Many great songs were written and recorded very quickly in short bursts of inspiration. This wasn't one of them. About six years in the making, this song was the result of the painstaking efforts of six songwriters and at least three producers attempting to create a massive hit for Cher.
The song began life as a demo created by four songwriters at Cher's record label, Warner Brothers. From there, it went to some top producers, including Nick Van Eede of Cutting Crew, who said in his Songfacts interview
: "Kevin MacMichael and I produced the original demo with Mark Scott and Brian Higgins in 1992 I think. That shows how long the song sat around. We tweaked the melody and chords in the famous chorus... listen to the first two chords to 'I've Been in Love Before' and the first two chords to 'Believe' and you'll hear the similarity. We got paid a bottle of whisky between us for the session!"
The song eventually made its way to Metro Productions, which is a small studio in London, where Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling worked on the track after two Metro songwriters reworked it a bit (bringing the songwriter tally to six). They used a variety of studio techniques and processors to create a very synthesized sound, trying to create an original dance track that wouldn't alienate Cher's core audience that was used to her rock ballads. In an interview with Sound On Sound
magazine, Mark Taylor explained that he ended up producing the song twice: "It was just too hardcore dance - it wasn't happening. I scrapped it and started again, because I realized it needed a sound that was unusual, but not in a typical dance record sort of way. This was tricky, because dance music is very specific. To get what I was after I had to think about each sound very carefully, so that the sound itself was dance-based but not obviously so."
The big breakthrough in the production of this song was the distinctive vocal effect, which the producers claimed was done using a vocoder device. It was later revealed that they used an Auto-Tune processor, which is a device created by Antares Audio Technologies to correct the pitch in recorded vocals.
Vocoders had been used in music since the '70s to synthesize voices, creating a robotic effect. Auto-Tune came on the market in 1997, and producers quickly realized that putting it on an extreme setting would create a heavily distorted vocal. That's not what the software was made for, but it created a vocoder-like sound that kept some of the actual vocal, making it sound less computerized. Cher's team had reason to deny they were using Auto-Tune: the general public didn't know that musicians were now having their vocals corrected so their pitch was always perfect. "Believe" pulled back the curtain on this studio technique.