Do Rock Singers Use Auto-Tune?Devlon Jarrod Horne
I was listening to some rock music the other day and wondered in this modern era of music where most bands and artists use auto-tune either in a subtle way or for drastic effect. do rock singers use it because some of their voices and techniques are just out of this world?
Some rock singers have used, and still use, auto-tune in some cases to achieve a certain effect or to help their vocal ability on recordings and in their live performances. Auto-tune, however, cannot affect modern techniques of rock singers like screaming and its subcategories, because screaming is atonal.
Let’s have a look at what exactly auto-tune is, how would it affect rock singers, and to what degree? We’ll go over what techniques auto-tune could affect and then we will take a look at some rock singers and rock bands who have used auto-tune before.
What is Auto-tune?
Before we dive into rock singers and auto-tune let’s just make sure that you know what auto-tune is.
Auto-Tune is an audio processor developed and introduced by Andy Hildebrand, a Ph.D. in 1997 and Antares Audio Technologies. It is an audio processor that uses a proprietary device to measure and alter pitch in vocal and instrumental music recording and performances.
What does that mean?
If you understand the concept of singing you will know that singers and rock singers sing pitches (notes) in a key and they sing notes of a scale or chord in that key to create their melodies.
Now, one of the differences between a good and a bad singer is being able to hit these notes when they sing. We say someone who can’t sing sings “off-key” or “off pitch”.
Now the auto-tune software lets you take those notes that a singer is singing sharp or flat (off-pitch) and adjust them to the correct closest semitone in that specific key they are trying to sing in.
So, in laymen’s terms, it helps the singer stay in tune better by shifting there notes up or down to the correct pitch.
Why would a rock singer need auto-tune?
Well if a rock singer is having trouble singing in tune and in key then they would need the help of an auto tuner to help them stay on pitch. The auto tuner could be used in studio or in a live performance and then when the rock singer sang off-key the auto tuner would jump in and save the day somewhat.
Another reason is that singing rock music is a very different style to that of singing pop or opera. Rock singers use and implement different techniques in the style of rock singing and metal singing.
Some of these techniques are difficult to achieve and when they sing or try to sing with these techniques their notes can and may fall very flat or even go sharp. Then they would need an auto tuner to help them.
Take Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. His vocal range and technique are second to none amazing. If you would try to sing a ballad like “I don’t wanna miss a thing”, you will notice all the subtleties of the phrases, the range in which the notes lay, and the power he has to put in his vocals to achieve that tone and sound he does.
If you can sing like that then you don’t need to auto-tune. If you consider yourself a rock singer and can’t sing like that then you probably need auto-tune. However, there are different styles in rock and Steven Tyler is not the only benchmark for a good rock singer.
Is singing more difficult for a rock singer?
We can’t say that singing rock music is more difficult than any other genre. For any genre at the professional level, singing takes talent, skill, technique, years of practice, and dedication and that singer in a specific genre is the best at what they do because they are somewhat unmatched.
All genres of singing implement and draw techniques form one another. Their styles are just different in some ways. However, some rock singing techniques are difficult to sing and require years of practice.
What techniques for rock singing does auto-tune affect?
Auto-tune won’t affect any specific technique per se. As we now know auto-tune corrects off-pitch notes and shifts them up or down to place them in the correct musical key.
If a rock singer is using a technique for example like vibrato. The auto-tune technically won’t affect the singer’s physical technique at implementing vibrato but rather shift the pitches of the notes that the rock singer is singing vibrato on.
Another example is vocal fry. The auto-tune cannot affect and physically manipulate the way a rock sing implements and uses vocal fry. It, however, will auto-correct the pitch the singer is placing the vocal fry on.
If you are enjoying this so far then take a look at my other article – Do Rock Singers Take Voice Lessons? A Detailed Overview. I cover if rock singers are just naturally adept in singing rock music or do they actually take lessons and learn how to do it.
Does Auto-tune affect screaming vocals?
