The first thing I saw on Twitter this morning was a video of a cat letting out sweet, little T-Pain yowls. Joaquin Baldwin, a Disney animation artist, had auto-tuned his cat Elton and then made a compilation video of his suddenly quite musical meows.
I sent it to everyone. Then, I decided I had to know what was used to auto-tune the cat: partially because I plan on auto-tuning my own cat, Crouton, but mostly because the auto-tune effect used in the video is actually quite good.
The app Baldwin used is called Voloco — a free iOS and Android app for pitch processing that has been around for a couple of years. I immediately fell down a Voloco Twitter hole that was a most enjoyable morning time suck.
Here is a dog’s auto-tuned howl:
Here is a man lamenting having to shovel snow with the dulcet tones of auto-tune:
This is definitely how Travis Scott sneezes:
You probably have some understanding of what auto-tuning is. Auto-Tune is actually a software brand, but the extreme use of it in all sorts of tracks from Kanye West’s “Heartless” to The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” has made “auto-tune” morph into more of a catch-all phrase for overdone pitch correction. It’s usually used not as an overt effect, though, but instead as a tool to nudge stray notes into place, with the end result being that you don’t hear its presence at all. Its use is a lot more common than you might think.
Mix engineer Leslie Brathwaite recently told The Verge that he used both Auto-Tune and Melodyne, another pitch-correcting software, throughout Cardi B’s Grammy-winning album Invasion of Privacy. He used Auto-Tune on Kehlani’s vocals in “Ring,” and Melodyne on Cardi’s vocals on “Be Careful,” he says, “just to get her notes and the sound right.” You don’t hear a robotic-like auto-tune sound on either song, though, because the software was used to tweak, not overhaul.
I downloaded the Voloco app, and after poking around and watching some tutorials, I was shocked at both how easy it was to use and how robust the app is. Plug your headphones into your phone so you can monitor your voice, pick whether you’re recording audio or audio and video, choose an auto-tune effect and a key, and press record. Boom. Instant Migos.
The app comes with a starter pack of auto-tune effects, including a “natural tune” and “big chorus,” which adds harmonizing layers to your voice, but there are expansion packs that can be purchased like “P-Tain,” “Bon Hiver,” and “Duft Pank.” Once you choose the effect, you pick a scale, like major, minor, blues, or chromatic, and then a musical key. There’s also the ability to load a beat to record over. The app offers basic mixing parameters that allow you to select the effect’s strength or set an arpeggiator tempo. On top of that, it has mastering options like EQ presets, compression, and reverb. So, you could use this for subtle adjustments when recording, or go all out and “Duft Pank” your voice.
Voloco’s format as a free app with video recording means it’s perfect for creating wonderful meme-y moments. It also introduces more people to the power of auto-tune for audio processing, something that’s generally a professional tool. Look at this woman’s amazed face after singing a Kanye West hook:
Voloco is easy to use, but it’s in-depth enough that it verges into prosumer territory. The company even recently announced a free plug-in version of the software (VST3 for Windows and AU for Mac), so producers can use its auto-tuning in DAWs like Ableton or Logic. And, for those who want to learn the finer points of using the app, there’s a 14-part video series explaining everything from quick start tips to mic techniques.
I’ll be using the Voloco plug-in on some vocals in Ableton tonight, but in the meantime, here’s another auto-tuned cat.