October 4, 2022

Technology finds its way everywhere in every working necessary sector and sphere of our lives. We accommodate it in our houses, workplaces even bodies – our ears while blasting music, preferably whilst conversation; fitness paraphernalia to encompass all the methods of metabolism in our body. Dominating the ever-discovering scientific industry, a functioning powerhouse of data storage, processing, and analyses. It saves lives, through the vision it effortlessly provides within, something not achievable by any manual or mechanical method. It performs surgery in places not possibly permeated, providing solutions to the impossible. Its evolution furthers its flabbergasting nature, it takes to conquer the field of art too, counterintuitively so, since it is a field of human precision.

In the modern era, a raging tide of musicians finds their voice in Autotune. It stands to remove the barrier of needing to have a ‘god gift ‘. A creative tool allowing not only its common auto-correction of the pitch as the name suggests but also its usage in quirky aspects of vocal sampling and vocal style. Modern music like hip hop uses a hefty amount of auto-tune and may just terminate into a new genre of auto-tune. It provides a measurable surprise value to music listeners, certain styles of autotune even marking the artist (drumroll…. Travis Scott! For example).

But in its essence, it is a matter of subjectivity – subjectivity and viewers’ perception of the output of it, while even having this subjectivity embedded in the origin of autotune. It is an origin story of assured dynamic.

The Spark

In 1976, Exxon, a global contender and supergiant in the oil and natural gas sector had employed an electrical engineer and Ph.D., for a good position in their oil mining unit. He was quite literally a diamond in the dirt for them, as he would prove to be three years later. Dr. Andy Hildebrand diligently contributed to the oil sector through his job of managing, analyzing, and interpreting data. Collected by the sound waves that were shot at the Earth to predict potential gas and oil hotspots. This method was of success and had some probability and uncertainty to it.

Dr. Andy Hildebrand
Dr. Andy Hildebrand

A roll now to 1979, three years later. Exxon was falling behind on its seven-year contract with a major oil pipeline, a failure of filling oil in which would lead to a huge incurring of loss for the company. They could not afford any uncertainty in such a last straw. This opportunity was well received by Dr. Hildebrand. He invented a technology that could precisely predict the hotspots by wave correction, to give ridiculously detailed seismic maps of the Earth, which saved Exxon its multimillion-dollar deal.

The Evolution

This heroism proved to be an assurance for a forthcoming entrepreneur. “Dr. Andy”, quit his job. He founded Landmark Graphics, with three more partners and funding. His venture was prosperous. Landmark Graphics harvested an average of 250 million USD a year, with floating a public offering to a listing on NASDAQ. He ran operations to do what he felt he was known for and best at, building software for interpreting sound data to accurate seismic maps. Ten years of success left him enough to kick back and relax. In 1989, he retired from his venture. 

Dr. Andy, in his early days, studied music at Rice University in Houston. He decided for his sabbatical to be a blend of his knowledge in both fields of technology and music. He attended the National Association of Music Merchants in 1995 when someone suggested the idea of “making a box to sing in tune”. At first, this idea seemed to be nonsensical to Hildebrand, and he surfed other ideas to develop. But as he went ahead and failed in his endeavors, he arrived back as his lucky hostage.

National Association of Music Merchants
National Association of Music Merchants in 1995

The art of pitch fixing, and correcting is art being long perfected. The auto-tune was most certainly not the first scratch at enhancing vocals or even using it as a mainstream melodic tool. 

Legacy Autotune

The Talkbox came out, in 1939, a simple device from which the artist’s sound was incorporated into the instrument by a PLASTIC TUBE, recorded on the same microphone. This gave a mixed effect of pitch correcting of the right note played on the guitar. Next came the Vocoder in 1971, during the ages of synths, a characteristic trait of the music of the time. The synthesizer in question analyzed a human modulation into its individual bandwidths. It then processed this into different wave patterns to something more artificial; imagine sharpening the waveforms.

But moving back to the main hero of this story, Dr. Andy was on a path of magnificence in technology and art! He never knew that one of his articulate inventions would grow so wide in modern music. He never knew the raw simple idea of “a magic box making anyone sing” could lead to something this explosive.