This is a good question and definitely deserves an answer. You get different types of screams and growls in rock, hardcore rock, and death metal.
Now we said that auto-tune effects and auto-corrects a note moving it either up or down and placing the note to the closest semitone in that correct key.
There are a few things we need to understand before we can understand if auto-tune will affect screaming.
Music is tonal
Music is tonal for the most part. That means it is written in key and the notes in that key have specific frequencies and those notes relate to each other melodically and harmonically.
Singing is tonal
To sing is to sing in a tonal way for the most part. That is why we find it so pleasant and appealing. We sing notes of specific frequencies in a key. Singing those notes at those frequencies and others in that key all come together to create melodies and harmonies that are pleasing for us to listen to.
Screaming is atonal
Screaming is the result of many frequencies bundled together and there is not one specific pitch or frequency. There are a lot grouped together. You do get people who can scream actual notes and the technique is called Fry Screaming. Sam Carter of Architects is a great example of someone who uses this technique.
So, with that understanding, the auto-tune will not affect atonal screams because there are too many frequencies at play. Hence the auto-tune is null and void and will not work.
From this, we can decipher that any rock singer you hear that is screaming, they did not use auto-tune to fix or manipulate their vocal lines.
Here is a video by Andre Beana who demonstrates using auto-tune with screaming and we can see that screaming is not affected by auto-tune.
Would auto-tune be applicable to the type of screaming that Sam Carter does with the technique fry screaming. Maybe it possible maybe it is not. The only way we could find that out is to find someone who could actually do it and test it out and I came up short on the research for that.
What rock singers/bands have used auto-tune?
Rock singers are known for there great voices and auto-tune was only released in 1997. With that knowledge, we know that any single rock singer or band prior to that date did not have auto-tune available to them. So, everything you hear prior to 1997 is as real as it gets.
Post-1997 auto-tune was and is used in almost every single professional recording studio. Produces use it to help vocalists including rock singers and they save time and money by not having to re-do vocal takes over and over. The use of auto-tune by top-notch produces is subtle and unnoticeable unless they are using it in extreme circumstances to create a specific effect.
With research, I found that Alice Cooper on his recent albums, Kid Rock and Fallout Boy have used auto-tune before. Here is a list of artists and bands that have used auto-tune that we know about.
What does this mean for their live performance?
Well, this means depending on the singer and either their lack of talent or their lack of professionalism towards the art of singing, they would use auto-tune live in order to compensate for there voice.
This is frowned upon heavily and fans feel cheated and upset if a singer has to use auto-tune live. Fans even get upset if they use it in the studio. One thing to note is that auto-tune cannot turn a non-singer into a singer. Nonetheless, auto-tune is here and it is here to stay.
“Auto-tune revolutionized popular music” “the fad that just wouldn’t fade. Its use is now more entrenched than ever”
Here is a performance of Rock and Rock Hall of Fame artist Billy Joel using auto-tune to sing the American National Anthem at the Superbowl. What do you think of auto-tune?
So, if a rock singer uses auto-tune is it cheating?
That is a question only you as a fan can answer. Music like with any art form is relative to the person appreciating it. People will have different views on auto-tune, music, and art in general. You have to decide for yourself if it’s a hinder to rock singers, and to music as a whole.
Since 1997 rock singers, bands, and artists may have, may not have, do, and don’t use auto-tune for their studio-recorded albums or their live performances. Produces use it in a subtle way sometimes and sometimes for a specific effect. There are a handful of rock singers like Alice Cooper and bands like Fall Out Boy that we know use auto-tune. We may not know of others that do.
However, one thing to note is that in the genres of heavy rock and metal screaming is not affected by auto-tune so, everything you hear there is real. For the singing sections, we just don’t know and won’t know.
If you enjoyed this article then have a look at a great one I wrote on – Are Singers Naturally Talented? I discuss if singers are born with this great gift or if it can be learned and what genetic factors play a role.