In Defense of Auto-Tune

Lil Wayne, I Am Still Music Tour, Photo by Matthew Eisman

I am here today to defend auto-tune. I may be late to the party, but if you watched Lil Wayne’s recent schizophrenic performance on MTV’s VMAs you know that auto-tune isn’t going anywhere.   The thoughtful and melodic opening song “How to Love” clashed harshly with the expletive-laden guitar-rocking “John” Weezy followed with. Regardless of how you judge that disjunction, what strikes me about the performance is that auto-tune made Weezy’s range possible. The studio magic transposed onto the live moment dared auto-tune’s many haters to revise their criticisms about the relationship between the live and the recorded. It suggested that this technology actually opens up possibilities, rather than marking a limitation.

Auto-tune is mostly synonymous with the intentionally mechanized vocal distortion effect of singers like T-Pain, but it has actually been used for clandestine pitch correction in the studio for over 15 years.  Cher’s voice on 1998’s “Believe” is probably the earliest well-known use of the device to distort rather than correct, though at the time her producers claimed to have used a vocoder pedal, probably in an attempt to hide what was then a trade secret—the Antares Auto-Tune machine is widely used to correct imperfections in studio singing. The corrective function of auto-tune is more difficult to note than the obvious distortive effect because when used as intended, auto-tuning is an inaudible process. It blends flubbed or off-key notes to the nearest true semi-tone to create the effect of perfect singing every time.  The more off-key a singer is, the harder it is to hide the use of the technology.  Furthermore, to make melody out of talking or rapping the sound has to be pushed to the point of sounding robotic.

Antares Auto-Tune 7

Antares Auto-Tune 7 Interface

The dismissal of auto-tuned acts is usually made in terms of a comparison between the modified recording and what is possible in live performance, like indie folk singer Neko Case’s extended tongue-lashing in Stereogum.  Auto-tune makes it so that anyone can sing whether they have talent or not, or so the criticism goes, putting determination of talent before evaluation of the outcome. This simple critique conveniently ignores how recording technology has long shaped our expectations in popular music and for live performance. Do we consider how many takes were required for Patti LaBelle to record “Lady Marmalade” when we listen?  Do we speculate on whether spliced tape made up for the effects of a fatiguing day of recording? Chances are that even your favorite and most gifted singer has benefited from some form of technology in recording their work. When someone argues that auto-tune allows anyone to sing, what they are really complaining about is that an illusion of authenticity has been dispelled. My question in response is: So what? Why would it so bad if anyone could be a singer through Auto-tuning technology?  What is really so threatening about its use?

As Walter Benjamin writes in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” the threat to art presented by mechanical reproduction emerges from the inability for its authenticity  to be reproduced—but authenticity is a shibboleth.  He explains that what is really threatened is the authority of the original; but how do we determine what is original in a field where the influences of live performance and record artifact are so interwoven?  Auto-tune represents just another step forward in undoing the illusion of art’s aura. It is not the quality of art that is endangered by mass access to its creation, but rather the authority of cultural arbiters and the ideological ends they serve.

Auto-tune supposedly obfuscates one of the indicators of authenticity, imperfections in the work of art.  However, recording technology already made error less notable as a sign of authenticity to the point where the near perfection of recorded music becomes the sign of authentic talent and the standard to which live performance is compared.  We expect the artist to perform the song as we have heard it in countless replays of the single, ignoring that the corrective technologies of recording shaped the contours of our understanding of the song.

In this way, we can think of the audible auto-tune effect is actually re-establishing authenticity by making itself transparent.  An auto-tuned song establishes its authority by casting into doubt the ability of any art to be truly authoritative and owning up to that lack. Listen to the auto-tuned hit “Blame It” by Jaime Foxx, featuring T-Pain, and note how their voices are made nearly indistinguishable by the auto-tune effect.

It might be the case that anyone is singing that song, but that doesn’t make it less bumping and less catchy—in fact, I’d argue the slippage makes it catchier.   The auto-tuned voice is the sound of a democratic voice.  There isn’t much precedent for actors becoming successful singers, but “Blame It” provides evidence of the transcendent power of auto-tune  allowing anyone to participate in art and culture making.   As Benjamin reminds us, “The fact that the new mode of participation first appeared in a disreputable form must not confuse the spectator.”  The fact that “anyone” can do it increases possibilities and casts all-encompassing dismissal of auto-tune as reactionary and elitist.

Mechanical reproduction may “pry an object from its shell” and destroy its aura and authority–demonstrating the democratic possibilities in art as it is repurposed–but I contend that auto-tune goes one step further. It pries singing free from the tyranny of talent and its proscriptive aesthetics.  It undermines the authority of the arbiters of talent and lets anyone potentially take part in public musical vocal expression. Even someone like Antoine Dodson, whose rant on the local news, ended up a catchy internet hit thanks to the Songify project.

Auto-tune represents a democratic impulse in music. It is another step in the increasing access to cultural production, going beyond special classes of people in social or economic position to determine what is worthy. Sure, not everyone can afford the Antares Auto-Tune machine, but recent history has demonstrated that such technologies become increasingly affordable and more widely available.  Rather than cold and soulless, the mechanized voice can give direct access to the pathos of melody when used by those whose natural talent is not for singing.  Listen to Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, or (again) Lil Wayne’s “How To Love.”  These artists aren’t trying to get one over on their listeners, but just the opposite, they want to evoke an earnestness that they feel can only be expressed through the singing voice. Why would you want to resist a world where anyone could sing their hearts out?

 

Osvaldo Oyola is a regular contributor to Sounding Out! He is also an English PhD student at Binghamton University.

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About Osvaldo Oyola

"I am that I am."

123 responses to “In Defense of Auto-Tune”

  1. Charles Dexter Ward says :

    What a load of pretentious waffling. Autotune sounds like shytte. End of.

  2. Noah Masi says :

    I have professional autotune, and it is true that you don’t have to be a perfect singer to make it work. However, it’s gonna be stressful to use if you don’t already deliver an almost perfect performance, otherwise you just sound like a robotic mess. I bought it because I take myself seriously as a vocalist recorder. I mainly use it as a corrective tool to fix a few mistakes, and sometimes use it as a full blown “cher” effect for artistic reasons. Do I think people abuse its purpose? Absolutely. I feel that as long as people don’t lie about how they use it, then it’s ok, meaning if a singer is truly talented, then they should be able to prove that when singing live. If they’re trying to keep autotune a secret because they know they’re not as good as they say, THAT’S where autotune becomes a bad thing. I’m still in the learning stages of autotune, but anything I edit is a performance that is already acceptable in its natural form.

