Since the 90’s, recording engineers have relied on Auto-Tune to fix pop vocals without detection, but over the past few years, they say, the practice has increased, making lots of songs sound dully precise. [Why Pop Sounds Perfect via TIME]

There’s a downloadable plug-in called Auto-Tune that instantly nudges vocals into the proper note or correct pitch–sort of like Photoshop for the human voice. The creator of Auto-Tune, former seismic engineer Andy Hildebrand, morphed an autocorrelation algorithm (used in the oil industry to identify potential drilling sites) into a program to fix flawed notes. The retune speed can be set to deliver the output pitch anywhere from 0 to 400 milliseconds. 

Cher was one of the first to use Auto-Tune to make robotic vocals on her hit single “Believe.” Nowadays, T-Pain uses Auto-Tune exclusively for voice distortion, while Kanye West uses it to hit notes as he sings throughout 808s & Heartbreak.

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You don’t need a great voice to make it in the music industry–that’s a depressing confirmation. Our pop stars are more performers and visual icons than actual singers. How badly their live performance compares with their studio track will reveal how much they abuse Auto-Tune.

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