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Music Monday March 10th, Can we talk about auto-tune?

Someone once wrote that the creator of Auto-tune must ‘hate music’. In reality,  Dr. Andy Hildebrand, AKA Dr. Andy, is a classically trained flautist who spent most of his youth playing professionally in orchestras. When he’s asked in interviews if auto-tune is evil, he replies “I make the car, I don’t drive it down the wrong side of the road.” Auto-tune, if you don’t know, is an audio processor designed to measure and correct pitch, giving just about anybody singing off-key a way to fix it without actually ever singing it. It’s most easily recognized in current pop hits; it frequently gives todays pop tarts that synthesized, robotic sound. On one end of the spectrum are people who dial up Auto-Tune to the max, like Cher or T-Pain. On the other end are people who use it occasionally and sparingly. You can use Auto-Tune not only to pitch correct vocals, but other instruments too, and light users can inconspicuously tweak a note here and there.

So where’s the line? How does an artist take advantage of an advancement in technology without relying on it to create something that isn’t there? Personally, some of my favorite recordings contain huge recording ‘blunders’. There’s the live version I have of ‘Get Me’ by Everything but the Girl where the lead singer gets so emotional on the last chorus that her voice cracks as she begins to cry. Or the studio version of an old acoustic song lurking on my hard drive where a singer gives it just a bit too hard and you can hear the strain in his voice. These are all incredibly human elements that are lost when we begin to strive for processed perfection.

We can all admit that auto-tune has essentially conquered popular music. Do we really need it? I think we can all agree that the art of music has significantly declined in the past 40 years, do we really need to buy into something that the great musicians of our time never had available to them? The auto-tune revolution is almost as big as it’s backlash. There are ‘F*uck AutoTune’ shirts available everywhere, artists will frequently and publicly shame people who use it and even Jay-Z wrote ‘D.O.A, Death of Autotune’ to shed his opinion on the issue. When I went looking for more info and opinions of the prevalent abuse of auto-tune, I came across this interesting blurb:

“Another way you could answer the question: recorded music is, by definition, artificial. The band is not singing live in your living room. Microphones project sound. Mixing, overdubbing, and multi-tracking allow instruments and voices to be recorded, edited, and manipulated separately. There are multitudes of effects, like compression, which brings down loud sounds and amplifies quiet ones, so you can hear an artist taking a breath in between words. Reverb and delay create echo effects, which can make vocals sound fuller and rounder. When recording went from tape to digital, there were even more opportunities for effects and manipulation, and Auto-Tune is just one of many of the new tools available.”

I don’t know if I fully buy that. There is an obvious difference between mixing, enhancing and altering. Maybe it’s one of those ‘too much of anything is never a good thing’ sort of instances; I’m sure it’s helpful when used rarely to help carry over a near perfect take that the artist loves. However, there are a couple songs in my collection that are Auto-tuned and don’t suck. I do think there is a way to occasionally use it as a way to bring something new to your sound. Everyones favorite musical genius to hate, Kanye West, did almost an entire album of auto-tuned songs. Same goes for Daft Punk, Snoop and Sufjan Stevens; they all are well known, respected artists that decided to radically alter their vocals to create something new and compelling. And my main man, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver has a well-documented, multi-faceted vocal range. But in his song ‘Woods’, he chooses a very unconventional sound for himself that curiously and perfectly captures the ambiance of his setting.

That song, along with a new tune I’ve been rocking all week is your Music Monday this week. ‘Your new beloved’ by LoveLife. An english quartet with an unabashed affection for vocal processing, they recently released this catchy song with a simple, strong stomping drum in the back that has had me tapping my fingers. So hit play, give these songs a listen and feel free to let me know your thoughts on Auto-tune (just don’t bash Justin Vernon, I don’t tolerate that sort of blasphemous sass in my house).


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