  3. Doug says :

    I mean no offense when I say this, but imagine a world where anyone could write articles like this. Wouldn’t that be special? If you don’t value your writing as a form of art, then sure! But for those of us who do (I’ve been a musician for 10 plus years), it’s an insult to see/hear what people are calling “music” these days. Auto tune can be used in a beneficial way to help correct slightly off pitch recordings, but using it live is a disgrace. By “tyranny of talent” you must be insinuating that those of us with talent are keeping those of you without talent out of the game or something. Not true at all. You want talent, go WORK at it as the rest of us “tyrants” do. Buying and using auto tune takes no talent, just an instruction manual. It’s not all the industry’s fault, you can blame society as well, for accepting processed garbage as viable art. When the consumer takes a stand and refuses to settle for “digitally altered” art, the people using it will be forced to perform without it, if they want to keep selling records. As for a world where everyone can sing? Keep it, I don’t wanna live in that world. I’ll stick with authentic talent from an elite group of professional, trained performers over a democracy of wanna be’s making androgynous sounds that people with no common sense consider “music.” At least there’s still magic in that. Besides, let’s think about the meaning of the word “professional.” It means an individual who is better at something than most people, whether it be by talent or practice, or both. So, in essence, if you use auto tune in favor of good old fashioned practice, you are, by definition, an amateur. Pro golfers don’t use swing alignment aides while they golf, nor do pro cyclists use training wheels. So if you’re using auto tune, and consider yourself a pro musician, you’d better think again! You’re no different than children dressing up and “pretending” to be doctors. So what’s wrong with a society where people play “pretend” and anyone can do it? Nothing, until my children are hired by my local hospital to treat cancer patients, just because they “look and sound” like doctors. The same idiots who buy this music will be the same idiots who let my “doctor” children treat their illnesses. So what’s so bad about a world where anyone can be anything, anytime they want? Nothing, just perhaps the lack of REALITY.

  4. SiscoKid says :

    Auto-tune does not open new possibilities for music, instead it has a reverse effect making all artists that use it have little to no originality, since they all sound the same cause of this program. It also impacts the rest of the scene that don’t use it causing less creative ideas to be thought of because “why bother” feel that auto tune creates. In my eyes, the only good thing auto tune does, is get us to realize how lazy we are becoming, why do something original that will take some time when i can have a program make me think i sound good with little thought or effort!

  5. andywilli says :

    Good post, thanks for share.

  6. sneakygoodsportsblog says :

    Auto-Tune is fine when used for the purpose of sounding…. autotuney, like it was in 808’s and Heartbreak. Using it to make you sound like you can sing is not okay.

    SneakyGoodSportsGuy

  7. gaycarboys says :

    Lil wayne, ah yes. where’s the off switch!

  8. soundslikenoise says :

    Auto-tune can be used in a very self-aware “post-modern” way and can add to the tonality/texture of very talented musicians. This can be heard in “Impossible Soul” by Sufjan Stevens where his use of it initially sounds incongruous to the rest of the song, but soon the voice becomes yet another electronic instrument within an orchestra of other electronic instruments.

  9. JotaKa says :

    Really? Cher? I have to listen to that track again.

    My problem with autotune is simply the fact that people have been using it as crazy and, what makes matter worse, not assuming it. There are some obvious times that people hide with such affection, and I would enjoy the heck of it if the guy just got out and said: “I used voice modulation”.

  10. Rai says :

    Every time I hear something with auto-tune, I bang my head against the wall and go, “WHY???”

    Then I bleed for awhile.

  11. Gerald says :

    I can understand that Auto-Tune is a sound that everybody likes right now. My only concern is that it has become an industry standard. It has become a leeway for non-talented singers. Every song you hear nowadays is mostly auto-tuned. Sometimes I ask myself is this the only way for artists to survive in the music industry or is this what people like to listen to nowadays? I just think that Auto-Tune is not for everybody. I think there are so many purely talented singers that don’t need to use it. Now if you want to use it like Roger Troutman used it, then that’s fine and good.

  12. Livi says :

    I’d just like to say that when anyone can make music, and anything can be called music, we will lose true music, art, and beauty. I don’t have anything against auto-tune as a way of fine-tuning studio mistakes, but a real singer shouldn’t need it, and let’s face it: we’re not all real singers-that’s why musicians are different than entertainers, as Moby pointed out recently. Auto-tune makes melody out of no melody-how is that perfecting anything? You shouldn’t be able to make a bad singer sound good-that’s why not everybody is meant to be a singer.

  13. Downwith Autotune says :

    I like autopilot in my planes.

    It is safer to many degrees.

    But my pilot is person who has committed their life to flying a plane. He or she has talent, skill and integrity.

    I am inspired by their dedication to their craft and the care and the precision into which they constantly hone their skills so that without autopilot they can safely take off, fly and land my plane with my fellow passengers.

    Tell me: who has more integrity? The pilot who flies with or without?

    The fact is: neither. They are equal because regardless of autopilot both can fly the plane.

    Singing with autotune in the abusive manner done today is an autopilot plane with a dipshit sitting in the pilot seat whose title is “pilot” but does not know how to fly.

    Between a real pilot and the dipshit at a party?

    Thanks, but I will take the person who has skill, honor, integrity and can apply their experience to their knowlege.

    All the autopilot pilot can do is talk about how the buttons are pressed.

    We’re raising a generation of the latter, unfortunately. Skilless, witless automatons who use the labels of talented, caring folks.

    Down with autotune.

    The irony, of course, I just realized, is how much the rap “community” despises “fronters” and “haters” and anything else that they childishly crow against when the reality is that they are all just that: fronters. Talented in a very small area of the music world, certainly, but real “artists”? No. Just fronters. Hacks, in other verbiage.

    I’m going to put on my Hendrix now and listen to Voodoo Chile. Recorded live. Three takes. The first one to set the recording levels, the second he broke a string. The third is around ten minutes long, mixed in with some of the second recording. Four instruments.

    Down with autotune.

  14. St. Cain says :

    wow pple sure do hate auto tune lol

  15. Hisham Soliman says :

    better to flaunt your autotune usage a la lil wayne and t-pain rather than to pretend you can sing good but are really using autotune…

  16. madblackscientist says :

    Auto-tune is horrible and makes bad artist into stars on the radio and tv

  17. GraceLynneFleming says :

    not a fan of auto – tune – but nice post nonetheless – great perspective

    -grace

  18. matt blogger says :

    i hate people who use auto tune though a whole song, use it as a effect not to make you sing better or to make you sound like a dieing robot lol

  19. Dr. HeldenBaer says :

    Autotune is the attempt to bypass the long and involved means to learn to sing acoustically, as in the Bel Canto method, which gave the Western World its unparalleled beauty of Church Music, Oratorio, Opera, and Art Song. The human voice, trained and tried to match pitch, is what separates the REAL Musicians, from these [c]rap singers, who just wanna make money ‘and have all the chicks for free,’ just like that vulgar song says.

