How to Use Autotune in Your Mix

Autotune or auto-tune can not only save you time in mixing your vocals or other tracks in your mix, but it can also be used aggressively to achieve some interesting aesthetic effects. Let’s identify what autotune is and more importantly how to use autotune in your mix.

What is Autotune

how to use autotune

Autotune is an effect/plugin which detects the pitch of audio and automatically adjusts that pitch, all in real time. Exactly what it adjusts the pitch to is relative and usually depends on the setup of the effect/plugin you use.

At its most basic level, autotune will simply adjust the off-pitch note to the nearest in-pitch note. You can typically also pick and choose the notes you want to include or exclude.

For instance, if your song is in the key of C major, you can specify that in the autotune plugin. This will ensure that it will adjust off-pitch notes exclusively to the nearest note within the scale of C major.

While autotune is primarily applied to vocals, it can be used to keep any audio in tune. It obviously works best when you have an instrument which is only playing a single note at a time as opposed to chords.

Attempting to apply autotune to a number of simultaneous notes (like a piano or guitar chord) will usually end poorly as it will have more difficulty picking out pitch, not to mention it will overcorrect for some notes when trying to adjust another one.

My go-to autotune plugin and arguably the industry standard is the Antares Auto-Tune Pro. Antares actually pioneered the technology of autotune, first introducing it in 1997.

Autotune quickly became a part of pop culture just a year later as Cher’s ubiquitous-in-1998 single “Believe” made aggressive use of the effect primarily in the verse. The effect was so closely associated with that song that for the longest time it was commonly referred to as the “Cher effect”.

The effect abruptly snapped the vocal to each note she sang, removing the portamento of the vocal, or natural sliding transition between notes. This gives her vocal a kind of robotic feel which was a good fit for the then modern sounding pop dance track (the video here begins with an example of the aggressive autotune):

How to Use Autotune

Now let’s talk how to use autotune. Again I’ll be using Antares Auto-Tune Pro for this example. Your DAW may or may not feature a stock autotune, but you can apply this approximate setup to whatever autotune you’re using.

These are the best autotune settings which I recommend; we’ll cover each one more in depth in a moment but here is an overview:

best autotune settings

Step 1 – Set the Key

While you can really get into the weeds specifying which notes you want included and excluded, I find it’s simpler just to set the key within the plugin when that’s an option as is the case with Auto-Tune Pro.

Antares offers a supplemental plugin called “Auto-Key” which you drop on your vocal or track and it determines what key the song/track is in based on the notes played.

Alternatively, you likely already know what key the song is in and can set it manually. Auto-Tune Pro allows you to set a number of very specific keys, but 99% of the time setting it to the key (whether major or minor) works just fine. If I’m ever unsure as to what key a song is in, I typically just drop a tuner on the bass track and identify and go with whatever the tonic note is.

Setting the key ensures that the autotune won’t retune any notes outside of the key you’re working in.

Step 2 – Adjust Tuning Speed/Settings While Monitoring Audio

Time to get into the nitty-gritty with the best settings for autotune on vocals.

First, if you’re using Auto-Tune Pro or a plugin which gives you the option to specify the kind of audio you’re tuning, go ahead and set that accordingly. In the case of Auto-Tune Pro, we can choose between a number of vocalist types from Low Male, Alto/Tenor, and Soprano, or simply Instrument.

Setting this to match the approximate range of your vocalist yields marginally better results, so go ahead and specify this at the top.

The three main autotune settings we want to focus on with Auto-Tune Pro are “Retune Speed”, “Flex Speed”, and “Humanize”.

Retune Speed

The most important setting is the Retune Speed; this is equivalent to the compressor’s attack feature in that it determines how quickly the tuning takes effect.

Setting this all the way to the right to “0” means that it’s instant: it snaps each note to the proper tuning, essentially eliminating the portamento or natural transitioning between notes altogether to give it that robotic “Cher effect”.

If that’s the aesthetic you’re going for then this will achieve that. Most of us want a more subtle and transparent autotune, so I prefer setting this around 40 most of the time.

Sometimes I’ll go as high as 20, but if I hear the autotune working, I prefer to dial it back a bit.

Sometimes we need to sacrifice or accept a few notes being slightly out of tune for a time in order to achieve a more natural effect. After all, no vocalist sings perfectly in tune 100% of the time, so some notes being slightly off is normal.

You also need to consider the genre you’re working in. Some genres lend themselves to a more artificial or aggressively processed vocal than others. In pop music you can get away with more aggressively tuned vocals to where you can faintly here that autotune at play. It’s the same thing with compression, overly compressed vocals are more a trademark of and work in the genre of pop.

If you’re working on a more organic or stripped down type sound, you probably want those vocals to be a bit more raw which means you might have a slightly rough note or two, and a much slower retune speed.

The speed isn’t the only factor at play though in shaping the autotune effect.

Flex Speed

Flex speed can be used to keep some of the natural quality in the vocal by allowing for a little wobbling outside of that note. Like retune speed, flex speed set to 0 (on the left) is the aggressive side of things. This ensures that once that note is re-tuned to the correct pitch, it stays locked in that position. This keeps the note in pitch, yes, but at the cost of the personality of that vocal.

Dialing this back to around the center or approximately “50” preserves the expressiveness of the vocal as you get a little meandering around the note.

Again this is that concept of sacrificing a little perfection for a more natural result, and it’s important regardless of genre.


Humanize affects longer sustained notes.

While a singer can often nail pitch on a big note when they initially hit it, when that note is drawn out for a second or more, it’s natural for that singer to begin to meander a little around the note.

Similar to the flex speed, setting humanize to the fastest/lowest setting of 0 (again on the left) locks that note to the correct key for its entire duration which ends up sounding very unnatural, especially the longer that note is.

Turning this up eases the autotune the longer the note is held by the singer, so you get a little more natural meandering around the intended note as it gets held.

Like flex speed, you want to keep this around the center of the dial (I generally prefer “50”) to achieve a more natural result once again regardless of the genre you’re working in.

Step 3 – Adjust Any Notes Manually As Necessary

Even though we set the key, occasionally if a note is seriously out of tune it may snap it to the wrong note, albeit one that’s still in the key of the song. When this is the case, I manually go in and tune up that note myself on the audio itself.

You might find other notes which aren’t being tuned aggressively enough because of the previous settings are catered to a more transparent re-tuning.

In this case we need to manually chop up that part of the audio and adjust the tuning in our DAW to assist the plugin to get a more natural result.

This is a reminder that autotune is not a magic bullet that you can set and forget.

It can save you a lot of time, but you still need to pay attention to your entire vocal or track you’re applying it to in order to make sure the autotune isn’t over-lifting to make a note or phrase which just sounds off on your vocal.

2 thoughts on “How to Use Autotune in Your Mix”

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