The human voice has a rich elaborate texture, it can be broken down into a plethora of pitches at the same time (called overtones). Hence the calculations required to digitally, recreate the same waveform with a different pitch, would require a supercomputer! But of his past expertise in wave correction, Dr. Andy Hildebrand devised the calculation in a mere four steps. A true genius.

Now auto tune cannot be avoided in any song; a constant debate is to determine its worth. But nevertheless, who knew singing badly could be a business! 

32 thoughts on “Evolution of Autotune – Music & Tech Pt.1

  1. Wow can’t believe this is our little boy so much deep knowledge on the subject and so well written. Well done! Congratulations and good luck for many more

  2. Great. Very well written. Technology now is a part of everyone’s life directly or indirectly. Well written

  3. Hi!
    Super proud of you Ady.
    Can’t believe you super cute lil boy has turned into a deep analyst and thinker.
    I wish you All the best 💕 💓 and Good luck.

  4. Well written. Technology has touched everyone directly or indirectly and music is not untouched. A time may come when with the help of technology all the shortcomings maybe reduced.

  5. Stupendous piece of writing .
    A marvellous amalgamation of literature ,science ,technology , history , all interpreted and projected so finely for the reader to enjoy. Keep up the good work , God bless.

  6. Awesome read. Gives crisp insight into how sound wave analysis used in oil fields helped music field…Thanks you and look forward for more

  7. Very well written!!!! shows how deeply you have studied the subject and shared your knowledge…. Good luck for more such blogs…

  8. Hi Adri
    I read the article thrice and trust me you have connected it so well by going to the younger days of Andy and then connecting the dots back to profession and then ending with Auto tune
    Good write-up.. And informative Keep going
    Looking forward for new articles

  9. Great job Mr Adriano.. A lot of information summarized beautifully..Keep it up ..Wishing you all the very best

  10. A fantastic explanation and a vividly described… The article’s eye catching. Great going Adriano… waiting for much more articles from your end.. God Bless you Son

  11. Thanks Adi for putting this together so comprehensively. I found it to be extremely informative and triggered me into looking up more on this subject. Keep punching away and more of this coming please!!!!!

  12. Awesome Ady. It was a great read .Such detailed study. Well researched and written. Applaud you dear .It and was an eye opener for me. Looking forward to the next. Be blessed always

  13. Well researched and comprehensive. Really a revelation into the prigins of Autotune. Who would have thought it germinated from technology used to study seismic maps! Look forward to more such knowledge sharing…keep it up.

  14. A beautifully composed piece on such a unique topic! Great going Adriano with exploring the intersection of two diverse and vast fields of music and technology. Cannot wait for more such articles to come.

  15. This was such an enlightening article on a subject we think we know a lot about! It really was a super engaging piece, can’t wait to see what you write next Adriano!

  16. That’s so informative, crisp and well worded. Good to see young minds productively engaged in harnessing their talent and pursuing their passion. Keep up the good work ! God bless 🙂

  17. Well described article Adi… good to see our lad growing in a beautiful environment of music and technology the 2 important pillars in this stressful Era… where to keep pace we need technology and music to relax.

  18. Well described article Adi… good to see our lad growing in a beautiful environment of music and technology the 2 important pillars in this stressful Era… where to keep pace we need technology and music to relax. God bless you

  19. Very well written. Your passion for music & technology in today’s digital world of technology is commendable. Great going & all the best

  20. Great and Congratulations. Such a deep knowledge on music and very well fantastically written. Keep up good work.Good luck and God bless u.

  21. Awesome Adi!
    Thank you so much for sharing and enlightening.

    Thank you for going out and researching so much and articulating it so well.

    Really hope you post more such classic works!

    God Bless 😇

  22. Beautifully written.. interesting to read how
    Technology is ever evolving and changing .
    Awesome work and thanks for enlightening
    Us.keep up this good work

  23. Hey Ady,
    This is really amazing blog. It shows how much you love music and how deeply you have knowledge on same. It is very informative and well articulated. I am proud of you and hope to see more such excellent articles in future.
    Good luck and keep up the good work 😊

  24. Went through the article. Found it to be crisp, short and enticing. History of evolution of technology in music is well researched and made available to all, the information that otherwise would be available to music historians only.
    Would like to see Adi write more on the relationship of both.
    Also, one more topic can be Autotune and music….a boon or curse for talented vocalists…..debatable, but would make a good read

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