    Auto tune should be banned.. as well as the garbage music that is conjoined to it.

  20. jordnd says :

    I realize i contradicted myself by implying that (in a way) what will mark out one’s talentlessness will also cease to be valuable for our generation musically. I might have bitten off more than I could chew – the scope in time was a bit vague; but I would also like to add that running parallel to the spirit responsible for the increasing popularity of AutoTune is a strong counterculture of artists who are able to market themselves as ‘the real thing.’ I wonder what people think about the ‘democratic’ and de-individualizing impulses of AutoTune in relation to the fixation on ‘old-school’ forms of presentation e.g. Adele (performing with only a piano, normally), and an increasingly irrelevant Christina Aguilera, both artists whose uniqueness is centered on the aesthetic-nostalgia they evoke and play upon. Not to mention that shows such as ‘The Voice,’ and ‘American Idol’ (which would refute their own similarities) are still somewhat stunningly popular. How do you explain the fact that these two antagonistic spirits are flourishing so strongly simultaneously? The symbol of the ”real thing’s absence.”; the clearly manipulated, shares the stage with the real thing, which becomes increasingly mythicized, exalted, and possibly remote.

  21. jordnd says :

    1. I do not buy the assertion that *anyone* can sing. At least, not without some serious limitations: yes, Antoine Dodson can sing with the aid of AutoTune, as can artists such as Ke$ha; but, if what you say about pitchiness requiring clearly-distortive auto-correction is correct, then it follows that we can, to a certain extent, hear the talentlessness of certain artists in their work. There is so much more to singing than just being on the note; Li’l Wayne may be on the note in ‘How to Love,’ but the timbre of his voice is actually somewhat agonizing to the listening ear. He sounds strained and completely out of his element. Wayne is an extreme case; artists like Rihanna and Ke$ha, less extreme. Artists such as these might be considered a bit more ‘on the border’ by most people, but even with artists of minimal (yet not negligible) capability, the issue is more of one sounding better in the studio than one does live. Or at least, to remain more value-neutral, one being incapable of reproducing the studio performance.

    I think what is actually happening is a huge disjunction between the artist as a figment of the radio imagination and the artist as a performer, an image. The core of character creation now takes place in visuals, and consequently, the amount of expressive information absorbed through music qua music is diminished, or at least, less highly valued. In general, I think we are becoming worse listeners. Vocal performances are becoming (in spite of their increasingly cybernetic-production) more technically and rhythmically-centered, and at the same time, a bit less-human. I suspect this is because the amount of information we absorb aurally is decreasing RAPIDLY, in line with our sensitivity to sound as a complex medium of storytelling. Maybe it’s just because mp3s are so crappy, and the iPod generation has grown up with a conception of music as a ready-to-hand filler for technological doo-hickies. After all, we listen to ‘everything.’ Obviously this is rash speculation, but I see the prevalence of auto-tune as the next big step in the erasure of the personal and dangerously relatable (frailty) in pop music.

    2. As for the tyranny of talent, that will never change – it’s just that talent itself will become something even less musical. An artist such as Rihanna, for example, has very little to offer in terms of vocal technique or emotive capability, however she has built a career around image-renovation, capitalizing on watchability – which is perhaps a descendant of that old fiend, ‘charisma.’ Willow Smith is quite the same – I heard MANY unnecessarily violent diatribes against her success – all under the pretext of preserving and enforcing democracy: ‘her parents bought her lessons, bought her a record deal, bought her…um a voice?’ The relationship between financial security and artistic opportunity is well-supported and highly fabled, but the fact remains that regardless of whatever backing she had, Willow was still imminently WATCHABLE. However, I’m sure I read somewhere that tyranny is only possible because of the complicity of the dominated. Pretty sure. If talent is in fact universally held…

  22. jimmydrums says :

    Great post on auto tune! We also need to see the big picture of how our technology is opening new avenues of art. Being a pro musician with two music degrees and percussion teacher that has recorded, played live in operas and symphonies and jazz festival settings, I’d like to go compare another medium here. Acting.

    Why is it that no one is giving pro actors a hard time that they make movies, TV sitcoms or commercials instead of live Broadway theater? They have the perfect look, sound and lighting at the perfect time of day in the perfect location every time. I’ve heard that depending on the cameras used, it can take a 40 hour week to shoot a 40 min sitcom. Why would it bother you if music is run the same way? Live performance is just that. Live. No net. It’s exciting to watch and to perform. If you want to go and enjoy a good show, go see someone that has put in the 10,000 plus hours that it takes to make magic happen in real time. But I love movies and animation too. I enjoy them for what they are. They have no less validity. They are just not live and I don’t expect them to be. I enjoy them just as deeply.

    Technology is tools. Period. Auto-Tune is a tool just like my torque wrench is in my toolbox. I don’t expect my mechanic to feel the tightness of each bolt on my car. I expect him to use the tool to get the job done right.

    Buy live recordings! Go to shows! Go out and support your musician friends and school concerts instead of flopping your lips with you ear buds on on how this guy/girl has no talent because technology aided this art form. Enjoy it for what it is.

    Peace,
    JJJr

  23. jamiebobamie says :

    Very interesting perspective. As a musician who’s worked hard to improve my craft, it pisses me off that someone whose only talent is to look good in tight pants can be a success in music.

    I’ve decided I want to be a lawyer. Certainly there’s something I could use that’s like auto-tune? Auto-law? I don’t know anything about the law but I look real good in a suit.

  24. reflectionseed says :

    Interesting, valid and outstanding point. However, technology in about every single field has provided tools to anyone, that can mimic uncanny talent and ability. I have a home recording studio. I am a lousy piano performer and do well in the guitar. I’ve been writing chamber music in my workstations in the last decade. I use the piano for my creations. How can I play many of the fancy passages in my music and make them sound like played by an educated performer? Modern technology that allows me to slow down the tempo, play slowly all my notes, quantize them and even insert (or extract) them. I do exactly the same with digital imaging. I can capture all nuances of light without having to set up tons of power draining units to achieve the same results. Does my outcome demerits because that? IMO, not at all. The creative process still is there and thanks to the tools now at reach, I can enjoy my hobbies and profession as if I was a trained artist.
    If you were talking about opera, I think that not even technology would cut it to find a place among the masses. But commercial and popular music? Well, did you know about that group that with a iPhones played all instruments, recorded them, video recorded and edited and performed one of their sounds in the NY subway? I’d bet, a lot of their outcome was automated.
    Technology is no more than a new extension to creativity and I am glad is here to stay. If I like the results be it. If I don’t tough. However, you make an excellent point, thank you,

  25. nightsonvenus says :

    A very thoughtful and insightful article – you make many good points in this and a good choice to bring Walter Benjamin into the mix. As someone who uses much new technology in making my music, how much technology I choose to use and the ways in which I use it is always a constant concern. As always, it’s a question of balance.

