-tuned sound. You will use melodyne lightly on vocals to smooth them out. You will use autotune on vocals to create large tuning corrections and give that T Pain style sound.
Melodyne is the music business standard plugin for pitch correction. However, it must be noted that it cannot be used for live tuning. The individual note selection makes it the most accurate and natural sounding pitch correction available.
Melodyne has a huge price tag, so for those of you looking into Melodyne, you may want to take a look at some alternatives and the competition to see which is best for you. Most of you looking to tune vocals will be able to do so with some free or paid alternatives that will burn much less of a hole in your pocket.
There are many different versions of both Autotune and Melodyne. Each version will give you a particular set of features. First off (before explaining the simple differences between the two software), it's important you know the software version differences if you're deciding between the two plugins.
In order to do this we have two guides that will cover the differences in versions of both:
The key differences are:
- Autotune does live pitch correction and is mostly used for a T Pain style sound. However, you can use it for natural pitch correction as it has a graphical note editor. This only provides monophonic capabilities.
- Melodyne offers manual note correction with polyphonic editing capabilities. This allows for a more transparent sound and also prevents sibilance from being affected by the pitch correction software – allowing a much cleaner, more artifact-free sound.
Melodyne is a manual pitch correction software that allows for polyphonic note editing and a more transparent, natural pitching sound. Waves Tune is an automatic tuning software that automatically locks your audio to a key. It's similar to Antares' Auto-Tune and much cheaper.
Waves Tune doesn't offer any graphical pitch editing and is best used as a live pitch corrector, as it auto-tunes in real-time.
Melodyne does not autotune in real time and needs to process audio before affecting it. It also isn't the best option for people looking for the classic Hip Hop/Trap/Kanye West hard-tuned sound.
Flex Pitch is a more basic version of Melodyne offered in the Logic Pro X DAW. You can edit notes manually on a graphical pitch editor. It works well for the human voice, but for anything else, it's not great. Melodyne is much more advanced offering polyphonic note editing and so much more.
To learn more about the full differences check out our in-depth article on Melodyne vs Flex Pitch.
You should be able to do most of what you need using Flex Pitch and it's a great free tool to get started with using. However, Melodyne leaves it dead in the water when it comes to features and usability.
Flex pitch additionally adds a lot more artifacts to audio.
With over 8 years of hands-on experience in the music industry, Harry has run successful raves, played alongside industry heavyweights such as Max Chapman, DJ EZ, DJ Zinc and more (pictured below), had music played on national radio, DJ'd on live radio, produced until he hated every song, mixed until his ears bled, created sample packs from scratch using just a Zoom H1n and some sound design skills… and pretty much anything related to music production – he's done it, tested it, tried it.