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GENIUS! #14: Andy Hildebrand and Auto-Tune

"Several producers insisted on getting it NOW one explaining he'd just paid $60,000 to make [unnamed superstar] in tune. Auto-Tune would have done the job perfectly in minutes"

Love it or loathe it, pitch-correction software is here to stay, having made an impact on the industry even before Auto-Tune was released in 1997. “Two months after I started development I took the half completed product to the NAMM Show and demonstrated it at the Digidesign booth,” explains its creator, Dr Andy Hildebrand. “Several producers insisted on getting it now, one explaining he’d just paid $60,000 to make [unnamed superstar] in tune. Auto-Tune would have done the job perfectly in minutes.” Now a permanent fixture in studios, pitch-correction software such as Auto-Tune is as likely to be used to gently push a performance into pitch as it is to be creatively abused to create an almost synthetic, vocoder-like effect.

Hildebrand got his PhD in electrical engineering, specialising in signal processing, in 1976, then went on to work at Exxon doing seismic data processing research and by 1980 had co-founded Landmark Graphics Corporation, which he left in 1988 to go back to school to study composition at Shepard School of Music in Rice University. He then founded Jupiter Systems, which became Antares in 1990. Much ink has been wasted trying to link his time at Exxon with the development of Auto-Tune but Dr Andy (as he is affectionately known) laughs this off: “The reality is there was 17 years in between and they have nothing to do with each other.”

But Dr Andy isn’t afraid of extending beyond his comfort zone, and recently, while examining guitar waveforms, was inspired by his daughter, a cardiologist, into developing tools for pacemakers. “It turns out that defibrillating pacemakers make errors based on not correctly computing the pulse rate: sometimes they shock what they shouldn’t, which can be problematic. Sometimes they don’t shock when they should, which can be fatal. So now I’m working on pacemakers as well.”