In a previous article, we established that virtuoso singers sometimes get defensive when accused of using auto-tune. It’s akin to claiming world-class athletes dope to win a game.
But before we toss auto-tune into the bin for “evil audio gizmos,” let’s evaluate it from another angle: that of a tool.
Aside from pitch correction, auto-tune can alter the voice to make it sound ethereal or metallic. One could argue that hip-hop, rap, and pop singers might not sound like they do today without auto-tune.
Although our list of singers that use auto-tune is limited to 10, the number of artists who use auto-tune is extensive.
But first, in case you’re unfamiliar with what auto-tune is, here’s a brief introduction to the software.
What Is Auto-Tune?
Auto-tune was invented in 1996 and is a software that corrects the pitch of singers and instrumentalists.
Producers control whether auto-tune filters every note or only select notes. Auto-tune can also make vocalists sound robotic or metallic. This is commonly referred to as “the auto-tune effect.”
So now you’re more familiar with what auto-tune is, here’s our list of the top 10 singers that use auto-tune:
Spearheading the auto-tune movement as a production tool is T-Pain (Faheem Rasheed Najm). T-Pain was born in Tallahassee, Florida, and is a rapper, singer-songwriter, and producer.
He experienced a lot of turmoil growing up, which is how he came up with his stage name, “Tallahassee Pain.” He shortened it to what fans know today as T-Pain. By the age of ten, he showed an interest in music.
His bedroom became a make-shift studio complete with a beatbox, keyboard, and four-track recorder.
He released his first album, Rappa Ternt Sang, in 2005. Although he can rap, T-Pain focuses instead on singing. The single “I’m Sprung” from Rappa Ternt Sang reached number 8 on Billboard Hot 100.
If you listen closely to the track, you’ll hear the “robotic” effect that he popularized. You’ll first notice it in the opening verse around the one-minute mark.
T-Pain is an artistic visionary who used auto-tune to sculpt his voice into something unique.
William James Adams Jr, known worldwide as Will.I.Am is the founding member of the group Black Eyed Peas and a chart-topping artist.
William grew up in East Los Angeles and had his mother to thank for steering him into music. She noted his talent and enrolled her son in the affluent schools of West Los Angeles.
Her insights and investment paid off. In 1988, William began performing with eighth-grade classmates Allen Pineda and Dante Santiago.
Eazy-E discovered the trio and signed them to his label in 1992. When Eazy-E died in 1995, the trio altered their name to Black Eyed Pods.
Time moved on, and there were personnel changes along with another name change, one that would launch Will.I.Am to superstar status: the Black Eyed Peas.
Their first album, Behind the Front, launched the hit single, “Joints & Jam,” that reached number 53 on the UK charts.
Since then, the group evolved from a hip hop group to a chart-topping pop act. They have sold over 80-million records and are perhaps best known for the hit “I Gotta Feeling.”
In this song, auto-tune kicks in more subtly than how T-Pain used the software. As a singer, Will.I.Am makes no bones about not being a great singer.
He admits candidly that he “leans on Auto-Tune” quite heavily. He goes on to say,
“The computer allows me to execute my ideas at the speed I think them. So that’s why I lean to Auto-Tune. It’s just an effect. But I am working on, you know, my singing abilities.”
3. Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne, whose birth name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr, was born in 1982 in New Orleans.
Peers consider Lil Wayne to be one of the most influential hip-hop artists and rappers of his generation.
Born in impoverished conditions, Dwayne’s parents divorced when he was young, and his father abandoned the family.
When Dwayne became a rapper, he opted to drop the “D” from his name to dishonor his father, Dwayne. From that moment on, the world would know Dwayne Carter as Lil Wayne.
When he was 14-years old, Dwayne joined Hot Boys and their debut album, Guerrilla Warfare, became No. 1 on Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
His solo album, Tha Block Is Hot, came out in 1999 when he was the ripe old age of seventeen. The album featured the rap hit Tha Block is Hot.
Lil Wayne released other solo albums throughout his career and was also featured with other artists’ projects. One, in particular, connected him with T-Pain. Although Lil Wayne is not a singer, he provided his rap skills on the single “Can’t Believe it.”