    I think much of the criticism in regard to auto-tuning, and my objections to it sometimes, comes not so much from the actual effect itself but what has become the ubiquity of its application in much of pop music now. True, it does open a lot of possibilities, but usually after producers have moved on to finding new or unusual ways to apply it, i.e., when it is not used so indiscriminately on mainly the vocals as it has been so far. The fact that it may have been a ‘cool new’ effect the first few times you heard it tends to get forgotten in the next several thousand instances of hearing it. Auto-tuning is way overused at this point, too much of a gimmick and one of the reasons for the haters to hate it.

    Also, your article seems to argue for acceptance of auto-tuning as if it were not already one of the ‘accepted’ sounds in current pop music. The ‘cultural arbiters’ in this case are the ones who are using auto-tuning or sign-off on the use of it for their artists. In one sense, it’s almost expected… if you want to have a hit in the pop genre. So another of my objections to it is that it’s become something of a badge of conformity. When something becomes popular on the radio, becomes a mega-hit, etc., others will imitate and much of popular songwriting becomes formulaic (ignoring the fact that much of it is anyway). When an effect has already been used to the extent auto-tuning has, using it only reinforces the sense that “everything sounds the same”. I listen to a ton of music from different artists and it’s always refreshing now to find someone who isn’t using it, almost radical.

    What it really comes down to is the skillful, intelligent use of technology – are you using it in ways that are original and creative and produce something unique that listeners haven’t heard before, or using it in habitual ways that just end up simply serving the “status quo” and the monetary ends of a select few? The tyranny you mention is not one of talent, but of conformity and in the name of the dollar. Aesthetics – as subjective as they are – are always paramount.

    • mr. oyola says :

      Except aesthetics aren’t subjective, they are enmeshed in hierarchy of cultural and societal expectations.

      There is a contradictory thing going on here, because at one level folks object to auto-tune because of its populist impulses, (eg. “If anyone can sing it has no value” or “Pop music is just trash anyway and I enjoy something superior”), but at another level folks object to auto-tune as indicative of a corporate neutralizing of difference, a sort of lowest common denominator determined to maximize popularity and this profit – as Adorno and Horkheimer might say, seen this way auto-tune robs music of any revolutionary and democratic possibility. While I can certainly understand the latter formulation, artistic development is simply not that static or cut and dry – sure the culture industry seeks to absorb and control (or predict and create) every new form of folk expression or subcultural lifestyle – but there is also a pushback -a reallocation of the available resources that suggests there is room to create something outside of that conformist realm. I certainly do not deny that auto-tune is the mostly the tool of corporate conformist popular music, but that doesn’t change the democratic possibility that it represents. To paraphrase the Benjamin I quoted: don’t confuse the “disreputable” medium for the message.

  26. bigmouthcowboy says :

    Auto-tune is more often used to “take the rough out” of a vocal track and to most people, is indistiguishable. Most pop, pop-country, main-stream, etc. is recorded with multiple layers of auto-tune on vocals. If you are hatin’ it, you probably should make the switch to classical or some good ol’ Stan Getz…

  27. Kristin says :

    The good thing about this post is that as an author, you actually researched and sought out information regarding it. Most people sum their reaction to auto-tune as “Wait, what is that?” or “It’s stupid.” As someone who’s been involved in music since my early elementary days, I clearly reside on the side of “it’s stupid,” but with more thought to back up my point. Not everyone is meant to be a singer or involved in music – we all have different talents, and just because someone gets inspired by an auto-tuned voice recording doesn’t mean he or she has the ability nor should he or she consider pursuing it. We live in a time when singing “is the thing to do right now.” And it appears that those who are financially able and bear the image that America so quickly bows down to get to stand on stage and lip-sync to pre-recorded music that has been altered far from how the the person actually sounds when he or she opens his or her mouth.

    Just because technology has evolved and created a way for people to sound different doesn’t mean that it’s use is beneficial or good. In fact, it’s actually artificial. If you really think about it, what kind of lesson many of today’s popular artists teaching people? Yes, if you dream it, you can do it, but also . . . if you aren’t vocally talented, it’s OK. Just have a lot of money and a good lyricist on hand. The sound mixers can do the rest. Personally, I’m a fan of some of both of their music, but it doesn’t mean I support or am a fan of how they create their music. Your argument borders on the thought of being blissfully ignorant. As long as everyone can sing and be happy, who cares if the end product is fake, false, artificial, unreal? I think I might actually like more popular music today if it sounded good. The truth is, it just doesn’t. It’s what is considered “in” right now, and therefore society dubs it “good.”

  28. Queen B. says :

    Really good article! And slightly unrelated, but I had no idea that the “How to Love” video is actually really good. Props to the writers. And to Lil Wayne for autotuning, I suppose. :-)

    xoxo,
    Queen B.

  29. julianericain says :

    I have Mixcraft on my computer (a full version crack) and this is really good.

  30. invisiblesandwichtm says :

    Two things:
    1. If what you say about Autotune being “here to stay” is true, it’s not because of any musical merit it has or doesn’t have, but solely because the recordings associated with it, and the vocalists who use it are highly profitable.

    2. In a day and age where everything can sound aesthetically perfect, it becomes especially important to have good songwriting skills to go anywhere as a musician. If people become tired of pop music, it’s probably because your average song in the genre is an ultraformulaic verse-chorus piece of garbage manufactured without any thought. Even looking at the Billboard 200 charts from 2005 reveals a lot of acts that came and went because they had no real merits, while bands like Pink Floyd and The Beatles continue to sell steadily over decades because they put thought into their work and had varied output – even “aesthetically perfect” versions of their songs still shine through their arrangements.

  31. natasiarose says :

    I like this post a lot. I enjoy auto-tune, especially when it comes to music I want to dance or workout too. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate singers like Adele. Autotune isn’t a replacement for traditional vocals, it’s just an alternative.

  32. helpful hints says :

    Without auto-tune, we wouldn’t have the classics from “Autotune the News”. Look it up on Youtube, possibly the single best ever use of Auto-tune.

    If someone made an affordable auto-tuner, I would hook it up to my cell phone, and use it anytime I was ordering at the drive-thru.

  33. Imdad Hussain says :

    Good Stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. tweakindie says :

    This is cool sound! Just like any other voice effect. Creates a special style and fits quite well the kind of music it’s used in. No need to defend it more than any effect. Good article btw.

