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What's The Difference Between Autotune and a Vocoder?

Posted by - 02:28 PM on 02/14/12
fun.'s new album has been getting a lot of discussion over the past 24 hours on this site. As I've browsed around the net, I've seen similar comments here that also showed up on Facebook and Last.fm, all in relation to the band's use of "autotune" on the album. Now, the discussion around whether you thought the band's artistic decision to use the tool was successful or not is a different topic (one worth having here, if interested). What I want to focus on, for a moment, is the difference between autotune and a vocoder. Like many, I've spent a good time just using the phrase "autotune" anytime I hear an electronic vocal. It's the go-to response because it's the phrase most commonly known to the public. But, there is a difference ... for the non-technical, like myself, here's a quick run-down:

A vocoder is a specific effect. In general, a vocoder will take two inputs at the same time: vocals and synth-notes. The resulting sound is unique to the inputs - the melody/harmony of the synth chord, combined with the timbre/sound of the voice. Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" is a great example.

Auto-tune is a plug-in for pitch correction. It's most commonly used to "fix" portions of a vocal that may not be in perfect pitch for an entire verse, for example. Now, some auto-tune algorithms use vocoder based techniques to achieve this ... and that's where a lot of confusion comes in ... but the results when applied to an entire verse or song, for example, are different.

Check the replies for a video that showcases the differences, hearing the differences help.
 
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02:28 PM on 02/14/12
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Jason Tate
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02:34 PM on 02/14/12
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ACA
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If your voice sounds like a robot the entire song/chorus (see: all those shitty faux-core bands), I'm probably not going to like the song. As a personal preference, I want to hear my singers sing. I want to hear the passion and integrity that is more easily conveyed by an uncorrected, effect-free performance I'm well aware that Geoff Rickly has a hard time staying in key on Full Collapse, but I don't care. Singing in a punk band doesn't a great classical vocal performance.

Using autotune to correct imperfections isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes, getting a really clean vocal track sounds awesome.

There's no inherent right or wrong, or good or bad. To make an analogy, just because there's screaming in a song doesn't make it good. Or bad. Just because there's poppy choruses doesn't make it good, or bad. And so on.

When I'm not at work, I'll post examples to what (I feel) are bands doing it right (and wrong) with autotune and vocoder.
02:35 PM on 02/14/12
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Kdenisarealboy
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If Johnny Craig would do it, it would be the end of the world.
02:37 PM on 02/14/12
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Jason Tate
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If Johnny Craig would do it, it would be the end of the world.
What does that have to do with anything... ?
02:39 PM on 02/14/12
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zachff
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I was certainly surprised at all the vocal effects on the album, and initially I don't think it was a pleasant one.

As ACA said, as a general rule I want to hear my singers sing. However, after listening to this album a few times now I'm less disappointed than I was because I think it fits in with the direction fun. was trying to take. Is it the way I imagined the album going in my mind? No, but that's not necessarily a terrible thing.
02:39 PM on 02/14/12
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ACA
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I'd be interested in reading a list or a few songs that you think make good use of vocoder or good use of autotune.

Do you (generally) enjoy it in bursts or full-song?
02:41 PM on 02/14/12
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Kdenisarealboy
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What does that have to do with anything... ?
I just feel like the community will defend an artist like Fun. using vocoder, but if any other half-decent artist covered on this website would use it, everyone would bash them. Just my opinion.
02:42 PM on 02/14/12
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Jason Tate
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I'd be interested in reading a list or a few songs that you think make good use of vocoder or good use of autotune.

Do you (generally) enjoy it in bursts or full-song?
Bursts in the song - as an extra layer - personally.

Cartel's "A" for example I think is great.

Copeland's "The Day I Lost My Voice" is a great use of a vocoder.

Edit: Speaking of, Aaron's thoughts on the technique ring well: It can change a performance, but not the song itself. It's just an effect and to write off a song based on one effect is silly to me. If the song is great, you can load it up with autotune, and it will still be a good song. If the song sucks, no amount of autotune is going to make it better. So the effect isn't a game changer for me. But I guess if the sound of the effect is irritating to people I can understand that. It just doesn't really grate on my nerves.
02:43 PM on 02/14/12
Jason Tate
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I just feel like the community will defend an artist like Fun. using vocoder, but if any other half-decent artist covered on this website would use it, everyone would bash them. Just my opinion.
Plenty of half-decent (to great) artists use it ... plenty of shitty ones do too.
02:44 PM on 02/14/12
ACA
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For an example of how vocal effects/processing can ruin a song/album, see Dancing with a Ghost. Moreover, it's a slipper slope -- once you start messing with the vocals, no producer can resist tweaking every little bit until it comes out sterile and lifeless.

When you see Valencia live, some of the songs from that album manage to not suck. It's incredible.
02:46 PM on 02/14/12
tell that mick
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What does that have to do with anything... ?



So? Plenty of posts don't add to the conversation.

Casual observation...
02:47 PM on 02/14/12
Charles777
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Both sound pretty obnoxious.
02:48 PM on 02/14/12
Jason Tate
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I was talking about the topic at hand (The Office) when I responded with that. But thanks for the "casual observation" - super helpful!
02:49 PM on 02/14/12
SomedayTheFire
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I've nothing to add, but I'm subbing for the lolz this thread will produce.

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