What makes this a standout performance isn’t just his collaboration with T-Pain but in using auto-tune as an effect on his rap. Around 3:00, you will hear auto-tune altering his sing-song rap into the classic “robotic” tone.
4. Kanye West
Born in Atlanta but raised in Chicago, Kanye West is a household name.
Even if you don’t know his music, you’ve probably heard him connected to the Kardashian family and for his behavior on award shows.
Despite his parents getting divorced when he was young, his mom and dad impacted his artistic and personal development.
His father, a former Black Panther, later became a Christian and opened a counseling center with Kanye’s financial help.
His mother was an English professor who pushed Kanye to set his sights on college. She also encouraged his music ambitions when he was in his teens.
When Kanye attended Chicago State University, he decided to drop out to focus on music.
When it comes to music, Kanye West is diverse as any artist could be, making him tough to pigeonhole.
Zeroing in on how he used auto-tune, we need to look at his 2008 release, 808 & Heartbreak. Kanye had recently been through a breakup and lost his mother.
He wanted a creative way to express his inner pain when he sang. He worked with T-Pain, who introduced him to the powers auto-tune wields.
Listen to “Love Lockdown” to hear how auto-tune sculpts his voice. Additionally, note the minimalist production of the track that directs listeners to his voice and lyrics.
During the verse, accompanied only by keyboard and drums, his voice sounds pleasing yet yearning. As he builds to the chorus, his voice distorts and seems to overflow with emotions.
The chorus explodes with more drums, and his vocal range soars yet is limited by auto-tune, making you feel how trapped he feels in his pain-filled world.
Now we list her with those that do. So which is it? As we hinted in the other article, it’s a little of both.
The Houston, Texas artist, nicknamed Queen Bey, has sold over 118-million records, making her one of the top-selling singers of all time.
She began to get noticed in 1996 as a member of Destiny’s Child.
She launched her solo career in 2003 while still being a member of Destiny’s Child. Her last project with them was Destiny Fulfilled in 2004.
During her solo career, Beyoncé has had a string of successful albums, singles, and tours. She’s even been in films and performed at the Super Bowl.
Critics give the singer mixed reviews about her singing abilities. An op-ed in the Chicago Tribune cuts to the chase with their title: “I Just Don’t Think Beyonce Is Good.”
Others praise her ability to sing operatic phrases like a pro. Read the article and listen to the video to decide for yourself.
But we still haven’t answered the question about Queen Bey: does this singer use auto-tune? It’s impossible to determine to what extent her producers use auto-tune to fine-tune her albums.
Throughout the song, you’ll hear auto-tune morph her voice into the metallic, robotic sound.
When Kesha was 18-years old in 2005, she signed her first record deal.
Kesha’s music career began years prior at home with her singer-songwriter mother, Pebe.
While in high school, Kesha learned the craft of songwriting from her mother, who had a publishing deal in Nashville.
Pebe spotted her daughter’s talent and helped connect her with producers in the music business. It wasn’t until 2009 that Kesha had commercial success on her terms.
Her breakthrough hit, “Tik Tok,” set new records per downloads and sales. It was also the 2nd longest-running No. 1 by a new female artist, the last being Debby Boone in 1997.
When you listen to “Tik Tok,” you’ll hear auto-tune unabashedly throughout the song. Auto-tune is a much a part of her sound on this hit as anything.
When you listen to this video where she sings without auto-tune, you’ll hear that her voice isn’t that strong.
She had this to say in her defense of not being a great singer:
“I made a conscious decision to use Auto-Tune for effect, as ear candy, and vocoders and chop up my words… This time around, I have heard so many different people say I can’t sing, it’s quite frankly irritating, so I … made a five-song acoustic EP (‘Deconstructed’, out on December 4) that’s kind of like my middle finger to all those people that said I couldn’t sing, and there’s more of my voice on this record.”
Born in Barbados, Robyn Rihanna Fenty (a.k.a, Rihanna) hit the American music scene like a tropical hurricane.
Discovered in Barbados by producer Evan Rogers, she let her love for Caribbean music shine on her 2005 release, Music of the Sun.
Her first hit from the album, Pon de Replay, combines reggae-infused rhythms with dance-pop textures.
The song became a smash hit, especially on the dance charts. Her signature hit, “Umbrella,” came out in 2007 and became a best-selling single, selling over 8 million copies.