  35. cpmondello says :

    regardless of who has used auto-tune, if you dont have singing “talent” then you are not a good singer. Sure anyone can be an artist by warping sounds, thats been going on for decades, but, though I may be wrong, I dont think singers like Stevie Nicks use auto-tune, because they know their limits as their voices age, or change, and just dont sing songs they cant. This brings me to a point that many may take for granted, those people on that singing show, which I don’t watch, but have seen a few videos from, most likely have better “natural” voices than the “famous” people. I used to go to one of the local music colleges to listen to students put on performances and I was stunned at how beautiful 99.9% of them were to my ears, all live, no auto-tune, no microphone, just natural talent, honed in on with practice. These are the people I envy and respect. If I want auto anything, I can just used one of any number of free software programs that can change my voice to sound like anything I want it to. When I was younger, I’d gather three or four recording machines and create make-shift “tracks”. Now you can imagine to my surprise at how many different sounds I could make with lamp shades, bottles, spoons, and my voice. At one point, one of the tapes sped up, no reason that I know of, but it made one of the tracks replay at a “chipmunk” style voice, so I sang along with it onto another tape, leading me to believe how this was a great way to manipulate the voice and sound. Back then, late 1970s, I started to notice music where the artist/singer would use different voices and or machines/tuners to create change in their voice, whether it be Nina Hagen, or Styx or Yoko Ono or Ozzy, all were used not to better their voices but to create a change where you can clearly tell they were not trying to hide any lack of talent. That is the difference I see. I can respect talent, either the “natural” or creating of, but I can’t stand hiding lack of talent behind machinery that makes a voice sound better than it really is.

  36. Phil says :

    Another step in the mournful march forward as the human race evolves (or perhaps devolves) toward an android state of being. Everything is optimized. Nothing remains real.

  37. juliuschoxx says :

    Auto-Tune as we know it now, as an exaggerated effect that creates robotic, warbly voices, is a novelty that will soon pass, but the device will continue to play an important but less visible roll quietly correcting pitches and smoothing over flubbed notes behind the scenes. in short auto tune is here to stay..BTW,,Big up Lil Weezy

  38. uponatlas says :

    Hmm. This puts a whole new perspective on auto-tune and what people have been saying about it… This is awesome, I loved it!
    :)

    uponatlas.

  39. contemplativemoorings says :

    Yes, because auto-tune is EXACTLY the equivalent technologically to doing multiple vocal takes…This post just makes me sad…

  40. Traveller says :

    You don’t need ranges impossible to be reached by a human voice, to make good music.

    Sound, clarity, emotion…. none of it is there anymore with the newest generation of music. It’s safe to assume that most of the mainstream shit that has been released in the past couple of years can’t even be called music. Unfortunately it is actually and apparently quite convincing and money-making. Producers and marketers have consistently turned music into a big money scam – and auto-tune is a great example. I don’t know what kind of person can even tolerate listening to breathless, single-note keys, but people apparently like to have what they probably like to call “perfect music”. Music is supposed to be a form of art…. a talent… a way of expressing story through song. It doesn’t have to be perfect either.

    I’m not going to be picky and be like the lot of you that say that only REALLY talented and hardworking people should sing (there are TONS of ways one could refute this statement), but I am going to say this: I always believed that music should be free to perform, free to watch, for everyone out there. Music should be something you enjoy, not buy. Until auto-tune, record labels, and all the other things that try to involve music with money disappear, looks like my dreams won’t be fulfilled for the next few years to come.

    Unfortunately the fact that it’s not going anywhere is right. Auto-tuning isn’t even expensive, and ANYONE can do it by downloading any audio editing program to their PC and installing a tune filter plug-in. There’s no sense in making lots of money with something that didn’t cost a lot to create.

  41. beginswithm says :

    I think auto-tune sounds best as a sound effect for people who can sing. Technology isn’t a replacement for talent or ability. Rappers don’t really need fake voices, since they’re not singing. Lil Wayne and other have made their points with auto-tune, so it’s time to move on to the next thing that’ll be overdone.

  42. fireandair says :

    Also:

    “Do we consider how many takes were required for Patti LaBelle to record “Lady Marmalade” when we listen? Do we speculate on whether spliced tape made up for the effects of a fatiguing day of recording?”

    Do we realize that people like Ms. LaBelle and the others at the apex of their abilities are not the sort of people to whine like little babies at the idea of having to stay a little late at the office? Top-tier performers like her are usually the type of people who line up for extra work. You don’t catch them pissing and moaning that they are still at the office, and it’s already 5:09 wah wah wah. Here’s a newsflash for you: top-tier performers do not whine like brats that they have to exercise their chosen profession. They are willing to work long hours, long past what anyone else thinks is reasonable or even sometimes humane. That’s how they get to be as good as they are, because they are not lazy slobs who take the easy way out.

    I tell you what. Why don’t you go present this argument to Ms. LaBelle, and report back what she says. It should be entertaining. I wager she’ll either laugh in your face with that tyrannically accurate voice of hers or rip you several dozen new *ssholes. Or both. And when she’s done, you know what she’ll do next?

    Get back to work.

  43. LukeR84 says :

    What irks me about Auto-tune is (rappers mostly) performers who have built careers on Auto-tune (T-Pain) instead of actually singing/rapping/using their voice. I like it’s use in some music, but I think it will be pretty embarrassing in about 10 years (see synth in the 80’s) and cool again in about 30 (see current synth-indie bands).

    Every artist that I have seen use voice effects has built at least a few songs from their natural talents, not their producer’s computer skills. Radiohead, Yeasayer, Vampire Weekend… These guys can sing in the ranges they use voice effects in, and I like their voices. T-Pain, it seems, uses it as a crutch; As a substitute for ability. And I’m noticing it and more “overproduction” in a lot of pop music these days. That kind of scares me. I’ll definitely hand it to Lil’ Wayne, him and a few others use it well. I think it just took a year or so of getting on everybody’s nerves and market oversaturation to finally settle down a little and not be used as a one-trick-pony gimmick.

    Nice post! Good defense

  44. Gabe says :

    Haha I love auto tune. I use it all the time in the studio.

  45. Thomas Stazyk says :

    And to think that people were sued because of the Milli Vanilli lip synch thing. Isn’t autotune eqully artistically dishonest?

  46. Sophia Morgan (griffinspen) says :

    Very interesting article. I don’t necessarily mind auto-tune; some songs are great and I put the fact aside that the singers aren’t actually singing. However, I do not like that talent for singing is no longer required to become a singer. Anyone can sing now because their voice can be altered electronically. I have had professional vocal training and learned at a young age to distinguish amazing singers, good singers, mediocre singers, and people who should find a different profession in life. Listening to all the artists who release albums that use auto-tune makes me irritated, because they have really no or little talent but are pushed as if they do. So, going back to my first opinion about auto-tune, I guess I DO mind, though I don’t always spend time minding it. Congrats on being Pressed; you’ve made me really think deeply about the music industry and auto-tune now.

