One of the most unique ways to get rich and famous is to invent a scientific product that’s indispensable, and that’s definitely the case for Andy Hildebrand, the inventor of Auto-Tune, the pitch-correction software that’s been used for just about every chart-topping album that’s been made in the past 20 years.
As reviled and loathed as Auto-Tune is by many, it’s made Hildebrand a rich man. As of 2023, Andy Hildebrand has a net worth of $20 million. So let’s explore his history as well as that of his unique creation.
Hildebrand is the first to admit he was not a normal kid. He was an easily-distracted California bookworm who drove his teachers to drink. To escape that fate they’d sometimes stick him in the back of the classroom so he could engage in endless daydreaming.
When he snapped out of his stupor, though, Hildebrand quickly got serious about education. He earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1976, and he used his expertise in linear estimation theory and signal processing to help Exxon pinpoint drilling locations.
From Oil to Sound Engineering
Several years after he started working for Exxon, they approached him with an emergency regarding drilling for the Alaskan pipeline.
When Hildebrand realized that he’d come up with a solution that had saved the company $500 million, it dawned on the engineer that he could probably do okay starting a venture of his own.
That venture was Landmark Graphics, which pioneered an advanced graphics workstation that grew to be an industry standard. In 1989, Hildebrand sold Landmark to Halliburton for $525 million, at which point he was set for life, so he decided to go into music.
Hildebrand had been a working studio musician, so he definitely knew what he was doing when he began fooling around with sampling synthesizers. He helped improve the sounds to the point where orchestras became unnecessary for film scores, but the market ultimately collapsed on him.
That didn’t stop Hildebrand from pursuing his next venture, which was Antares Audio Technology. That led to the invention of Auto-Tune, and the pitch correction software quickly found a place in the music industry.
It was Cher who became the unlikely poster gal for Auto-Tune. The product was used to smooth out her erratic pitch in her 1998 album, “Believe,” and Auto-Tune was subsequently marketed as the “Cher effect.”
Auto-Tune’s controversial history also included a bizarre lawsuit by a rapper named T-Pain who believed he was being used as advertising material for Auto-Tune, which Time magazine has dubbed one of the 50 worst inventions of the 21st century.
The hatred of Auto-Tune throughout the music industry is both endless and growing exponentially, but Hildebrand doesn’t seem to be bothered at all by the backlash. He’s cashed in on his talent, and Auto-Tune just happens to be the ridiculously unpopular vehicle for that.
Compared to his professional life, Hildebrand’s personal life has been stable and sane. He married Georganna Hildebrand and settled in Santa Cruz, where he plays the flute, composes music (no word on whether he uses Auto-Tune or not) and donates to technical education programs in the area.