OK, it’s rant time, I’m sorry. I’d say most people are blissfully unaware of Auto-tune, well it’s not fair. Not fair on you mainly as a consumer of music. But why? Well first of all let us talk a little bit about what Auto-tune is…
Auto-tune is a software audio plug-in used by producers to ‘pitch-correct’ vocal parts. Essentially what it does, is take a signal (i.e. a vocal part) and round up the pitch to the nearest semi-tone, there’s more to it than that but that’ll do for now. So what it means for the ‘artist’ is (and I use this in the loosest sense of the word) that they can come in and sing pretty much any old shit and the magic machine puts them right. Yes, doesn’t it just bring to mind the Simpson’s episode when they for a boy band called Party Posse? The magic machine does all the work which is precisely what’s going on in your pop production studios.
So, now they don’t have to go around looking for kids who look the part who can sing. The second part is fairly irrelevant. With a bit of ‘Studio Magic’ (a little nod to the Simpsons again there), we can fix it! But surely they can’t get away with it for live performances? Well, yes, they can and do. Here’s Lil’ Wayne with ‘Prom Queen’:
I think the fact that he looks like something from Mad Max bothers me more than the Auto-tune but hey. This was a bad example as it’s obviously used as an effect here because the dude really can’t sing. It’s rife all over the place and it stinks.
It has also been use to death as a vocal effect for artists like T-Pain and Lil’ Wayne et al. but frankly, it’s been done to death and you just sound like Cher from ‘Believe’. Give it up!
I had the Last.fm player going the other day listening to the ‘synthpop’ tag radio station and there were some crackers on there. I also found myself skipping or even banning every third track because there was some boy-faced American, ripping off the Postal Service but using Auto-tune because they can’t quite manage the precision needed for that kind of minimalism. I can’t even give the music the time it deserves because Auto-tune winds me up so much. It kills all the life, the personality, the character from music. It may as well have been generated by a thousand chimpanzees with a vocoder and a guitar. Hmm… That might be an interesting experiment though…
Here’s a good article I found about it, naming and shaming some shocking examples of Auto-tune abuse. It also has some good points as to acceptable usage, which I’m still not a fan of.
Do you know what I love about an artist? Honesty. They could be the worst musician in the world but as long as they are doing what they believe in, without trying to hide behind the make-up and technology, I can respect them. Dinosaur Jr., I love that band, they never even used a metronome. The timing is all over the pllace, the vocals are wobbly and out of tune, but it doesn’t matter, it rocks! New Order, Bernard Sumner can’t sing for toffee and I love him for it. Primal Scream, Bobby Gillespie is one of the most inconsistent, shaky vocalists out there, and it is still amazing. Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev, I could go on for pages and pages but it would be moot. Check out Blank Dogs, almost entirely unintelligable, so noisy one can hardly make out the instruments and yet I find it invoking all kinds of emotions as I listen through it. The only emotion I get from hearing Auto-tune is anger. I love these bands, I love these artisits, I love all of them, warts and scars and all. Stop pretending to be something you aren’t and just make music! If you aren’t blessed with vocal talent, I’m sorry, I really am, maybe it just wasn’t for you. Doesn’t mean you can’t be a musician though, and it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t learn, I did, Bernard Sumner did, why can’t you?
Death to Auto-tune! Long live personality!