  47. Lakia Gordon says :

    Auto tune doesn’t sound that bad to me. I think it’s actually kind of cool :)

  48. Race Knower says :

    Sounds great. Think they used this in X Factor and lots of folk were turned off. How would you judge vocal talent in American Idol or X Factor though if everyone sounds perfect? I don’t know, but I know music technology can be a boon to musicians who have not fully mastered an instrument; and todays young musicians are lucky to be living in a time when music technology can provide them with infinite possibilities, but theres not much joy if there is no soul in the vocal; and that’s something that is not subject to mechanical action or human will. Its something that comes from the imortal part of man’s Spirit Its great to look forward, but with some music the greatest human voices have been silenced by recordings been deleted in the music industry. Did someone say Sam Cook? If you can listen to an LP called Mr Soul by Sam Cook you’ll know what I mean.

  49. bigangry72 says :

    The continual digitizing of music via use of auto-tune or sampling is watering down the emotions that have been moving people for years. Other than relating to the latest trend, there is little connection between musician and listener. Which, in my opinion, is why music has continued to steadily decline. There’s little work in using someone else’s music, using a computer to fix your voice, and the quality of the music reflects that. Having recently heard Lady Gaga’s stellar performance on Howard Stern of “The Edge” fully illustrates that when you have actual talent, auto-tune is very unnecessary. It’s not only not necessary, it’s almost an insult to those artists who work very hard to train their voice or play an instrument that others cheat their way through the industry.

    Genres such as rock. blues, and punk touches people, not momentarily, but for a lifetime. Yes, it’s not always pretty, but it’s raw emotive power ensnares people. That art has been sadly lost in a sea of low talent, take the easy road “artists” that have been shoved down the public’s throats. You play crap everyday, call it music for long enough, and people will begin to believe it as such. Auto-tune is just another sign of our collective laziness. It’s the musical equivalent of the Krispy Kreme cheeseburger. Yeah, it seems ok on the surface, but when you’re dying on the crapper of a heart attack, all alone, it just doesn’t seem appealing anymore.

  50. howficklemyheart says :

    Great point about the good uses of auto tune. But…I still don’t think it should be used to make Disney actors into singers. Really?!? Congrats on being freshly pressed.

    http://howficklemyheart.wordpress.com

  51. bluesilver says :

    I like autotune used as a method of distortion (I think it’s actually pretty cool that way, in fact), but back in the day before they had all that fancy equipment, you actually had to be able to sing. People didn’t have a machine to correct their terrible singing, they actually had to have a good voice. It just pisses me off that autotune is so overused. It’s like nobody even tries to be a good singer anymore because they know they can just use autotune to fix anything that doesn’t sound absolutely perfect. Case in point? Katy Perry. I hope the people who invented autotune are getting a monthly check from her because without autotune nobody would so much as give her a second glance.

  52. Mr. D says :

    If one needs autotune my advise it get a good vocal coach. If that doesn’t work well . . . . .

  53. myhaphazardthoughts says :

    The only stuff auto tune is good for is parody songs. “Bed Intruder” was perfect for it, but it needs to stay out of all these hit songs. I can’t stand hearing songs on the radio in auto tune.

  54. chunter says :

    I seriously respect you for writing this, since I’ve been on the business end of various kinds of electronic-music hate, I consider hating on autotune to be exactly the same. If you don’t know any good music that uses it, listen to better music!

    Of course, I’ve been experimenting with the unholiest of music antichrists, the singing speech synthesizer! If those ever go completely mainstream,… I guess pop music will be nothing but singing cartoons. I welcome this.

  55. camcash21 says :

    Auto tune < Talk Box

  56. Dilbery Gocnes says :

    Perhaps you should make a blog post defending use of steroids in sports, or using Google when given a final exam in college. Auto-Tune is no more than a pick-me-up and an easy way into the market of fame and the celebrity life. With wide spread use of Auto-Tune, it means nobody has to really try hard anymore, not when they can cheat their way into the industry. That’s what’s wrong with people these days, they don’t care about hard work anymore when they can get everything done the easy way. The quality of music has been sinking to an all time low, and while that is still an opinion, there is still logical reasoning behind it.

  57. PsychExFutureHeart says :

    So what’s your take on bands like Black Moth Super Rainbow?

    Better still, what do you think of Flaming Lips’ (very digitalized) “The Impulse” as opposed to (singing-heart-out, untreated/ undigital vocals of) songs like “She Don’t Use Jelly”?

    • mr. oyola says :

      I hate the song “She Don’t Use Jelly” (and find their otherwise live shows are burdened with it) but love all of “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi” and most of “At War With the Mystics” – couldn’t much get into “Embryonic”

      The hate for the song has more to do with finding it boring both sonically and lyrically than with any sort of earnestness (or lack thereof). If anything, I find the stuff on “Yoshimi” to be a lot more “authentic” from the point of view of emotional content.

  58. juno says :

    i agree with SaraPey…but thanks for share,keep writing.

  59. blacknectar says :

    I like the links you made between autotune, democracy, and transparency. Point well taken. I would be one of the people who’d argue that autotune blurs the line between “authentic” and inauthentic work, but I always forget that originality is a myth, and everything is linked and shared. Insightful post.

  60. SaraPey says :

    Auto-tuned or not, music should come from the mind and from the heart. I get so upset when people hate on musicians that make beautiful and genius music, but that have different kind of voices (which by the way, make them special and unique). And although I like to hear real, genuine voices, I don’t really care much if a great song by a great musician is auto-tuned. But I do care if a crapy song coming from a crapy artist is auto-tuned because as they start to rise up with those kinds of songs, the truly amazing artists get more underrated. Music should come from real people, not from real computers.

  61. saltybi11 says :

    I love digital audio editing and the like… autotune is certainly a great tool. I feel like it is waaay over used these days.

    It’s use for the “bed intruder” is probably the only full length auto tuned song that I will ever like or appreciate.

    The auto tune sound is a great effect and can make for some awesome sounds, especially in the electronic music world. As a musician, I think that someone using autotune to sing an entire song is kind of like just giving up! I love to play the guitar, and one thing that holds me back is my inability to sing.

    I guess if I used some sort of autotune for my guitar, I could be the next jimi hendrix [only I would be a big faker... at least in my own eyes].

    Great article!

    • mr. oyola says :

      You should check out the other Songify autotuned songs – the Charlie Sheen interview “Winning” song and the “Backin’ Up” song. they are just as good as “Bedroom Intruder”

  62. soundsorceress says :

    Mr. Oyola, I find myself having to eat my words from earlier today (*gulp*), because I had to think back to my college years when I took an electronic music course and discovered the wonders of MIDI sequencing. I was able to compose a piece with a piano part that I was nowhere near able to do live; I used the sequencer technology to get all the notes aligned just right.

