Feb 21

Who can’t Sing? | Autotune? Who Me?


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Untalented pop artists hide behind Auto-tune

By Tim Brogan

Known in the music industry as a “plug in,” Auto-tuning is a studio trick that redefines what is humanly possibly, allowing musicians to bend vocal imperfections into perfect pitch. If you’ve listened to 10 pop songs today, nine of them featured this technology.

It’s without a doubt a technological marvel and I don’t intend to belittle Dr. Andy Hildebrand of Antares Technologies, who in 1997 invented Auto-tune using complicated principles of geophysics. Musically trained and scientifically literate, Hildebrand is a man worthy of respect. The ubiquitous use of his product however, is not.

While some artists subtly use auto-tune to fix minute flaws in their vocals, many make their attempt at perfection obvious. With her 1998 hit “Believe,” Cher made everyone aware of what was going on inside the studio, effectively mainstreaming the use Auto-tune as voice altering effect, rather than unnoticeable touch up technique.

Recording studios have always been in the business of making artists sound more polished than they actually are but Auto-tune expedites the process, turning perfection into a technological reality rather than an unattainable reality. Frankly, the resulting music sounds pretty flawed to me.

By relying entirely on studio gimmicks, pop-stars like Kesha and T-Pain, who have the audacity to call themselves “musicians,” dilute popular music of any discernable talent. They draw the listener’s attention away from their uninspiring musical capabilities with elaborate live performances, in which they display eccentric outfits and essentially mumble over music played through a sound system. They rely exclusively on their heavily tweaked studio releases to keep them afloat.

The Superbowl performance by the Black-Eyed Peas does the talking for me. One of the most universally revered musical acts was unable to translate their studio-centered music into a decent performance on one of the biggest stages imaginable. Let’s hope people remember the atrocious performance, for when we fail to demand better, an innovative standstill with far-reaching consequences ensues.

If you’ve been to or listened to a live performance by John Mayer, you know his talent is not engineered in the studio. Like many artists encompassed by popular music, Mayer is constrained—presumably by his record company—to a small genre of music that calls to arms a small portion of his arsenal. Imagine you have a pizza and you’re told to eat just one slice. It would be extremely frustrating to be constrained by will of others, in this case record companies. And the worse part is, you can’t share the remaining seven pieces with anyone, they remain in the box—decaying like the musical potential of so many musicians.

The spread of Auto-tune technology shows no signs of slowing down. You can purchase voice altering software for a petty sum these days and I’m all for experimenting with it. The problem arises when such experimentation is used as a measure of musical quality. Vocals and instrumentals of live performance, unaided by special effects are the measure of talent, not but the ability to loop tracks together in a studio.

Thankfully, there is an alternative to the homogenous blend of pop music—aided by Auto-tune—that spews out of the 21st century radio. Jay Z advocates for “Death of Auto-tune,” but realistically the birth—or better yet rebirth—of respect for true talent is necessary.

As the Grammys this year showed us, popular music is not devoid of talented musicians that do not rely on studio technologies to perform. The Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons and a graying Bob Dylan showed us what Auto-tuned vocalists don’t understrand: good music is not perfect. If you seek only superficial entertainment out of music, then the narrow scope today’s songs may be of no significance to you.

But if you consider music to be an enriching part of our culture, then you might agree it’s time to demand something better out of the music industry. Chad Urmston of Dispatch and State Radio has repeatedly said, “You don’t have to be spoon fed music, you can get it the way the want.”

They’ll ultimately give us what we want.


My whole take on Auto-tune is simple, if you can sing, SING, if you can’t and wanna hide behind a gimmick, like Bobby Brown said,       ” That’s your Prerogative “. The ” Talk-box” as it was originally was called, came out with Stevie Wonder and Peter Frampton, long before T-Pain and any of the other copy cat artist who seem to feel that they can’t create a hit without it, from R & B  to Rock. Bottom line is, two generations were not even born or were too young to realize the sonic sound it produces.  so it’s new to them, and wise enough producers such as T-Pain are capitalizing on it.

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