Did Auto-Tune Save Music?

VOICE OVER: Eric Cohen
Written by Liam Schell.

While Auto-Tune might be one of the most hated aspects in the recent music industry, there are more than a few reasons why you should embrace it! WatchMojo presents a video essay on the benefits of the tool otherwise known as robot voice! Watch to find out how Auto-Tune changed the music world forever!

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Does this sound hurt your ears? Well… maybe it shouldn’t! Welcome to and today we’ll be taking a look at the widely criticized art of the auto-tune during the 2000s, and why it might not be quite as bad as you think.

If you weren’t yet born, or living under some sort of early-internet rock, you may have never heard the smooth sounds of Auto-Tune which took the music world by storm in the mid to late-2000s. Created in 1997 by a company called Antares Audio Technologies, the device’s initial purpose was to subtly correct the faults in a singer’s voice, mostly those singers that can’t quite hit certain notes. What began as a major advancement in recording technology, would soon become one of the most divisive sounds of the modern music scene. Of course, artists would go on to use it in other ways, but more on that later.

The effect’s early uses can be found in songs like Cher’s “Believe” and Daft Punk’s “One More Time”, the latter of which helped popularize the effect’s association with the term “robot voice”. Of course Auto-Tune wouldn’t reach its peak until the biggest names in pop and hip hop were using it to their advantage. While pop stars such as Britney Spears were using it to easily disguise off-key singing, there was a counter-movement that was actually doing something interesting with the new tool. Most commonly known as the face of Auto-Tune, T-Pain notoriously used the effect to create several of his hits including “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” and “Chopped ‘n’ Skrewed”. Of course, no artist would be able to top the highs of famous trendsetter Kanye West who experimented with its use in various electropop and R&B tinged beats on 808s & Heartbreak, which turned the mainstream music landscape on its head in its own right.

There was a large amount of criticism that came with all artists’ use of the vocal enhancement. While it’s certainly justified that people were upset that their favorite pop stars were using Auto-Tune out of laziness to hide their vocal imperfections, there’s most definitely an argument to be made about those artists that used the device as a way to distinguish their own style, in the same way that a unique musical instrument would. Take T-Pain for example, who many saw as talentless. Since he relies so heavily on the effect to construct his sound, many assumed that he lacked any real singing ability. Well, to any Auto-Tune haters, we give you T-Pain-sans robot voice, courtesy of NPR’s Tiny Desk. See, now that you know that T-Pain can sing, you can see his use of the effect a bit differently.

Take a song like “Buy U a Drank” for example. T-Pain could have easily have sung this song normally and used his true vocal chops, but it was this idea of pushing boundaries and attempting to set a trend that would come to be heavily associated with the decade that made him stand out amongst similar hip hop artists of the time. It’s the same idea as Drake’s dancehall infused “One Dance” creating a slew of imitators after it became the number one song in the country.

With this, Auto-Tune can be seen as the sound of a generation. The turn of the 21st century saw music branching out to create so many niches and subgenres with the rise of things like indie rock, emo and countless electronic subgenres, that the music industry was looking for a mainstream sound to latch onto. As everyone and their uncle had at least something to say about this new technology, it became the hot new sound that popular music could call their own. Take into consideration the music of past decades; the 60s had the electric guitar, the 70s had disco and the 80s had the introduction of electro synth instrumentation. While we’re certainly still in the era of the Auto-Tune right now, in years time many will look back on the sound as a style that was truly their own, similar to how many have embraced disco, despite it being seen as an embarrassing period for many years.

It’s also hard to argue with the device’s influence on pop culture and the sheer amount of parodies that stemmed from it. From “Auto-Tune the News” to “I’m On a Boat”, Saturday Night Live to Bo Burnham, it seemed like everyone was well aware of the pros and cons of the sound and wanted to get in on the joke.

As for where Auto-Tune stands in the 2010’s, it seems that the discussion over whether its use is right or wrong has sort of died down. While the debate has seemingly ended, its use in music is still very much alive, with its use in pop music remaining subtle, while remaining a major factor in the world of modern hip hop.

Want more from WatchMojo? Check out other great clips on our YouTube channel, and be sure to take a look at our Magazine of the Top 100 Music Videos of the 2000s.