    And you know what, not only did I get an “A” on that project, but the resulting song actually won a contest. So even though I’m all thumbs when it comes to keyboard technique, I was able to use technology to create a piece of music that had an effect on people, which is really the whole point.

    Which makes me wonder….Did MIDI sequencing get this level of flak that is now heaped upon AutoTune for sucking the human element out of music?

    • fireandair says :

      Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaik, and those types already did that. They couldn’t play every instrument in the orchestra, but they wrote for them. If you think the computer is what allows a composer to do this … well, you think something strange. Super-complex music for very large consorts of instruments has been getting written for pretty much one millennium now. The computer didn’t suddenly make it all happen in the last five years.

  63. jeffreykip says :

    By far the most creative use of auto-tune I’ve experienced is the collage of Carl Sagan clips from Nova into a song. It’s not only very creative, but a beautiful song. Ok, not for everyone but very cool use of this digital tool and, I think, a fantastic creation. See it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc

  64. Leonardo Bandeira says :

    “So what? Why would it so bad if anyone could be a singer through Auto-tuning technology?”

    first; becausde it sound awful. second; because it makes fakers superstars when record companies push new “artists” to fame based on image, trends, violence, drug abuse and other stuff unrelated to MUSIC. For 5000 years music has been expression of the soul, anyone who has experienced a real peformer face to face knows tha music can be something magical, thanks to auto-tune and pro-tools the Idols are no longer models of talent, expression and feeling; whoever wants to experience real music has to go back to the caves

  65. lc says :

    If autotune represents a “democratic impulse in music,” then why do only corporate singers use it?

  66. Ste says :

    I am all for technology in the arts as long as it simply adds to the music in a unique or artistic way. I expect singers at a professional level to be able to sing in a live setting. If they can’t, there is something very wrong with the overuse of auto tune. When it is used to make up for the lack of talent in a talent-based field, or used so abundantly that’s it’s about listening to the technology itself versus the artist, it does lose authenticity. Do I find “Blame It” catchy, sure. Do I own it, nope. Was auto tune used in Cher’s “Believe”? Yes. Can the girl sing in a live setting without, you bet.

  67. diembe says :

    very well-written post. and/but misguided, imho. i am not swayed a millimeter from my contention that auto-tune is digital satan spawn.

  68. aculturedlad says :

    I don’t agree with you AT ALL but it’s an interesting post. Auto-tune let’s everyone sound good. Auto-tune gets rid of talent. Auto-tune adds more Cheryl Cole to the mix and less Laura Marling. To tweak one note, I can stomach but the way it’s being forced these days, it’s becoming a joke.

  69. kirinjirafa says :

    I don’t like the sound of auto-tune, but this is a well-stated perspective on it, and ditto to mr. oyola “I think it still requires talent to use any kind of technology in novel ways to support and develop musical ideas”

  70. I Made You A Mixtape says :

    Youa re right about one thing… auto-tune is not going anywhere…however to use it as a sole purpose of a song, to me is like reality TV…cheap.

  71. The Hairy Caber says :

    Auto Tune, the vehicle of choice for producers of talent shows around the world. Without Auto Tune, Simon Cowell wouldn’t have half the subjective talent; he has already amassed. My objection to the use of Auto Tune, is that it demeans the singer; while deluding the audience. The singer, thinking they are great; are in fact poor. It is technology that is making them sound great. The audience, hearing a studio album, turn up at a concert; only to find themselves cheated with breathless off key tunes. Sorry Auto Tune is just a big con, for the likes of Simon Cowell; to make more money of the gullible.

  72. moneymakingjus says :

    This should be my favorite blog post of the year. Good stuff!!!!

  73. Rasta teacher says :

    I just don´t really appreciate the sound of auto-tune especially when it comes to reggae, where nothing beet the rough sound of the 70´s roots singers.
    Nice article though

  74. TheRantingRaven says :

    We all say perfection isn’t what we stride for because we all know that it don’t exist, but it still amazes me to know that it is where society is heading. I want to hear imperfection, not some cardboard cutout to prance around pretending he is a contender in the big race of global history. I want to hear that the person that i’m listening to actually has some faults, some soul I don’t to hear mechanisms and plastic making love to his voice just to please my ear. Another note: it’s their face that makes their music. It’s when a restaurant states they have something ‘Nation Famous’. It establishes a promise that it must be exceptional, when in fact it is actually self proclaimed. Go look up lyrics of any Top Billboard Artist and read it from the perspective of if you wrote it, it would make you cringe. Looking for time to reevaluate it, and recite it. Who even then knows if they wrote it?

  75. enjoibeing says :

    the only person i like that used auto tune is kanye west. he did a wonderful job on his 808’s and heartbreaks. i felt his emotion when he was singing or lack there of but it was good i thought. nice post!

  76. chrisfiftyfour says :

    Digital is not real. Peroid.

    Autotune turns singing into paint-by-numbers.

    • Marius Chamberlin says :

      I completely agree. It destroys the art in music. If anyone can do it, then why should a person even bother? Why should I admire the Mona Lisa for the skill used in making it if I can make something just a good with no experience and little effort? The way I see it, the equation is simple: auto tune takes out the need for producers to find people who can ACTUALLY sing. So if they aren’t picking based on musical ability, what ARE they picking based on? Marketability. If you can’t sing, but you look good enough and you fit the current definition of “cool”, then produces will just stick you in a booth, mic you up and have you wail away, then later they’ll just clean up the “vocals” and put some instruments in. That’s not music, and it most certainly isn’t talent, not by ANY stretch of the imagination.

  77. blackceezar says :

    Your defense still points out the obvious argument for why it’s the worst thing that has come along or as you’ve shown been reintroduced in that ten or so years. The only good auto tune I’ve heard in recent years isn’t even from an artist it’s a sample. The Rza used auto tune brilliantly on “New Day” by Jay=z and Kanye. That’s as far as it goes really.

    We know Cher isn’t and wasn’t in the 90’s the vocalist she was in the 70’s and I’m a DJ so I have many 12 inch singles with acapella versions of many great artists and yes you hear the tweaking of their vocals. That’s cool in my book but what we have right now today and for the past few years is as you noted with your quote from Neko Case, anyone can go out here now and sing. It’s not being used as a tool to cover up subtle blemishes in singers vocals, it’s now a tool to get over. Even talented singers sound horrible using it. To use it as some tool to blend you vocals in on certain parts of the song is cool, I’ve heard that and thought it enhanced a few songs. To just go out and really do what everyone else is doing and following the crowd is not worth defending. Lil Wayne or Kanye didn’t break new ground at all with what they did using auto tune, anybody who can’t hold a note in a paper bag is doing the same thing they did. That’s the reason people are so against auto tune. Like you said you take two people Jamie Foxx and T-Pain play with auto tune and not be able to tell them apart when their on the same song, where’s the talent in that? Auto tune isn’t going anywhere one can only hope someone finds a revolutionary way to use it and be smart enough not to go overboard with that method

  78. Todd's Trivial Pursuits says :

    Interesting out look on the auto-tune. Another tool additional to ones such as quantization that makes a perfect an better life.

