Recently I wrote an article about how much I think AutoTune is ruining culture, youth, talent, and motivation. I came to the conclusion I have to swear off Autotuned music.
To be fair about this decision, I decided to see how the other side lives: I had to be Autotuned. I very crudely taught myself how to use a free Autotune styled clone. I mean, if Autotune will work for me, it will work for anyone. I am notoriously bad at singing, and when I do it’s usually in some kind of falsetto voice that scares dogs.
First I had to find a song I wanted to duplicate. For this, I just tried to think of the first song that popped into my head with some ridiculous auto tuning. Of course, my mind jumped to “I’m on a Boat” by The Lonely Island. You might remember that T-Paine has a wonderful solo where he sings about how surprised he is that he’s on a boat, and then taunts Poseidon, God of the sea. I too want to taunt underwater Gods despite my poor swimming abilities.
I had to find out just how the hell one auto tunes something. I did some googling and arrived at various message boards where people were lamenting how expensive Autotune was and how there were no open source alternatives. Someone had suggested that if you’re patient there is a relatively inexpensive ($700USD) software for Mac and PC called Melodyne by a company called Celemony. It’s not an editor in the sense you can cut and paste stuff around. It exists soley for the purpose of autotuning your songs. If you’re looking to play with it, they have a free demo. However, they don’t let you save anything and an intrusive beep plays at random intervals (as is their right to keep away freeloaders like us).
The technology called “Autotune” is actually a combination of several effects. It varies pitch, pitch modulation, amplitude, the relationships and transitions between them. Pitch is just the “note” you’re playing, or rather, would like to be playing.
Pitch modulation is difficult to explain but all I can tell you is that the less of it there is, the more you sound like a robot. A robot has no pitch modulation.
Amplitude is simply the volume of the sound. You can make someone louder or softer using amplitude.
Then, as you move pieces of music around to different pitches you can change how they change. For example imagine someone singing a scale. They smoothly move from one note to another, now imagine if they didn’t, and immediately jumped to the next pitch. This is a popular parlor trick in Auto tune land. If you’re looking for a good resource on how to use the tools in Melodyne check out this wiki. However, I maintain that the best way to learn it is to just go start screwing around with it.
Since I can’t save the files, I had to find a way to get the audio out of Melodyne. Luckily, for Mac users at least, there is a program called Audio Hijack Pro. It taps into any program of your choice outputting a sound and records it. It’s really bad ass. Unfortunately you do have to pay for it also, but luckily they offer a demo where you can record up to ten minutes before it overlays static onto your track.
So, using these two demo programs, and the free Audacity Sound Editor, I managed to piece together some lyrics.
First, I would encourage you to listen to the original. I apologize in advance for my singing. It’s absolutely terrible, and is one of the reasons I’m probably drawn to speaking, writing, and yelling.
Now, the final copy, synced up to a pretty rough instrumental version of “I’m On a Boat” I found floating around the internet.
Auto tune can’t help a hack like me because not only am I a terrible singer, but I am a terrible auto tuner as well. Even when I had the notes laid out right in front of me, I still couldn’t make my shoddy singing sound like the original.