Auto-tune software is a music editing tool which can be used to correct the pitch of a recorded piece, or to correct pitch in live performance. This software is usually marketed as a plugin which is attached to a larger software suite used to edit and process music. The most notable example of auto-tune software was first introduced by Antares Audio Technologies in 1997; this company continues to be a leader in the field.
Ostensibly, auto-tune software is designed for corrective editing of music. Even the most talented singers occasionally miss a note, waver, or make other mistakes in a recording. The software can be used to detect the defect and correct it, ensuring that the pitch of the sound is correct. In recordings, using auto-tune can reduce the number of takes which need to be done, as singers will not need to re-record if they make a small mistake, and in performances, auto-tuning can be used to smooth over mistakes which might be jarring for the audience.
Auto-tune software can be used for artistic as well as corrective purposes. The ability to manipulate pitch can be used to tweak pitch and push a song beyond the normal levels of the human voice. The robotic-sounding voices in pop music are usually the result of auto-tune, for example, and this software can also be used for music in the Middle Eastern tradition which often involves extreme vocal fluctuations and challenging vocal tricks. With auto-tune software, performers can push their music in new directions, playing with the technology to create sounds and effects which would not be possible otherwise.
There has been a great deal of controversy over the use of pitch correction in audio processing. Some critics claim that auto-tune software can be used to cover up lackluster performances by artists who are not very talented, or that it can encourage artists to be lazy, because they know that mistakes in performance will be corrected. Others argue that auto-tune software can be used in a variety of ways, and that pitch correction is not necessarily always negative in nature, especially when artists can utilize such software to do things in their music which are physically impossible with a human voice.
With the widespread use of auto-tuners in the early 2000s, several artists and groups made a point of not using such software, advertising on albums and in performances that they did not utilize pitch correction. Other artists quite openly embraced auto-tuning, such as artists who record with auto-tune on, ensuring that a less than perfect performance is never recorded. Some artists use flashy vocal tricks in their music which they freely admit are not possible without auto-tuning.