Auto-Tune Abuse in Pop Music – 10 Examples

January 27, 2009


Pitch correction software has applications from restoration and mix-rescue to outright distortion of a voice or instrument. most vocals we hear recorded these days, particulary in the charts have some, to lots of vocal correction prcessing.

I’ll discuss some of the more tasteful uses of these auto-tune tools  below. But first I thought I’d highlight their misuse to illustrate the effects we usually try to avoid.

So, listen here to 10 of pop music’s most blatant auto-tune abuses:

If you’re unfamiliar with Auto-tune, and especially if you listen to much pop and rock, you might not hear it initially. When overdone, the effect yields an unnatural yodel or warble in a singer’s voice. But the sound is so commonplace in modern mainstream music that your ears may have tuned out the auto-tune!

The songs in this clip, in order, and the phrases most affected by auto-tuning to help you spot them:

Dixie ChicksThe Long Way Around – Noticeable on “parents” and “but I.”

T-PainI’m Sprung – Especially obvious on “homies” and “lady.”

Avril LavigneComplicated – Listen to “way,” “when,” “driving,” “you’re.”

Uncle KrackerFollow Me
The whole vocal sounds strained, but especially the word “goodbye.”

Maroon 5She Will Be Loved – Listen for “rain” and “smile.”

Natasha BedingfieldLove Like This – “Apart” and “life.”

Sean KingstonBeautiful girls – “OoooOver” doesn’t sound human.

JoJoToo Little Too Late – Appropriately, “problem” stands out.

Rascal FlattsLife is a Highway
Every vocal, foreground and background, is treated, but “drive” in particular.

New Found GloryHit or Miss – “Thriller”, and every time Jordan sings “I.”

The Cher Effect

When used noticeably, an auto-tuner produces what most call “The Cher Effect“, named for her trademark sound in the song Believe*. (In essence, we named the effect like scientists naming a new disease after its first victim.) Treated this heavily, a vocal track sounds synthetic, and obviously processed.

But not all auto-tuning is so blatant. In the sample above, it’s harder to hear the pitch correction on Uncle Kracker and Avril than on T-Pain and Bedingfield.

Tasteful Uses

As with any tool, a little care can yield great results. Some simple things to keep in mind about pitch correction tools:

  • Performance: Most importantly, an auto-tuner isn’t a shortcut to a perfect performance. If you can’t sing the song properly, no amount of post-processing will make it sound like you did. So when your pitch matters, and you don’t want to correct it with an effect, you’ll need to work on your performance until it’s right.
  • Less is more: The fewer notes you correct, the less obvious your use of an auto tuner will be. Consider automating the plugin so it acts only when most needed.
  • Graphical mode: If your pitch correction software offers a graphical mode (like Antares Auto-Tune and Melodyne,) learn how to work with it. The default “auto” modes are OK for basic corrections, but often produce noticeable yodeling.
  • Backing vocals: In general, you can get away with more pitch correction on backing vocals than lead vocals.
  • Outdated: Obvious vocoder-style autotuning is dated, and borders on kitschy. The synthetic warbling vocal sound marks songs as having come from a specific era, the same way gated-reverb on drums instantly places a song in the 1980′s. Remember: If you make the auto tuner obvious, people will say your song uses “the Cher effect.” Let this be a guideline.

Let us not forget that ver sson we will have Melodyne DNA which can analyse CHORDS and seperate the note indiviulally allowing complete control of volumes dynamics and pitch. This will surly lead to to some nasty uses alngside some inovative ones. I can not wait!



  1. Back in the day of strictly analog recording there were work flow processes such as having a vocalist double and sometimes triple their vocal tracks. Then the engineer could further process the tracks with various forms of delay, whether it be tape delay like the Beatles used or the use of black boxes(Eventide Harmonizer, Lexicon for chorusing, etc). Look what all of those techniques did for Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals? His vocal tracks improved greatly from Black Sabbath’s first album through the next several albums, even though a vocal teacher would rate him as a poor singer. I once had to record some vocals with a person that had a very noticeable head cold. After I threw some tape delay on, the effects of the cold were not even heard. Those old analog techniques became common and audiences accepted it. They were also IMHO easier on the listener’s ears and did not sound so artificial. To me the auto-tune technique sounds artificial. And you are not kidding that this “effect” has become commonplace. But has it reached a saturation point in main stream music? Or do you think that we are going to be hearing more and more of it in the future? And will audiences just accept it as they accepted the analog techniques for so long?

    • This is a fantastic point you have made and one I share. There has always been manipulation to greater or lesser degrees in recording and music, as in all arts. I think [read: hope] that we are getting closer to seeing a decline in the stylized overtly autotuned vocals. But I also don’t think we can uninvent it. Technology always changes art and we get used to it as it adapts. Max Klatz wrote an interesting book about how technology has changed music going all the way back to the early 1900’s. It’s also not all bad.

  2. It could spend more time and never been such a great tools. Anyway this is just what i think.

  3. I think “Good tools”.

  4. Good Post Thank. ^.^

  5. Thanks for the information I like.

  6. I like the tuning examples, Nice post

  7. Many times in the past, I’ve gotten away with using whatever means necessary (draggin the reels, vocoders/synthesizers, flanger/chorus, actual tape and razorblade style ‘cut and paste editing’, retuning instrumet tracks, etc) to work someone’s crappy performance into a useable track. What kept my customers happy (and actually gave me a perverted sense of pride) is the fact that in the end, they nor anyone else could not tell the track was doctored up. That type of “Stealth Engineering” is gone now that the world has instant digital pitch correction software available to anyone who wants it. Too bad.

    By the way, one tool I used zillions of times was a lowly $250 stompbox called the “Roland VT-1 Vocal Transformer”. Realatively high-tech for it’s time (1995 or so), it actually had a FORMANT control, separate from it’s pitch and timbre controls which went a long way towards fixing tracks on the cheap. It was like a secret weapon that nobody else had. Made me look like quite the genius many times. I miss that little thing. Wish I still had it.

    -Mista Bone
    Northern California

    • I didn’t know that Roland had a vocal stompbox. Have you ever used Roland’s V Vocal plugin? I think it comes standard with Sonar 8.

  8. Anyway this is just what i think.

  9. The Cher Effect oh.

  10. Thank for your post.

  11. Thanks for review.

  12. Thank for your post.

  13. Anyway this is just what i think.

  14. Thanks You.

  15. Thanks for the information I like.

  16. It could spend more time and never been such a great tools. Anyway this is just what i think.

  17. They showed a example of this on a news channel where people were auto tuning the news broadcasts, and how it was used in pop music. I’m a 70’s rock fan, Alan Parsons etc, tome crp like Kanye West soundsterrible like it has been recorded in MIDI or a microchip on a kids toy. While I have no doubt that some kind of vocal correction is useful (a lot of older musicians have lost the power in their voice and would benifit from some use) live performances being more difficult than having 40 takes to get it right, the auto tune software sounds terrible, like it was made on a commodore 64. BTW what’s wong with vocoder-style effects? I like ELO type music and would ppreciate bands that sound like the seventies.

  18. Quality performance

  19. Thank you very much but i like informaiton to you.

  20. The best information but i like

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  22. Great article, I enjoy your website and all the information it provides.

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