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Microphone Month

“The Cher Effect”: Urban Legend or the Real Thing? Part One

Unless you have spent the last decade or so in the Australian outback learning to master the didgeridu, odds are good you’ve heard (or read) about something called “The Cher Effect” in reference to the 1998 mega-hit “Believe.” Some have questioned whether electronic wizardry was (or was not) behind the vocal sound. According to the folks at Antares, what we’re really talking about is actually the Auto-Tune Vocal Effect, and in the years after “Believe,” it has been used by a huge variety of artists, most recently by T-Pain and others in the pop, R&B, and hip-hop communities. Considering the musical mythology behind the sound, Antares has stepped forward to offer up the official explanation!

The Auto-Tune Vocal Effect is what is technically known as “pitch quantization.” That means that instead of allowing all the small variations in pitch (as well as the gradual transitions in pitch between notes that’s inherent in singing), the Auto-Tune Effect limits each note only to its exact target pitch, eliminating variation, and forcing instant transitions between notes. There are really only two key elements to producing the Effect in Auto-Tune:

  1. Retune Speed = 0
  2. Pick the right scale.

That’s pretty much all there is to it (though it should go without saying that you’ll need Auto-Tune in software or hardware to accomplish this). Are there possible variations in approach? According to Antares, the answer is yes, depending mainly on whether you choose to use Automatic Mode or Graphical Mode. Here is the explanation:

  1. You still start by setting Retune Speed to 0.
  2. Set the correct key and scale of your track. If you don’t know the key, some trial and error may be required. Start by setting major or minor scale and then typing in one key after another until you find the one that sounds best.
  3. Play your track. If it sounds good, save it. If not, keep trying….

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