Live from The Today Show in November 2015, something goes wrong during Justin Bieber’s performance of hit song “What Do You Mean.” Bieber stopped the performance and looked to the sound booth for help. “I know we’re live,” he asked, “But I think you guys have some Auto-Tune on my vocals. Can we turn that off? That’s for other artists, not for me.”
Dissing artists who use Auto-Tune is a strong statement, but Justin Bieber has had a closer relationship to Auto-Tune than he was letting on in this moment. Does Just Bieber actually use Auto-Tune? And can he sing without it?
What Is Auto-Tune?
Auto-Tune is an audio processing device used to electronically manipulate pitch. It is often used to pitch-correct vocals that are out of tune. It can be used by anyone with a microphone and a mixing board to smooth over bad notes or vocal errors.
With the ease of pitch editing at his fingertips, artists like Justin Bieber can focus on his performance, emotional connection, and choreography while a team of audio engineers tunes the performance live or in post-production. The electronic-influenced sound of Auto-Tune has become ubiquitous in many genres of music and has been quite controversial.
Musicians have long been divided between using it for artistic effect and looking down on it as a crutch used by singers who lack talent. Auto-Tune is a registered trademark of Antares Audio Technologies, but there are other audio processors on the market that do the same thing, such as Melodyne and PITCHMAP.
So, Does Justin Bieber Use Auto-Tune?
According to Bieber himself, no! Well, kind of. His software of choice is Melodyne, an Auto-Tune competitor.
Bieber told Q magazine, “I don’t use Auto-Tune. They tune my vocals – they use Melodyne. But every artist uses Melodyne. Not every artist, but 99% of artists. I like the sound, the perfectness of tuning in the record. No one has completely perfect pitch.” As Bieber says, Melodyne is an industry standard, and a lot of artists do use it—to do the exact same thing as Auto-Tune.
Smoothing over “pitch problems” is the real use of Auto-Tune, says spokesperson Marco Alpert, vice president of marketing for Antares Audio Technologies.
Auto-Tune is used most often for an artist who has delivered a fabulous performance emotionally and there may be a few pitch problems here and there…[the software] can save a once-in-a-lifetime performance.
Not only that, but also almost everyone uses it, says Alpert. “Quite frankly, [use of Auto-Tune] happens on almost all vocal performances you hear on the radio.”
Has Justin Bieber Ever Recorded Without Auto-Tune?
Bieber was discovered after posting videos of himself performing covers of popular songs on YouTube. At that time, 12-year-old Justin Bieber was recording songs in his mom’s home and did not have access to audio editing software as sophisticated as Auto-Tune. These videos can still be found on YouTube and they also include Bieber drumming and playing guitar, which speaks to his musical talent as a young kid.
More recently in 2018, Bieber was spotted performing on the street in front of Buckingham Palace and was recorded by multiple fans. Those videos were later uploaded to Instagram and YouTube and show Bieber singing without amplification and accompanying himself on guitar.
He sings his hit “Cold Water” to serenade his now-wife Hailey Baldwin and a small group of fans. Vanity Fair posted a comparison to a similar video from 2010, also of Bieber singing on the street in front of Buckingham Palace. In 2010, the young Bieber was promoting his debut album My World 2.0. On comparison, the vocals might be slightly less clear in 2018, but the voice remains much the same.
The videos of Bieber performing on the streets while accompanying himself on guitar are almost certainly Auto-Tune free. While anything that has been recorded can technically be edited in post-production, achieving the fine-tuned sound of Auto-Tuned vocals requires expensive recording equipment not often found outside a studio or a large performance venue.
The fact that the videos were taken on small phone cameras by fans, not production companies, would make it very hard to believe that they have been altered by Auto-Tune.
What Do Auto-Tune Free Performances Show?
The videos of un-edited performances show that Bieber has the vocal chops to hold his own without Auto-Tune. Also, the way he started his career sets him apart. Few pop singers have started their careers so young with only self-published videos on YouTube.
Many other pop singers have started off with demo albums cut at large production studios where they paid to have an audio engineer edit their debut album. However, fans love Bieber for his relatable start on YouTube, and for the way it shows his roots as a singer.
In the music industry, there are so many different avenues of expression and vocal style that comparison between singers is difficult. There might be more talented singers out there — especially outside of Bieber’s chosen performance genre. However, few pop stars have reached the height of popularity and record sales that Justin Bieber has attained.
Bieber knows where his talents lie, and he does well to stick to the pop genre. His un-edited performances show a mastery of pop style vocals and embellishment style that can stand on its own.
Justin Bieber is a gifted musician and performer, who sings successfully in his chosen vocal style and genre. Because Auto-Tune is usually applied minimally to clean up recordings of otherwise good performances, it is apparent that Bieber can do most of the singing himself.
Bieber has said himself that he does use it to aid in achieving a pitch-perfect tuning style, but his voice does not have the robotic quality of an overly edited voice. Given this realistic quality and that there are some videos of Bieber performing without audio editing software, it is safe to say that he can sing without Auto-Tune.
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