Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Singers wanted, talent not required

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2009

Have you ever been listening to a singer on the radio and heard something that didn’t sound quite natural? As if, instead of singing a different note, the pitch of the note had been artificially changed by a computer?

If so, you’re not hearing things. You’re hearing something that has become widespread in the music industry over the last ten years, a piece of technology called “Auto-Tune”. It’s a piece of equipment that can digitally correct a singer’s pitch in real time – allowing its use during live performances as well as in the studio.

Depending on how it is used, the effect can be very obvious or subtle. Recall Cher’s 1998 hit “Believe”, in which the technology is used very notably as a special effect on Cher’s voice during the verses. It was also prominent in the Janet Jackson song, “All For You”. When used in this way, Auto-Tune is really no different than Peter Frampton’s vocoder or other special effects used in modern music.

However, it’s not always as obvious that legions of pop, country and other artists routinely use Auto-Tune to fix their vocal mistakes. A careful listener can hear it in songs by artists such as Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift, and major country stars like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have used it in performance.

This is troubling because it threatens to eliminate the need for a singer to stay on pitch at all. All of the above mentioned artists are talented and can certainly carry a tune without requiring artificial help.  But it would be easy for a studio to sign some pretty face with no pitch at all and Auto-Tune them into a recording star. In fact, I’d be willing to bet it’s already happened and continues to happen. (Britney Spears is one of my prime suspects.) Certainly the idea has been around for decades – remember the Brady Bunch episode where Greg becomes a pop singer only to find that the secret of his success is that he “fit the suit”? And let’s not forget Milli Vanilli.

One need only look at the massive popularity of American Idol to understand the appeal of authenticity in vocal performance. A pitch wobble in the studio should be fixed by having the singer redo the track; a pitch break in performance reminds the audience that they are witnessing a real live performance, as well as proving the artist isn’t lip-synching. Auto-Tune as a toy for special effects is fine, but as a sneaky way of compensating for a singer’s flaws, it’s essentially pulling a fast one on the public.

Some artists have spoken out against the use of Auto-Tune, including Vince Gill, Death Cab for Cutie and Jay-Z. Hopefully the waning power of major record labels and the increase in independent and self-published music will help to discourage its use.

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9 Responses to “Singers wanted, talent not required”

  1. thefutureamerican said

    “But it would be easy for a studio to sign some pretty face with no pitch at all and Auto-Tune them into a recording star.”

    So THAT explains Miley Cyrus. Fiends.

  2. naclu said

    I can’t sing at all… I need to get me one of those and cut a record! LOL…

    LOL to the Miley Cyrus thing… I’ve heard her sing without it and she sings through her nose… It kills me!

  3. tubby said

    If you like Beatles music, see “Across the Universe”. Sadly, this movie sports heavy use of Auto-tune during the song performances. It totally makes sense that musical pieces in movies need to be recorded in a studio. But Jim Sturgess can actually sing, and it was pretty noticeable to me that him “singing” casually in certain scenes of the movie (like when he’s coyly singing “I Wanna Hold your Hand” to Evan Rachel Wood’s character) was a totally different voice than him singing the full songs with orchestration. I have found this trend truly depressing ever since it started permeating popular music.

    Go see live music! The more people do this – and demand of their artists the same level of musical integrity they are hearing in the recordings – the more Auto-tune will be eclipsed over time.

    • Ah, but that’s just the problem – in order to make the live artist sound exactly like the recording, Auto-Tune is being used *during* the live performance by many of today’s popular artists.

      • Ms. D said

        Why is this a problem at all, if it’s being used both live and recorded? I guess I don’t get it. I mean, it’s what you think you get that counts, isn’t it? (unless you can truly tell it’s artificial, which I can’t, except in the case of Britney Spears!). We all eat genetically modified foods, don’t we? Is it that you think those off-tune shouldn’t be receiving the praises of millions, or that those accolades should only be for those who truly deserve it? I see your point but at the same time, we can still enjoy their music.

  4. HECTOR said

    I MYSELF HAVE “RASCAL FLATTS” VOICE IN ME WHICH I SING TO MY KIDS, AND WIFE ,ALL THE TIME AND GOD WILLING I WILL GET WHAT HE HAS PLANNED FOR US,. AS FOR HANNA MONTANA THE CLIMB IS AN EXTREMELY MOVING SONG AND WE WERE TOUCHED BY EVERY WORD OF THIS SONG. SIGNED: CRACKS IN THE ROAD\WITH A GREAT POSITIVE LIGHT.

  5. Jess Chapman said

    Click here (at 0:38) to witness the magic of Auto-Tune. And silicone.

  6. pankaj said

    i m a student of b.d,s ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i have talent of writing and singing.I,sing ony my songs in live .

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