Using Auto-Tune in Your Home Studio

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This Antares Auto-Tune primer will get you using the plug-in like a pro

This article was originally published by ProMedia Training. Reprinted with permission.

Almost 20 years since its inception, Auto-Tune is still the industry standard for tuning vocals – and for good reason. It’s still my go-to tuning software, as it can keep up with my own workflow and does exactly what I need it to do. I’ve never had a single negative comment, or even have anyone notice that I’ve used a tuning software, which is exactly as it should be.

There are many people out there wanting to lay blame on the tools for their work sounding robotic or unnatural, but this doesn’t have to be the case if you learn how to use your tools properly and pay attention to what the settings do. If something doesn’t sound right, keep tweaking until it does. It’s as simple as that. Of course, there is a limit to how much tuning or editing you CAN do to a less-than-perfect performance, but we’ll give you an inside look at the most commonly used parameters and how to use Auto-Tune effectively.

The correction modes in Auto-Tune

Auto-Tune has two correction modes: Auto Mode (AKA “lazy mode”) and Graphical Mode (AKA “Auto-Tune”). Auto Mode basically runs in real-time, analyzes the audio as it passes through, and determines what to do to the audio. Adjusting your settings can help it to do a better job of tuning, but nothing replaces your own ears regarding what needs to be tuned and what doesn’t. Personally, the only time I use Auto Mode is when I have several songs that need to be mixed in a very short amount of time and there simply is not enough time or budget to properly tune the tracks.

Graphic Mode is more involved, but yields MUCH better results. Graphic Mode basically works like this: You capture (or “Track Pitch”) the performance in the plug-in, where it can be analyzed, displayed, and edited. Then, you choose which notes are to be tuned, and how, and which are to be left alone. This is far superior to having every single bit of audio automatically adjusted. (By the way, if what you are trying to achieve with Auto-Tune is the T-Pain, or Cher effect, use Auto Mode with a very fast Retune Speed, and you can skip the rest of this article.)

Auto Mode

Auto Mode is the default mode when opening Auto-Tune. It automatically analyzes audio as it passes through, and tunes everything that passes through up or down to the nearest note. That being said, there are some very important settings to pay attention to, as they will help you achieve much better results, and you can minimize Auto-Tune attempting to tune things it should leave alone, such as vibrato and glissando.

1. Input Type
This basic setting helps Auto-Tune focus on specific frequency ranges based upon the type of content you are trying to tune. Always start here!

  • Soprano: For high or female voices.
  • Alto/Tenor: For the majority of voices.
  • Low Male: For Barry White voices.
  • Instrument: For violins, violas, and other types of monophonic instruments.
  • Bass Inst: For lower pitched instruments, and yes, it is quite common to tune a bass guitar.
Auto-tune scales
Figure 1: Choose the scale that fits the key to your song. Auto-Tune’s options include multiple scales from around the world.

2. Scale
Setting the scale to the actual key of your song will help to minimize errors in automatic tuning. Chromatic is the default scale, and probably the most popular, but setting the proper key of your song will narrow down the choices of tuning from eleven notes down to the seven within a given key. For example, let’s say you have a song in the key of C, which has no sharps or flats, and the singer is a little sharp trying to sing a C. If the note she sang is closer to C#, Auto-Tune will try to tune the note up to C#, resulting in an improperly tuned note. When setting the scale to C Major in this same scenario, the singer would have to sing past C# for it to create an error and try to correct to a D.

3. Retune Speed
This is one of the most important settings to pay attention to, as it sets how fast Auto-Tune will tune a note. Setting a very fast time will remove any variations in pitch, but can yield some very unnatural results. Then again, this is a big part of creating the T-Pain/Cher effect. If this is what you are looking for, start here with a very fast time!

4. Humanize
This allows sustained notes to have a slower Retune Speed than the shorter-duration notes. Typically you would start at a setting of “0” while setting the Retune Speed, making sure all the notes that need tuning are being tuned. Then, adjusting the Humanize setting will help the sustained notes not sound overly-tuned, while still being fast enough to tune the shorter-duration notes.

5. Natural Vibrato
This is independent of your pitch settings and is used solely to tame the natural vibrato of a performance. Leaving it at it’s default setting of “0” will not affect the original vibrato, and adjusting will minimize the amount of vibrato.

6. Targeting Ignores Vibrato
Turning this on can help determine what Auto-Tune tries to tune and what it ignores. If you have a track with a lot of vibrato, try turning this on and see if it helps. This is something that would typically be used with a lead vocal, so you would allow the natural vibrato to remain. Backing vocals typically shouldn’t have as much vibrato, therefore, minimizing vibrato is preferred.

7. Target Notes Via MIDI
This is quite fun to play with, along with fast Retune Speeds. When engaging this feature, Auto-Tune does nothing until a MIDI note is present from a keyboard or MIDI track, then it tunes to the MIDI notes present. You can then play in a melody from a MIDI device, and the track will be tuned to what you play.

Auto-tune options
Figure 2: Clicking the “Options” button gives you this screen.

Graphic Mode

Graphic Mode is what you should use when quality is the primary concern. Graphic mode allows you to specify which notes are to be tuned, and which are not, along with independent settings for each note, instead of the global settings used for every note passing through in Auto Mode. To switch to Graphic Mode, slide or click the correction mode from “Auto” to “Graph.” Then click on the “Options” button next to correction mode to get to the screen in Figure 2.