There are several versions, one of which features Jay-Z rapping with the artist.
When Rihanna arrived in American, she discovered and fell in love with rock music. On this particular version, listen to how the genre influenced the production and mix.
All of which gets us to the all-important question: does Rihanna use auto-tune? Search the internet for this answer, and you’ll find two camps duking it out like amateur boxers.
One is the “Rihanna Can’t Sing” group, and the other is the “Rihanna is The Best Ever.” How much she relies on it to record her voice, it’s hard to say.
But as an effect, one only needs to listen to “Pon de Replay” between 2:00-2:10 to hear the tell-tale sound.
The hit “Disturbia” showcases auto-tune throughout the song. As to the raging debate about her vocal prowess, we’ll leave that to the social media experts.
Nayadius DeMun Wilborn, better known as Future, was born in Atlanta in 1983.
In 2011, Future signed a recording contract with Epic Records. He released his mixtape Streetz Calling soon after signing with Epic. The tracks received positive reviews, critics praising his creative use of Auto-Tune.
Future is an artist who relies heavily upon the sound-processing software but has been criticized by Auto-Tune icon, T-Pain.
Seth Firkins, Future’s producer, had this to say on the matter:
“I would like to consider Future one of the driving forces behind taking it from what T-Pain did – with no disrespect to him. I think we all appreciated its gimmicky quality when he sang. You just kind of loved it when it came on in a club, and there was just so much energy behind it. [But I think Future] legitimized the effect as a viable source for emotion. Can he rap without it? Of course, he can.”
Listen to “Crushed Up” off of his 2019 album, The Wizrd. You’ll hear the various ways Future uses Auto-Tune to shape his voice and add emotion to his words.
9. Travis Scott
Travis Scott was born Jacques Bermon Webster II in 1991 in Houston, Texas.
Before being discovered, Travis bounced between New York, Los Angeles, and Houston trying to break into the music business.
After years of setbacks and disappointments, Travis began to get musical traction in 2013 with the rap song “Upper Echelon.”
Take a listen, and you’ll hear auto-tune used throughout the album. It’s most notable at the 3:00 mark.
Travis is more of a rapper than a singer, and when he does sing, it’s more in a sing-song-rap style.
Because of this, he doesn’t need pitch correction. Instead, he’s an artist who uses auto-tune as a creative too, altering rap lines to create moods and emotional impacts on his listeners.
Travis Scott is a prolific artist who has garnished many awards over the years. A prime example is his album Astroworld. In 2018, it won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Album-Rap/Hip-Hop.
“Highest in the Room” is his most recent work and is an excellent example of Travis’ use of rapping and his singing style. The song was nominated for Best Melodic Rap Performance in 2021.
10. Chris Brown
Born in 1989 in Tappahannock, Virginia, Chris Brown found his voice literally while singing in the church choir and talent shows.
When Chris was 13-years old, Hitmission Records discovered him. They developed Chris and later acquired a meeting with Def Jam Music in New York.
The meeting didn’t get him a deal, but it introduced Chris to his future manager, Tina Davis. She later landed Chris a contract with Jive Records.
His self-titled 2005 album, Chris Brown, flew up the charts and became a smash hit. “Run It!” was the first single from a new male artist to hit No. 1 on Billboard since Montell Jordan.
Chris’ musical influences were Michael Jackson, Usher, and Marvin Gaye, to name a few. He was nominated for a Grammy based upon his performance on “Take You Down.”
Does Chris Brown use auto-tune? Before we answer, let’s state for the record that Chris Brown is a singer who can stand on his own vocally speaking.
But in the world of recording, he does use the software. Patrizio Pigliapoco, Brown’s engineer, had this to say:
“We also have Antares Auto-Tune on when Chris sings, and he hears it while he sings, and we print it. You will never find a raw vocal by Chris without Auto-Tune.”
As to how much effect they use, Patrizio added:
“I obviously use an alto/tenor setting, with Retune usually set to 11-12-13. But sometimes we go crazy with Auto-Tune and we set it to 2. Or it may be 7. It’s not about the right settings, but about what it feels like.”
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the top 10 singers that use auto-tune.
You’ve learned more about how auto-tune functions and discovered artists who lean heavily on auto-tune for their sound and others who prefer their voice to be the focal point.