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Did Auto-Tune ruin music? Usher blames T-Pain

Netflix’s newly released This Is Pop chronicles the ups and downs of the Pop music industry. The show features artists from famous groups such as Boyz II Men, the Backstreet Boys, and ABBA. One episode focuses on the fall and rise of the use of Auto-Tune in music, here, T-Pain explains how an encounter with Usher led to a four-year depression. 

“I’m gonna tell you something, man. You kinda f*cked up music,” T-Pain recounts Usher’s words to him. He adds that Usher said he “really f*cked up music for real singers.”

The use of Auto-Tune in music, as well as T-Pain’s reputation as an artist, have been a heated topic constantly up for debate for both creators and listeners. The music industry has always had a very love-hate relationship with Auto-Tune, but where did it even come from? 

auto tune

In 1996, Doctor Andy Hildebrand was at a luncheon where one of the guests told him to create a box that would automatically create a tune for them… and he did… and the rest was history. 

Dr. Hildebrand explains that “Before Auto-Tune, the singer would be in the studio for a week. Auto-Tune cut that week down to half a day.” He adds that “I had producers grabbing it from my hand.” Despite the demand for the technology, studios decided to keep its use on the downlow so as not to create any controversy around the use of Auto-Tune. 

In 2001, T-Pain, who was then working with Rap group: Nappy Headz, was hoping to find his edge as a solo artist. T-Pain came across Cher’s Believe and Jennifer Lopez’s If You Had My Love and found his inspiration.

Cher auto tune

Believe was the song that brought Auto-Tune out of the shadows. Initially, the producer of the song denied the use of Auto-Tune in the voice of Cher, but he eventually admitted to using it after the technology became more mainstream in the industry. 

T-Pain’s frequent use of the technology faced tremendous amounts of backlash, given even by those who heard T-Pain’s songs before he released them. T-Pain was viewed as a “corny” rapper, although he was still topping the charts.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, a writer and editor, explains how other rappers noticed T-Pain’s success and collaborated with him, they would reap the benefits of the Auto-Tune T-Pain used without “having to put themselves in the position to be criticized.” 

Artists like T-Pain walked so that artists like Kanye could run. Despite the hate T-Pain received, after enough time went by, and Kanye came out using Auto-Tune, the technology was not only out in the mainstream but now being more accepted by the general public.

Though, as Auto-Tune came more and more into the spotlight, the circle of Auto-Tune haters grew more and more as well. Auto-Tune felt overplayed, even causing artists such as Death Cab for Cutie to advocate for boycotting Auto-Tune. 

Years after T-Pain has already been established as a successful musician and producer, he did not really get the respect he deserved until the release of his 2014 NPR Tiny Desk Concert. In the video, T-Pain is solely accompanied with a piano, and the reactions to this were numerous and positive. 

In Netflix’s This Is Pop, T-Pain describes his feelings of anger towards the copious positive response, “I just got more angry because it was such a surprise to everybody that T-Pain has an actual human voice.” He continues to say that “in one light, it showed how much people respected me more. In another light, it showed me how much people didn’t respect me before.” 

Michael Gregory of The Gregory Brothers (Schomoyoho on Youtube) uses Auto-Tune to satirize both the news and pop music. He explains that “It’s just a tool.” Adding that, “Like any tool, it can be used for good or evil” 

Maybe the use of Auto-Tune is “corny” maybe it isn’t, but as T-Pain puts it “You still gotta write good songs. You still gotta produce good beats.” He explains that “you still gotta do all these things, and y’all are paying attention to this one plug-in”. 

There is more to a song than just that one piece of technology, it is still created and produced through human means. If you truly don’t enjoy it then that’s fine, no one is forcing you to, but if you find yourself bopping your head to songs using Auto-Tune, T-Pain says “welcome to the club.” 


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