It's cute, it really is, seeing new people to dance music listen to a song and say "Ooh! A vocoder!" when in reality they are likely hearing the wizardry of a very recent software plug-in.

You'll hear it in Madonna (in addition of vocoders, to be fair), Eiffel 65, Cher, and several other mainstream Synthpop hits. It's that "skipping effect" everybody thinks is a vocoder. In fact, in newsgroups I frequent for music hardware, they say "Okay, I've got this really cool vocoder, how do I make it sound like One More Time?".

Made by a company called Antares, it is a plug-in available in VST and TDM formats, or as a self-contained program. Its most obvious application is making a crappy singer sound like Pavarotti by making all off-pitches snap to a predefined list of notes with any percentage of precision. To make it more natural, simply tone down the Autotune. The other side of the spectrum causes the voice to immediately snap to any pitch, causing the voice to sound robotic, albeit in a different way than a vocoder.

In addition, the plug-in allows one to see the singing as an X, Y graph and manually change the pitch. Unfortunately, the GUI for this plug-in is shamefully ugly and it has a learning curve that resembles sheer cliff. The biggest downside is that it only works with monophonic sounds, like a human voice, reed instrument, or synth leads.

Shortly, the sequel to this program will be released, called Kantos. Kantos is basically a combination of a vocoder, synth, and Autotune. Not only does it let one snap pitches but also trigger samples, use a monophonic instrument to power another synth, and much more.

Antares Autotune retails for about $250.00 but will likely be discontinued once Kantos comes out.

Autotune is the number one reason why all mainstream music today sucks like a Dyson.

You'll know an autotuned song when you hear one. The voices all sound preternaturally perfect and as sterile as the desert where the Soviet Union tested that 100-megaton hydrogen bomb. Everything Lady GaGa does is autotuned to death. Ditto everything by Kanye West (who I didn't listen to even before I noticed all this nonsense, on account of he's a vainglorious self-aggrandising pissflap.) I believe Lily Allen is also a fan of the autotune, and Beyoncé Knowles has become such as well. As a result of this, all pop music actually sounds the same. Autotuned voices sound like beeping with words on top of them. Which they effectively are. If you really don't believe me, have a listen to "Rock That Body" by the Black Eyed Peas. Seriously, they slap it on thicker than Jordan does with makeup.

What autotune does - and why I object to it so hard - is make everything so pitch-perfect that you now need no talent at all to be able to forge a career in music. You just need an array of stupid fucking costumes, a mammoth ego, a floppy hairdo and perfect teeth, or one of a thousand other gimmicks. In fact, creating and marketing a teen pop slut just became a thousand times easier, because no longer does your teen pop slut need to be able to sing in order to sound good on record.

You may think that you would still have to perform live though? WRONG! You can put autotune in the sound engineer's desk at a live venue and go from there. The advantage of this over lip synching is that if your teen pop slut accidentally knocks over the mic the music doesn't carry on regardless. The end result, being as it is an idea that you don't have to have any real talent because autotune will swing in to save the day, is corrosive. It means that, since everyone sounds equally perfect, you have to be less of a performer and more of a corps (unfortunately, not a corpse, worse luck) of celebrities in order to get anywhere in today's music business. Seriously. Would anyone honestly give a monkey's fart about folks like Kanye West but for his massive ego? Or about Amy Winehouse but for her public deterioration? Or about Cheryl Cole but for her punching of toilet attendants and attention-whoring about her footballing husband? Well exactly.

Thanks, autotune. Thanks a cunting million. You are the cancer that is killing music more surely than DRM or home taping. No wonder sales are withering.

For the record, I have one CD with any autotune on it, and that is "SETI" by The Kovenant, an industrial metal band from Norway. This use of autotune is only forgivable by dint of it being in industrial metal. The sterility of it fits with lyrics like, "in our quest for miracles, we started a war of genitals / Disguised as the bearers of justice, we took your fears and made you a God." It adds to The Kovenant's sonic picture of a load of heavily armed space Vikings coming to pillage your town with battleaxes and Pancor Jackhammers. Yeah. But that's beside the point. The point is, autotune removes the requirement to be able to sing from popular music.

If you're still unconvinced, though, then consider this - with no autotune, there'd be no Justin Bieber. Surely that is justification enough for doing away with it?

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