Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Evolution of Vocal Tuning and Pitch Correction

In The Beginning...

The year was 1975 and the Eventide H910 (shown above) has just been released. The H910 could shift pitch up or down 1 octave and offered up to 112.5 ms of delay. Only costing $1,600, it was a success. The sound generated from these are nothing like what we hear today. Zappa used one in his guitar rack. Eddie Van Halen used a pair of them as part of his signature guitar sound. Tony Visconti even used it on the snare in David Bowie's Young Americans. It was a studio favorite and everyone was trying to figure out cool ways to use it. There has been newer models and copycats being released ever since.

In The Digital Age..

Introduced in 1997, Antares Auto-Tune brought pitch correction into the digital world. The next major player was Melodyne in 2000. In 2009, Celemony released the technology for Direct Note Access, which is the ability to manipulate single notes in a polyphonic audio file. There has been many new programs to be release since 1997, but these are just two popular programs. Other plugins worth mentioning are iZotope's Nectar & T-Pain Effect, Wave's Waves Tune, and Gsnap, all of which have there own unique sound and parameters.

The Rise To Fame...

There is two people for which you can thank for the popularity of Auto-Tune. They are Cher and T-Pain. Cher's 1998 hit "Believe" was the first major release to use hard vocal tuning, then T-Pain brought it to the hip-hop and R&B side of things with his album "Rappa Ternt Sanga" which was released in 2005. Some say it even helped launch Lil Wayne career by "giving him access to melody." A great deal of hits have had their vocals tuned.


In 2001, The Simpsons aired an episode where Bart Simpson joins a boy band and they used a machine called "Studio Magic" which made them sound like N'SYNC or Backstreet Boys. Once it broke down during a performance and everyone heard how bad they sang without it. Even though this is an obvious exaggeration, it sparked a large wave of criticism. One star that seems to get berated consistently in Britney Spears. Just to prove how subtle of an effect the tuning had on her vocals, she released some "auto-tune free" clips, which I think could make any critic keep quiet. She also sang 80% of here Femme Fatale shows live. But does this prove anything? To a point, yes. It shows, that all the hate is over hyped. People jump to the conclusion that an average Joe Shmo can sound like JT, which it definitely incorrect. It is called "pitch" correction not, timbre-attenuation-articulation-rhythm-flow-dynamics-lyrics correction.


Today, pitch correction of a very commonly used tool. Most DAWs even come with some sort of pitch editor bundled in or integrated with the software. Sonar X3 actually has Celemony's Melodyne integrated with the GUI. Pitch correction and Auto-Tune are used on the majority of songs you hear on the radio today. Even though they sound very natural, the effect is just being used more precise and subtly. Pitch correction has almost became an art of it's own. The average user view's it as lazy, but an engineer can actually spend hours manually tuning the lead vocal track, using it's parameters to get very natural but musically creative results.

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