Sanity Injection

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

Posts Tagged ‘pitch correction’

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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