  79. PCC Advantage says :

    I honestly appreciate all of the information you’ve given and your argument in favour of auto-tune, but I just have to disagree with you. Auto-tune is one of my pet peeves…right up there with people who have no talent but are treated as if they do. ;)

    I think that auto-tune aids no-talent hacks in breaking into the business, and that’s about it. (Ooh…that sounds kinda harsh, but I don’t really know how else to say it). I’m sorry for disagreeing with you so much, but I do think you wrote a fantastic article and applaud you for taking a stance that many people would disagree with.

    • Jason says :

      I agree with PCC. As a matter of personal taste, as well — unless it’s used in a way that’s imperceptible — I absolutely hate the computerized, robotic sound of Auto-Tune. It completely turns me off to a song when I hear that. Maybe it’s because I hear the industry’s attempt to desensitize our ears to the falsehood of what Auto-Tune covers up. In other words — if we start to think of it as a performance medium within itself — why would we mind if a few sucky singers make a whole career of it?!

  80. hxrey says :

    All I can say is, Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk,Wendy Carlos in A ClockWork Orange soundtrack, the Cylon Centurions from O.G Battlestar Galactica, And the first Transformers Gen 1 Soundwave, all did it a lot better in Auto-Tune’s Ananlog version the Vocoder!

  81. Chris DS says :

    Sorry but I disagree. I think that you should be able to distinguish talent and wannabe talent without difficulty because on a record some modern singers sound great but live they sound awful even allowing the benefit of the doubt for jumping about whilst singing.

    Autotune could possibly be one of the world’s worst inventions and I wish Cher had ne’er used it!

  82. Aaron Trammell says :

    Great stuff here! One thing I wonder, as Benjamin critiques the economic (and therefore cultural) construction of authority/aura/authenticity, how Auto-tune is used by communities of musicians who are not in a position to derive profit from their work? In these communities is Auto-tune more, or less, controversial?

    Also, I think that there in any discussion of digital musical technology, it is important to sober ourselves to the fact that while technologies like Auto-tune may help to undermine traditional power relationships regarding the authority of pitch and talent, a new power relationship regarding access to (and the understanding of) technology is simultaneously constructed. If anything, I would argue that Auto-tune may often be a reiteration of the bourgeois power structure that Benjamin sought to undermine. Sure, in ten years Auto-tune may be ubiquitous, but then will it still be trendy?

    Really though, great stuff, well put and thoughtful.

    • soundsorceress says :

      Interesting comment, Aaron! In the old model, talent separated the musical haves and have-nots; in the new model, technology will likely do the same thing. Say hello to your new boss; same as the old boss!

  83. soundsorceress says :

    This is a good post; so good that I want to be a devil’s advocate:

    “the tyranny of talent”?

    Many of us have worked hard for years and years and spent gobs of money perfecting our practice of singing only to be eclipsed by people with NO talent and DON’T put the work in, just because they have access to a machine.

    Am I a fuddy-dud or a snob for thinking this? Just because someone is cuter/younger/sexier, they get to make more money singing than the rest of us who actually work at it?

    And I DO believe that all of us can sing and access music within ourselves. It’s just that the “tyrants of talent” don’t believe it can be taught–that’s what has us resort to things like Auto-Tune.

    • mr. oyola says :

      Really meant “the tyranny of [how the notion of] talent [is constructed]” – I think it still requires talent to use any kind of technology in novel ways to support and develop musical ideas, whether that be sampling, autotune, guitar feedback, drum machines or any of a variety of things.

      • soundsorceress says :

        Yes, I figured that it had to be clarified. And I’m sure part of what has talent go tyrannical is that it’s so nebulous and subjective, whether you’re applying it to a larynx or a computer.

      • HoaiPhai says :

        As a consumer, whatever it takes as long as the recorded music holds my interest but I’d feel really cheated paying for a live performance only to have the singer lip-syching on stage. Were I a vocalist with talent, I would feel as soundsorceress does.

        There have been similar discussions concerning film vs digital photography. Photographers using film often state that it is too easy to manipulate digital images so the craft is diminished. Digital photography can actually help increase a photographer’s knowledge of colour theory and other aspects of the art, but no matter how the photographer manipulates a lousy image it remains lousy (unless you’re using it as part of another work, such as collage). But you’d never see a lousy photographer’s work being manipulated consistently by skilled technicians to make the photog rich and famous.

        That is the case with auto-tune. Various sound engineers work their magic but marginal vocalists get the beach house and glory. The “artist” is not the one using the technology here, it’s the engineers.

        Really tough call. Great post!

    • fireandair says :

      Tyrants of talent know it can be taught … but it takes time. You can go from doofus to god in fifteen minutes with a little AutoTune. Record companies and the kiddies that use this junk don’t have the patience to actually LEARN to sing. They want the money and the fame now, without waiting. Learning to sing takes years.

      This is a huge part of why I love classical music. I saw an opera in LA a while back — those singers were LIVE. They had to do the whole thing, flawlessly. Blew me away when I realized it. Everything, right then and there, from start to finish. And the musicians in the pit picked up their instruments and played them for THREE HOURS, and got it right. And it’s not just classical. I remember a recording session that I got my hands on once of Steve Perry messing around with a pianist and working on a song, maybe 45 minutes of him just noodling and writing. No AutoTune, no post-processing, no nothing. And that skinny little pain in the @$$ was on the center of the note every single time. If that’s tyranny, then sign me up.

      Autotune is for musicians what steroids are for athletes. It takes music and turns it into the audio equivalent of Velveeta. (And at least when Cher used it, she didn’t pretend she hadn’t.) It’s for people who think it’s unfair that they wouldn’t “get” to make music just because they can’t. I’ll install springs in my shoes and demand to be lauded as the next Michael Jordan. What do you think my odds are?

  84. thejamminjabber says :

    In defense of talentless hacks.

    • Laoshi Ma says :

      Moreso in defense of thinking differently about music. It’s a filter put on the voice — the Cher engineers aren’t lying, just being unclear. They did it for effect, using an automated vocoder as their guitar pedal.

  85. Mikalee Byerman says :

    Aw, but without auto-tune, there would be no Ke$ha. Right? And a world without Ke$ha would be so much more…

    Wait. I think I just contradicted your premise.
    ;)

    Interesting perspective. Cher’s “Believe,” huh? Don’t think I ever really paid close enough attention!

  86. fireandair says :

    Sam Cooke is rolling over in his grave right about now.

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