Ahh Autotune.  Popularly known today as the T-Pain effect, Autotune is a program [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autotune] that can alter the pitch of singers through a wide variety of settings.  Because of this somewhat manipulative tool, singers can produce songs that sound better than their natural abilities or create music that sounds distinctly artificial.  For better or for worse, Autotune is now firmly entrenched as a part of modern music production, used and abused by artists from Cher to Rebecca Black.

In this post, I’m going to walk through how to achieve a few of the effects similar to those that Autotune produces.  For PCs, Audacity and a free plugin called GSnap are easy and powerful tools for pitch tuning.  On a Macintosh, which we use here at the Multimedia Project Studios, the process is made fairly simple by the audio editing application, GarageBand.

–        Start off by opening up GarageBand and creating a new Voice song.  If you aren’t sure what key the song is in, don’t worry; you can leave the default of C Major and adjust it later.

–        If you already have a voice recording to use for this song, move it to the timeline by dragging and dropping the file into the middle of GarageBand.  Otherwise, if you plan to record directly into GarageBand, wait until after we have adjusted all the settings.

–        To open up editing controls for your recording, double click on the sound file in the timeline or click on the scissor button in the bottom-left corner of the program.  Here, you will see several bars that can modify how your recording sounds.  The one we are going for is “Enhance Tuning”, the slider in the middle.

–        The “Enhance Tuning” setting will adjust the voice in your recording to be more on key, just as Autotune does.  To apply a slightly tuned effect to your song, simply move the slider up, to somewhere around 25 to 50. Now, each word sung should sound as if it is hitting the intended note more cleanly than before, without any noticeable artificial tones.  Here’s myauto-tuned-for-good version.

–        Perfecting a singer’s vocals was the original intent of tools such as Autotune and Enhance Tuning.  However, recent artists such as T-Pain have experimented with its effects and taken artificial pitch tuning to the extreme.  The resulting voice sounds strangely fragmented and robotic, reminiscent of talking in front of a spinning fan.

–        To achieve this effect in Garageband, start by increasing the Enhance Tuning setting to 100 and making sure that “Limit to Key” is checked.  This will artificially adjust the voice as much as possible to create that robotic sound.

–        At this point, you should listen to how your recording sounds, or record yourself singing if you don’t have a voice track already.  Here’s my auto-tuned-for-evil version.

–        If certain parts sound different from how you imagined or intended, your GarageBand song file is most likely set to the wrong key.  To correct this, you have to edit the Master Track, located in the top right corner of the program.  After clicking on Master Track, find the menu for Key at the bottom right and play around with the different scales until your voice is moving up and down the way you want.

–        For further enhancement, try adding a “wet” reverb sound to your track from the list of Vocals presets – this will make your recording sound more natural to the listener.

–        To get the best audio quality, you have to start with a good recording.  Try recording with high quality microphones in the MPS Soundbooth on West!

Have fun messing around with the Enhance Tuning setting, and make some good music! Bad Music!

Even though Auto-tune – that funky robot effect that ruled the radio for a big chunk of 2008 – has been officially declared dead by no less a rap superstar than Jay-Z himself, people still went nuts for T-Pain’s Auto-tune app on the iPhone. You don’t have to have an iPhone (or pay hundreds of dollars for official Antares Auto-tune software) to get that T-Pain sound, though. In fact, you can do it with an app that comes preloaded on the average Mac: Garageband. Check out the gallery for a step-by-step guide to bringing the T-Pain.