In Cubase, the auto-tune effect is easy to accomplish. Using either a plugin or VariAudio (Cubase Pro only), we can, with a bit of practice and know-how, achieve the famous ‘auto-tune sound’ so many artists are using.
Through the past 20 years, auto-tune has increasingly become one of the most sought-after effects in music production. From Alice Cooper to Lil Wayne, from Kesha to Kanye West, major artists worldwide have used auto-tune or pitch correction to varying degrees in their music. With auto-tune being so popular, we need to understand how it works and how to use it.
So let’s get down to business! How do we replicate the famed auto-tune sound in Cubase? What’s the difference between pitch correction and auto-tune? Is either option strictly better? This article aims to answer all those questions and more!
How to use Auto-tune in Cubase?
- Method 1
Open Cubase and create an empty project. Once created, click ‘File’ and scroll down to ‘import’ and select ‘Audio File….’ Locate the file you want to use and import it.
Next, select your imported track, click the ‘Inserts’ button, and ‘Select Insert’ to find your auto-tune plugin.
Once your chosen auto-tune plugin is in the signal chain, adjust its settings to hear how the plugin changes the sound.
While all auto-tune plugins have the same goal, they will function differently. So try out as many as you can get your hands on and experiment to find the plugin you like!
- Method 2
Once you have imported your audio file, double click the file in the Project window to open the Sample Editor window—select the VariAudio tab and click the Pitch & Warp button.
The Pitch & Warp button will divide your audio into segments that you can then edit individually—next, box-select all the audio by holding your mouse click and mousing over them. The selected audio will appear in a different color.
The last step is to click and drag the Quantize Pitch and Straighten Pitch parameters to the right.
The selected audio should look something like this:
Auto-tuning in Cubase is as simple as that! Now let’s take a look at how to use pitch correction.
How to use pitch correction in Cubase?
Steinberg releases new updates to Cubase regularly, often improving features like VariAudio. I will explain how to use pitch correction with VariAudios basic controls to avoid any software version discrepancies.
Above: VariAudio basic controls.
1. Pitch & Warp
We use the pitch function to adjust a segment’s pitch manually. Mouse over the top left or top right corner of a segment—hold click, and drag upward or downward to alter the pitch. You can also adjust the whole segment by selecting it and dragging it upward or downward, changing it by a semitone.
Above: Notice how the far right portion of the selected audio is primarily unaffected.
The Warp function changes the timing of a segment, physically lengthening or shortening it. Mouse over the bottom left or right corner of the segment. Hold click, and drag left or right to time-warp the audio to the desired length.
Above: The Warp function changes the timing of the audio.
This function changes the length of a segment without altering its timing. Mouse over the left or right border of your segment—hold your mouse click, and drag left or right to change its length. Note that mousing over the bottom edge of a segment will give you the option to split it at the cursor point, giving more control if desired.
Above: The segments function does not alter timing.
3. Quantize Pitch
This parameter shifts segments in the editor into alignment with the piano roll. All the way left means 0% quantized, and all the way right means 100% quantized.
4. Straighten Pitch
This parameter will gradually reduce dynamics in the recording, depending on how much of it you use. All the way left means no straightening, and far-right means no dynamics (vocal nuances, vibrato). Setting this parameter to the far right will make the recording sound robotic, as pitch changes will be instant if the segments are back to back.
With a bit of practice and experimentation, you will be well on your way to pitch-correcting and auto-tuning like a pro!
What is the difference between auto-tune and pitch correction?
Pitch correction is the manual editing of the pitch of a recording. We use this method to make precise changes to pitch or even change the timing and intonation of specific notes. Auto-tune, as the name suggests, is the automatic/automated correction of out-of-tune notes.
You would choose to use auto-tune if you like the sound of a particular auto-tune plugin or if you don’t have the time to make manual adjustments.
Both of these methods work best on monophonic vocal performances. While auto-tune does, in fact, correct pitch, it does so in a set-and-forget manner. Pitch correction is a much more hands-on process.
Why is auto-tune so popular?
Auto-tune is so popular because, if used correctly, it makes it impossible to perceive any incorrectly performed notes. It affords singers/artists of every skill level the ability to produce a product that might otherwise be unattainable. So, in short, it makes off-notes sound better.
Even the most unpracticed performer can experiment and have fun with auto-tuning and perhaps even produce something that sounds amazing. Generally speaking, it’s better to work with a strong performance from your vocalist rather than one you have to polish into oblivion. That said, it is possible to auto-tune/pitch-correct a poor performance to the point where it sounds fantastic.
Is either auto-tune or pitch correction better?
Each method has its pros and cons. Pitch correction is better if you need to be precise, and auto-tune is better if you are pressed for time or like a specific plugin’s sound. It’s entirely up to the user to weigh the positives and negatives of using either method and proceed accordingly.
Generally speaking, the more control you have over your audio, the better. Nevertheless, using an auto-tune plugin can lead to exciting and unique nuances that might be difficult to replicate using pitch correction.
A brief history of auto-tune
Dr. Andy Hildebrand invented auto-tune in 1996, originally designed to locate potential drill sites for oil companies. However, this wasn’t to be its sole purpose. Dr. Hildebrand soon discovered he could modify the design to correct out-of-tune notes in music.
A year later, in 1997, Antares Audio Technologies introduced auto-tune to the music industry. Subtlety was the goal; correcting inaccuracies in the pitch of a vocal track. And so, the staple we know as auto-tune was born.
The Cher song “Believe” (released in 1998) was the first song by a well-known artist to use auto-tune more blatantly. So much so that auto-tune was referred to as the “Cher effect” many years after the song’s release.
Cut to 2021, where it’s far more uncommon for artists not to use auto-tune or some form of pitch correction.
Whether you want to auto-tune as a core part of your productions or correct pitch conservatively, these two methods are fundamental skills that every producer should know how to use. I sincerely hope this article has helped you on your journey to becoming a better producer or even just supplemented your general knowledge. Now get out there and auto-tune some stuff!
Cameron is a practicing sound engineer and music producer with over a decade of experience. Based in South Africa, he is also one-half of the production duo 2wice Shye. When in between writing songs,
he loves to create sound effects and soundscapes and tinker with production technique ideas.