Anyone who has ever listened to a vocalist in a studio recording may wonder how they get that perfect sounding sustain, that spot-on riffing between notes, and the flawless performance that leaves no note off pitch.
It’s certainly hard to produce a similar sounding result, especially for those who only showcase their vocal skills in the car or shower. Even longtime vocalists with training may find it's hard to get that studio perfect sound. This is because that sound is often digitally enhanced and corrected through special software.
Autotune changed the game for vocalists. While it’s technically possible to use this software to tune any type of instrument track, voices usually produce the most problems.
It’s not that singers have a hard time nailing the right notes. It’s just that labels and producers demand perfection. And where humans fail, technology can save the day.
Autotune can come in many forms – but making sure it’s precise is the difference between making it sound natural and making the vocalist sound like a robot. Where is the best place to get precise autotune? What companies produce this effect? And is it better as a standalone product or one bundled with others?
The Science Behind Autotune Software
A sound’s pitch is the quality that determines whether it sounds “high” or “low” to the human ear. It’s easy to spot the difference between a rumbling baritone bellow and a shrill soprano line. But autotune is designed to produce the type of accuracy that can tweak pitches by a small amount – by manipulating the sound frequency or the pitch.
Modern music technology has all the common pitches used in the 12-tone scale programmed in. This means the software intuitively knows where a singer or musician is trying to land with their pitch. In the standard A 440Hz tuning, it’s easy for precision autotune technology to help a musician pull their voice up to where it was supposed to go.
For example, a vocalist may attempt to sing a G, but if they’re a little flat it could come across more like an F#. In a live show, this may not even be noticeable due to the roar of the crowd or the audience being too engrossed in the experience to notice minimal imperfections in the vocalist’s pitches.
But studios are about perfection – plus an F# instead of a G can become a lot more over a certain harmony. If there’s a C in the harmony, for example, you could go from a perfect interval to an ill-placed tritone. But software can pull that pitch up, adjusting the Hz and helping to make the correction sound natural.
The question many have is where can they find autotune? Luckily, there are a few popular companies that offer it as a standalone product. In this section, we’ll talk about two – Antares and Melodyne.
Finding Precision Autotune from the Right Provider
Autotune is such a popular tool for musicians and studio producers it’s no wonder multiple vendors offer it. But of the major providers, Antares and Melodyne are two of the industry’s leaders. What makes each option worthwhile? And what is the major difference between them?
Antares advertises themselves as the world’s standard for digital pitch correction. That’s a lofty title to give to one’s self, but Antares can lay a good enough claim as anyone. Their software is as precise as it gets, and it is usually bundled with a number of other vocal processing effects.
These effects can include double-vocal effects, choir simulators, and even harmony generators. It’s important to remember that autotune is a delicate tool designed to tweak good vocals – it can’t do much if the dry signal is way off pitch. But Antares’s software is still one of the most reliable options on the market.
Melodyne is the other big precision autotune maker on the market. What makes them different than their competitors, especially the big one? The main thing is their interface. The software plugin is designed to make it easier to identify what a note is, where it is as far as the pitch, and how to move it to the right place.
Rather than forcing users to decipher wavelength snapshots and make best guesses about how far to tweak a note, Melodyne uses a convenient display to simplify the process of editing, tuning, and transforming vocals from close-to pitch to right on target.
Like Antares, Melodyne’s autotune program isn’t a miracle worker. It can’t take a low-quality vocal and make it sound like a professional singer. But knowing how to use autotune can help someone get a more precise result.
You’ve Bought an Autotune Software: Now What?
Let’s say you've invested in an autotune program from Antares or Melodyne – or even one of their competitors. How can you ensure you’re using the program properly, and how can you avoid the common problems many producers and sound engineers have had over the years?
For one, make sure your vocal signal is dry. At most, you can have a compressor or noise gate applied to the track. But anything more and you risk diluting the sound quality once you tune it up. Think of an effect like reverb. To our ears, it’s a subtle touch when applied in the right amounts and can give a vocal track a unique quality.
It gives this quality by enhancing the sound signal and putting additional sounds over the signal – or behind it, technically. The problem is, autotune programs are so good they can even detect these small sounds in the background. Since these effects are digitally generated in most cases, the software could try to tune them and end up sounding like a tape recorder that’s gone haywire.
Grossly off-pitch warbling and odd-sounding clips will fill up your vocal track if you try to tune it while effects are applied. Go with the bare basic vocal when you want to tune. After all the pitches are correct, process the result as a new track then apply your effects afterward.
It’s also worth stating again that autotune should be applied in small amounts. No software can take a baritone and give them a soprano range – at least not without making the track sound unnatural to some degree. Try to get your pitches as close to perfect as possible and use the software to tighten up those few trouble areas only educated ears can hear.
We should also mention that some people do use autotune programs to create a robotic sound on purpose. For example, in the automatic function, a musician may make only three pitches of the twelve-tone chromatic scale applicable. The software will then try to tune a standard vocal melody to those three pitches – resulting in the mechanical voice popular on certain rap, pop, and hip-hop songs.
Does Precision Autotune Come with Any Other Software?
We know that autotune programs are often sold as part of larger vocal suites, but can you get them bundled with unrelated software? The answer is yes – depending on the software you buy.
Digital audio workstations (DAWs) often come packaged with pitch correction software. This is because most studio producers will buy some type of autotune tool eventually. Bundling it with the software helps the company offer a more holistic package. And from a business standpoint, it lets them raise the price a bit.
Software to correct pitches can also come in the form of hardware processors, which can be applied to microphones. This is another case where using too much of an effect can actually backfire, meaning the best way to hide your autotune efforts is to use them sparingly.
There’s nothing wrong with looking for precise autotune, and there are plenty of places to find it. When you’re shopping for this highly valuable tool, make sure to check out your options for standalone products and bundled deals alike.
Make Your Music More Precise Than Ever
There’s pride in being able to hit pitches perfectly as a vocalist. But a studio producer's job is not just to record, mix, and master tracks – it is to polish them. A little autotune can help even the most accomplished and skilled vocalist.
Autotune is available from companies like Antares, Melodyne, and more. It can be found as a standalone product, offered in a bundle centered around vocal processing, or even included as a general feature of a DAW. Wherever you choose to buy your software, just know that taking the right approach and using it in the right amounts is key for getting the best sound.
Autotune won’t mask bad vocals – at least without making the use of the software obvious. But when you have a good singer who just needs a note or several tweaked, this is the way to go. Even if you’re looking to get that robot voice that is sure to get a listener’s attention, a good vocal processor is vital.
Autotune is a great solution for any vocalist or producer who wants more control over the pitch of vocal lines without having to sacrifice quality or timbre.