Auto-Tune: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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Auto-Tune, the vocal pitch correction software, may be the most obscure product that almost everybody knows.

It keeps springing up: in a series of YouTube videos called "Auto-Tune The News," in which Auto-Tune makes Katie Couric and other newsreaders sound like they're singing; in Jay-Z's "Death of Auto-Tune," the first single from his new record this year and a pushback against the software's ubiquity in hip-hop; in national media coverage about all the Auto-Tuning going on; and in the app store, where a $2.99 app lets you hear the effect on your own voice.

Auto-Tune was, for a long time, a product that barely spoke its own name. Popular singers wanted fans to think they were getting the real deal, making Auto-Tune practically a secret. So Antares Audio Technology, the company behind it, just established and held brand position among the few people who cared -- music-production professionals and hobbyists -- with regular advertising in trade publications and online ads.

"We were not the only pitch-correction software out there," said Marco Alpert, VP-marketing at Antares. "We worked for 10 years to establish the Auto-Tune brand as synonymous with pitch correction. There had been a concerted effort to establish a brand position. So when the whole idea of this effect came out into the popular music world, immediately we're who people come to."

It took Cher to crack the hermetic seal between Auto-Tune and the general consciousness. The pitch correction on her 1998 hit "Believe" was so overt that Antares eventually got permission to say she had used Auto-Tune.

Marco Alpert
Marco Alpert, VP-marketing, Antares
And then, much more recently, there was T-Pain, who not only used Auto-Tune to great effect but talked about it a lot. Antares immediately reached out. The eventual result was the "I Am T-Pain" app released this year. The revenue from selling the app isn't very important -- "a lot of fingers in that pie," Mr. Alpert said -- —but the promotional value is considerable.

Jay-Z didn't hurt either. There is such a thing as bad PR, but "Death of Auto-Tune" wasn't it, not when handled correctly. "Sometimes things fall into our lap," Mr. Alpert said. "I made myself very available to people trying to put together a 'Is Jay-Z going to kill Auto-Tune?' story."

The result is record revenue for Antares this year, according to Mr. Alpert, and a lot of profit, too. "We're having our best year in history," he said.

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