Why Do Singers Use Autotune? | The Four Main Reasons

There’s no doubt about it:

Autotune is everywhere when it comes to modern-day pop music.

However, as a casual music fan, you might be wondering exactly why singers use autotune. Is it to fix a seemingly bad performance? Can it be used for stylistic purposes?

Singers use autotune for four main reasons:

  • To tighten up slight pitch imperfections in a pre-recorded track
  • For stylistic purposes
  • To enhance a live performance
  • To ‘fix’ a poor vocal performance

In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into the four reasons listed above, as well as throwing in some examples to illustrate each point.

Ready? Let’s get started!

To Tighten Up Pitch Imperfections

Let’s be real:

No matter how talented a particular singer might be, a recorded vocal track is never going to be perfect. 

Often, a singer will nail the feeling of a particular line, but find themselves a little off-pitch in the process. In this scenario, autotune will be used to tighten up the pitch and polish the finished product.

Similarly, if a record is on a tight production schedule and the singer doesn’t have time to record the take several times over, autotune will be used to fix up any imperfections.

To put it into an easy-to-remember quote:

Autotune often the difference between “a great take with just one small fix” and “endless hours of an artist trying to achieve perfection”.

Recorded music serves as the backbone of any pop singer’s reputation, meaning it has to be passionate yet perfect. Autotune allows singers to achieve perfection by prioritizing the feel of a track and touching up any minor pitch imperfections with autotune.

When it comes to this aspect of the production process, many singers are transparent about their use of autotune and accept it as a normal part of the production process. However, others prefer to be a little more discreet about it (such as the famous Britney Spears example we’ll get to a little later on in this article). 

Some popular artists that have used autotune for this reason include:

  • Katy Perry
  • Avril Lagvine
  • Taylor Swift
  • Justin Bieber
  • Olly Murs

Example: Complicated – Avril Lagvine

As A Vocal Effect

While some singers might choose to be subtle about their use of autotune, others are quite the opposite. 

Take Cher for example:

Cher was one of the early pioneers of modern-day autotune use. On her 1998 song “Believe”, she used it to create an aggressive robotic effect on two verses. 

In fact, this was the entire reason autotune was created in the first place: to be used as a stylistic vocal effect.

In Cher’s song (linked below), you’ll hear a pronounced electronic flutter in her voice at thirty five seconds in. This is done intentionally, as the sharp changes in the notes are too quick to achieve naturally. 

There’s no denying that Cher is an incredibly talented singer; arguably not even needing autotune. However, her use of autotune on “Believe” lay the foundations for the future of pop and hip hop vocals.

Some popular artists that have used autotune for this reason include:

  • Cher
  • Kanye West
  • Kesha
  • Daft Punk

Example: Believe – Cher

To Improve A Live Performance

Here’s the deal:

When an artist records a vocal track in the studio, they’ll record it a tonne of times to get it as close to perfect as possible.

Following that, the finished track goes through a hefty post-production process to get things sounding perfect.

While this works great for recorded music, it can be tough to recreate in a live setting. 

Singing live is a different atmosphere for artists. Some may choose to lip-sync during certain parts of their performance, or in some cases, they’ll lip sync the entire thing. 

Unfortunately (thanks to the internet), being caught lip-syncing during a live performance can create backlash against an artist. However, a less-than-perfect vocal performance will also open the artist up to criticism. 

It’s a catch 22.

In this scenario, singers will make use of live autotune to tighten their live vocals up, resulting in a crystal-clear performance that doesn’t require the artist to lip-sync.

Similarly, singers can be affected by nerves and adrenaline during a live performance, which will throw their pitch off. Autotune can compensate for this. 

Some popular artists that have used autotune for this reason include:

  • Blink-182
  • Katy Perry
  • X Factor Contestants

Example: First Date – Blink 182 (Live From Chicago)

To Fix A Poor Vocal Performance

Singers and artists who have used autotune since day one are facing an ever-growing problem:

Some of them just aren’t great singers to begin with. 

Here’s an example to illustrate:

When Britney Spears released her hit single “Toxic” in 2003, it received widespread critical acclaim. Many critics applauded the vocal performance, as well as the song’s catchy hook.

However, a reportedly non-autotuned version of the vocal track surfaced online in 2017, which prompted fierce debate on the use of autotune within the track.

With autotune’s help, artists who really struggle to execute a good vocal take will find that they can use autotune to compensate. 

Example: Toxic (Non-Autotuned Vocal Track) – Britney Spears

So, there you have it! A complete breakdown of the four main reasons why singers use autotune. If you enjoyed this post, why not check out our guide on why singers use earpieces next?

About Author

I'm George; the founder of Indie Panda. I'm passionate about helping independent musicians realize the full potential of their talents and abilities through a strong work ethic, coherent project identity and a strong logistical foundation.