It’s a familiar question and an issue that’s destined to circulate in debate for some time yet – ‘Has Auto Tune Ruined The Music Industry?’
Sure, it has mauled modern music, torn into those with talent (or lack there of), and regurgitated many a robotic hint of what technically skilled voices used to sound like. But it is a tool that ultimately holds vast possibilities of unique sounds and mind-blowing creativity, yet a tool is only as advantageous as the artist using it.
Not many good things can be said about Auto-Tune for the live music lover, where any lip-synching leads to automatic shunning, many going as far to describe Auto Tune as evil.
So, ruined? Not entirely. Not yet at least. But gosh it isn’t far off.
The list of pop artists that use the technology is extensive and can be easily generalised into the large bulk of pop culture, and the teeny-bopper loving artists out there.
Ke$ha. Guilty. Jason Derulo. Guilty. Will.I.Am (and the Black Eyed Peas). Very, very Guilty.
T Pain. Poster boy for Auto Tune.
What arguably defines a mistreated use of Auto Tune technology is as simple as the unoriginality of the tracks. It becomes an unacceptable headache to hear overly pitch-corrected tunes released over and over by artists who are labelled the ‘next biggest thing’.
Admittedly, everyone may have that one song, a real guilty pleasure, that they just love – even if it reeks of auto tune. However when they all sound the same, because key-correction technology has moulded them to all sound alike, it can make your ears hurt.
The unoriginality of modern pop is frustrating enough, with hundreds of different versions of conceivably the same song being churned through our radios each year. This is largely thanks to Auto Tune and its ability to ‘fix’ singing to the correct key, making a ‘perfect’ collection of notes into a formulated song.
Lets back up, how did we even get to this point of debate over such seemingly impressive technology? It is strange to think that Auto Tune is still relatively new, only being invented in 1997. For a time, the technology was a trade secret in the music industry, going unknown to the wider public.
It was also of major benefit to producers, who until that point had used exhaustive, time-consuming labour to get the best vocal results. As Leslie Shapiro of Sound and Vision describes, it was a laborious process for producers to get the ‘perfect take’ pre-Auto Tune:
The singer would come in each day and sing about 8 takes of the song. The producer and I would have a copy of the lyrics and after the singer left, our fun began. We would have 8 different-colored highlight pens – one for each track.
We would go through the song, meticulously listening to each track. If a phrase or even a word was good on a take, we would highlight it in the color that corresponded to that take/track. On to the next track and colour.
At the end of the day, I would bounce all the good phrases down to one master track. Some days we would have a complete song, most days not. This went on for months, until we had a complete album with every note in perfect pitch.”
It’s no wonder that producers and engineers leapt at the chance to leave manual editing behind and flock to a digital processor that cut out menial tasks and hours of laborious editing.
But where once it was a slightly unknown corrective procedure, eventually the cat came out of the bag, with Auto Tune used in a very forthright way in one particular late 90s pop hit.
The first artist known to popularize the technology openly in commercial recording was Cher in 1998, with the release of her hugely popular single ‘Believe’.
Or as Chris Lee of the Los Angeles Times stated, Cher’s ”Believe” is “widely credited with injecting Auto-Tune’s mechanical modulations into pop consciousness.”
The trouble is, that this opened the floodgates for other singers and artists alike to also incorporate the technology in their music without having to ‘hide’ its use any longer. Unfortunately, many simply mimicked the original idea, instead of formulating different patterns and sounds of their own.
One may argue, that although Auto Tune is used to find the perfect notes and collaborate them together to make the perfect track, that this is instead an artificial sound and quite frankly, an imperfect result.
Basically, the end result has no ‘wow’ factor – no confronting emotional power of having just experienced a new awakening in your musical knowledge. No prolonging urge to play the song over and over. No reality that music is raw, and people are in fact not perfect (at least not on their own).
As renowned music blogger Alan Cross puts it: ”It gives [artists] talent they don’t have. It’s like giving a student a test that self-corrects when they provide a wrong answer.”
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