1. Enter buffer seconds
The default here is 240 seconds, which is 4 minutes at 44.1k or 48k sample rate, based upon your session settings. A five-minute song would require 300 seconds. There’s no need to set a really high buffer amount, as it uses much more RAM from your system.

2. Default Retune speeds
After learning a bit about retune speed from Auto Mode, you can set the default retune speeds for various tune settings in which I will discuss shortly here, but this is where you set your defaults.

Now you need to capture, or “Track Pitch” your audio track into Auto-Tune so that it can analyze it, draw a graphic representation of the audio pitches, and respond appropriately. This allows Auto-Tune the time to not only respond quickly, but also to ramp in tuning leading up to a note, which is impossible in Auto Mode as it is running in real-time. So to get started:

  • Click on the “Track Pitch” button. It will turn “Red” when enabled to track pitch.
  • Play the track. Play your song from beginning to end, or section by section. As long as all the information that needs to be tuned is tracked in, you can then proceed.
  • Turn off the “Track Pitch” button. Self-explanatory, but necessary to start tuning.
Auto-tune tools
Figure 3: Auto-Tune’s toolbar.

The Tools

From left to right:

  • The Line Tool is used to draw multi-segment lines on the pitch graph. It is typically used when you want to hold a straight pitch, or bend evenly from one pitch to another.
  • The Curve Tool is used when you would like to draw in pitch correction free-hand.
  • The Note Tool is used to draw notes. These are constrained to specific pitches and cannot vary off of them.
  • The Arrow Tool is the most commonly used tool, as it is how you select and edit existing lines or notes.
  • The Scissors Tool is used to cut existing lines or notes into separate pieces for individual editing.
  • The Magnifying Glass is used for zooming.
  • The I-Beam Tool is used to select an area of time to be edited.
  • The Hand Tool is used to move the display.
Auto-tune graph
Figure 4: Using the Line Tool
Auto-tune note tool
Figure 5: Using the Note Tool.
Auto-tune Make Curve function
Figure 6: Using anchor points in the “Make Curve” function.
Auto-tune make curve
Figure 7: Using “Make Curve” change the pitch of a part.
Auto-tune make notes
Figure 8: Using the “Make Notes” function.

Manual editing/drawing of lines and notes in Auto-Tune

In the example in Figure 4, after capturing a vocal into Auto-Tune, I selected the Line Tool and clicked “Snap to Note,” which forces any segments of a line to snap to a specific note. After drawing this line, the Retune Speed can be set for every line independently.

In the example in Figure 5, I selected the Note Tool, and then drew in the notes I wanted. The advantage of working this way is that Notes can be moved from one pitch to another much easier than trying to move a line.

Automatically creating lines and notes in Auto-Tune

1. Select an area
Using the I-Beam Tool, select an area where you wish to generate notes or Lines/Curves. I typically select the duration of the entire song, and then fix the points that require tuning, rather than manually creating each event, one by one.

Down at the bottom of the plug-in next to “Track Pitch” are the option for “Make Curve” and “Make Notes,” which are how we can auto-create “Notes” or “Line Curves.”

2. Make Curve
Clicking the Make Curve button will automatically draw a curved line, matching exactly the pitches captured in from the Track Pitch function. As you can see in Figure 6, there are green lines overlapping the detected pitches, and anchor points on either side of each detected event. These anchor points can be moved by using the Arrow Tool and clicking and dragging each anchor point up or down. This is particularly useful if a note is in key, but starts drifting sharp or flat as it is being held out.

In Figure 7, an area was first selected using the I-Beam Tool, then using the Arrow Tool, the Curves were moved up together to another pitch, keeping all the bending between notes intact. If only part of a curve or line is to be moved, the line can be separated into two segments by clicking at the desired split point using the Scissors Tool, then each can be individually manipulated.

3. Make Notes
In Figure 8, the “Make Notes” button was pressed after selecting the same area as described above. The advantage working this way is that the only things being tuned, or manipulated, are the notes that are being sustained while the bending in-between notes are left alone. What I’ve found gives the best results is to drag the edges of each note to a crossing point, where the original audio is on (or crossing through) the correct pitch. By starting and stopping the tuning process on these points that are already in tune, I’ve found that I have much more transparent tuning, and less “T-Pain” sounding tuning.

Hopefully this article has shed some light and is enough to get you started Auto-Tuning. Have fun!

James Creer brings over two decades of experience in music production and education. Starting as a well-recognized, young MIDI expert in the ’80s, James grew into a multi-talented musician, engineer, producer and educator.

ProMedia Training is the premier authorized Avid Pro school, having certified more students in Pro Tools than any other organization. With a focus on recording, mixing, music production, and multimedia training for musicians, producers, and recording engineers, ProMedia offers programs featuring Pro Tools 10 (soon Pro Tools 11) Training and Certification. ProMedia facilities are located in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, San Diego, New York, and Washington, DC. Learn more at www.protoolstraining.com

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9 thoughts on “Using Auto-Tune in Your Home Studio

  1. Who cares ! Some people can sing, some can’t , it’s all part of life’s rich pageant, stop being so fundamental about it – it’s an art not a flipping o level. Chuck out your rule books and make some noise!

  2. How do u actually make your vocals eg like t.pain for instance be does’nt know how to sing but after his been produced then all of a suddden he sings good. How do they make him sing good

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