Ever wondered how you can tell if a voice is autotuned?
Although autotune serves as one of the most widely-used techniques in recorded music, it stands as a contentious topic in the pop world:
While many artists have embraced the technology as a key part of their careers (we’re looking at you, Cher), there’s a hefty pool of singers who are much more discrete about their use of autotune.
Heck, some will even flat-out deny it.
If you’ve ever wanted to fact-check the claims of your favorite singer, here’s six killer tips on how to tell if a voice is autotuned:
1. There’s A Lack Of Emotion
By nature, autotune flattens out the pitch and harshens the transitions between pitches.
When singers opt for heavy autotune on their vocal track, it tends to kill a lot of the emotion that may have been prevalent in the performance.
Conversely, when a singer’s voice is ripping with emotion, it’s a good indication that the track hasn’t been autotuned (or, if it has, it’s been done lightly).
If you’re having a hard time forming an emotional connection with the vocal performance (and struggling to hear or understand the lyrics), then it’s likely been autotuned.
Here’s an example of an emotion-laden track that features no autotune:
2. The Vocal Track Is Distortion-Heavy
In the rock and metal realms, many singers will use distortion on their voice to add a sense of aggression and sheen to a track.
In order to refine that sense of aggression, a distorted vocal track will often be hit with a hefty dose of autotune.
This tightens up the transitions between notes, which makes the distortion a little crisper.
When you listen to the Green Day track Horseshoes and Handgrenades, you’ll notice huge leaps in pitch throughout Billie Joe’s distorted vocal performance. However, the autotune keeps things glued together:
3. There’s A ‘Tight’ Feel To The Vocal Track
This tip is tangentially-related to the previous one.
If a track is a little more on the funky side, it’ll require a tight vocal performance to get the feel of the track right. This includes:
- Minimal fluctuation in pitch when holding a note
- Sharp movements between pitches
Interestingly, this technique is commonly-used on backing vocals to tighten up the feel of the overall vocal mix:
Faith Hill shocked the country music industry when she decided to add autotune to her backing vocals in ‘The Way You Love Me.’
If you listen to the original version compared to the studio effect mix that’s linked below, you’ll be able to immediately pick up on how the voices were autotuned to enhance the song’s vibe.
Pay attention to how her voice changes when hitting certain notes:
4. The Ends Of Phrases Sound Slightly Robotic
This one is a dead giveaway:
Autotune tends to rear its head at the very end of phrases. If you notice a slight robotic-like tone at the end of a singer’s lines, it’s extremely likely that their voice has been autotuned.
A great example comes in the form of the hit Black Eyed Peas song Boom Boom Pow.
Throughout the song, you can hear the robotic wash at the end of Fergie’s phrases, as well as from the backing vocals on the track.
While the autotune on this track was also likely a stylistic choice, it’s a great example of what to look for when trying to spot an autotuned voice:
5. It’s Being Used As A Stylistic Effect
OK, this one is a little more obvious:
While autotune serves as a great tool for tightening up a singer’s voice, it’s also an awesome standalone effect when used in the right circumstances.
Having been pioneered by Cher on her hit 1998 single Believe, many artists in the pop, electronic and hip hop realms were keen to follow suit.
Daft Punk have leveraged heavy autotune use throughout their career to compliment their electronic style of music, arguably paving the way for the future of the genre.
Their track One More Time serves as a great example of autotune being used as a standalone stylistic effect:
And that’s that! A complete guide to how you might be able to tell if a voice is autotuned.
If you’re looking to learn more about the subject of autotune, why not check out our guide on the reasons why singers use autotune next?