Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Death of Auto-Tune

Last month I posted the following question to a few of the music industry groups I belong to on Linkedin.

"What's so wrong with Auto-tune? This is a question I'm posing and not an opinion. Please use this forum to discuss your concerns with the tool and it's past or recent impact on the way music is made."

The response was so overwhelming that I thought I'd share the responses with my blog followers.  It would have been simpler if I could just link you all to the Linkedin page but you'd have to have an account to view and I didn't want to put you through that if you don't have one.  I'll just cross my fingers that I'm not breaking any laws by reposting so to be safe, I've left the names of the posters...postees...whatever...out*.  So feel free to respond and offer your opinions if you like...

if you need auto tune to get thru a recording, then, you suck!

i get all to often a singer that justs mouths the words and exects me to make him sing! using my computer. I DONT THINK SO!!!.
personally i cant stand listening to artist that over use auto tune. it just drives me crazy. as a producer, i take great joy in taking a singer if limited quality, spend some time with them and make them sing well. i also take pride in making a great singer go beyond their limitations, (as they believe them to be) and have them accomplish things they never thought they could do, and i DO IT WITHOUT AUTO TUNE!!!
I guess im just one of those guys that care about the art of making music thats LISTENABLE. to all you producers that over use that stuff, get a life 

Tools are Tools...use them or not..but if you rely on the same tool over and over then maybe the problem is with what our expectations are...and what we are willing to accept as a final product. 

I'm with Jimmy...if you don't sound good without the auto tune, then you can't sing. Can some auto tuned songs be hits - sure. But the great singers and great performances aren't faked with an electronic box or a computer plug-in. Music should never be perfect...it needs to breathe and have a life. That's what gives it character and emotion. 

We're also in Jimmy's camp. Producer/Arranger, Rick Finch (my client and co-founder of KC and the Sunshine Band) got all of his Grammy's and awards from doing it the old fashioned way: rehearsing and hard work!!! Today, he produces our artists the same way --- and we received SIX Grammy nods on this year's first round ballot, so it proves that the industry is also tiring of that 'handled' sound. Everyone wants to get back to what's REAL. It's the only way this fragmented industry has a chance of surviving! 

I think we could extend this conversation to the over use of any technology, like the loudness wars, or quantization. Real artists still exist...how to get them heard without resorting to the hype tools? 

It’s not autotune that annoys me but the way the likes of Pop Idol and X-factor has created generations of people who expect perfectly intonated vocals with powerful bits, soulful warbles, and all the other cliches.

These days when many people judge music they role play Simon Cowell as he sits there thinking you’re good, you’re crap, etc all with a Mariah Carey / Whitney Houston benchmark in mind.

Most real people aren’t perfect singers – I want to hear real people who’ve lived expressing themselves creatively – that used to be the benchmark.

Could you ever imagine this guy winning the X-factor

What is it? Maybe you should go to tune-up masters.

As an active music producer I've seen the rise of auto-tune first hand in recent years.

As a stand alone tool it's fantastic. Used sparingly and transparently it can save a lot of time & headache. Unfortunately, it crossed the line of being "a recording engineer's secret weapon" to quickly become the key that unlocks the door to American Idol-like fame for those who have little to no singing abilities at all.. or so people think.

If I had $1 for every time I had a recording client say "just auto-tune it and make it sound right" I'd be commenting on this discussion from a sandy beach in Maui.

In my opinion, T-Pain brought auto-tune into the limelight by making it his "signature sound" (gimmick really) a few years ago. It wasn't long before the craze had spread and was being used across many different genres of music. As this was happening T-Pain quietly exited the auto-tune game and began recording new material without using the plug-in at all - Wise move on his part.

I think the straw that broke the the camel's (or should we say Jay Z's) back was the use of auto-tune on rap verses. The problem with this is that there is typically little to no melody in rap verses so the auto-tune plug-in just ends up doing a half-ass job of "correcting" pitches. Ultimately it just ended up creating a mostly monotone, marginally melodic, warbled mess.

Don't get me wrong. I like the plug-in and don't intend to boycott it anytime soon but there is a distinct difference between "use" and "over-use". I think this illustrates just that.

If you didn't catch the Jay Z reference earlier, look up one of his songs called DOA (Death Of Auto-tune)

Well obviously it can be used to fix minor flaws in an an otherwise great performance or it can be used an effect.Overuse will die out as people tire of the sound. The mere fact that we are discussing it makes the case.

As for Cher, she herself tells the story of how she heard UK artist Andy Roachford use it as an effect in the studio she was working in. She "borrowed" it from Andy. If you have never heard his funky style of British Soul and R&B you should definitely check him out. 

Great topic. Personally, I don't like auto tune.
I think it is bad, in that many 'posers' come across as 'singers'; it sells an image. Auto tune seems to be extremely prevalent in the dance and urban markets. To me, when ever I hear the effect, it promotes a certain sameness to me. Too many different artists sound the same.
No, I really don't think it can be used for good in my opinion. I generally think it's a cop out. So some performer might have the image, but not the chops, so doctoring the voice is the easy get-around. Too often, I think it is used in the place of talent. I think this is the danger as well.
As for the future, I think that's still up in the air. My hope is that it is a studio fad that will soon pass. I can see it having longevity in the dance sector. I mean, cripes, Cher used it to revive her career.
Personally, I can't stand the effect. The unnatural warping of the voice really gets on my nerves. I think, over time, it will become so prevalent, that people will tire of it. But, hey, that' just my two cents. 

The current trend of emphasizing auto-tuned vocals (i.e. Kanye, T-Pain) will go away, and probably come back again, then go away again. It's a style fad.

The use of auto-tune to fix recordings and make mediocre pop singers sound better is here to stay. Generic commercial products will always be made in the easiest and most cost-effective way. 

You can make a porn star sound like she can sing with auto-tune, you think producers aren't gonna use it? lol... Yup it's hear to stay but I agree it will go thru it's peaks and valleys just like say - guitars lol... 

When auto-tune was used on Cher's record the unatural bending on the vocal was a complete surprise to the producers. It was one of those mistakes that they found interesting so they ran with it, and the public loved it. Now it's an overused tool of production. It's expected that successful artists will be copied until what they've introduced because tiresome to the public. Most of my music industry friends in London never liked it. I guess you've got to know your audience, and give them what they want. 

Autotune is just another tool in the toolbox, it will never replace a great performance by a superior vocalist. I agree with Joshua and Michael it's just a phase (regarding full dial tuning). The performances that will stand up to the test of time will be the ones that people know are genuine, there's a growing trend of resentment towards perfection.

It is like scratching your nails down a chalkboard... I cringe when it is used as an effect... ask Billy Joel what he thinks of it after his Superbowl performance. I wish it would go away and it can't be soon enough. 

Ok, here's one area though where I will defend Auto Tune. You guys are all talking just about vocalists, but in the studio on a big production it can be extremely helpful in saving time and MONEY. We produced a new album earlier this year where we had a studio filled with an orchestra made up of all professional union musicians. You want to take a guess at what the hourly costs on that were? Occasionally the producer would spot a horn off here or a violin a tad wrong in the background. Rather than do an entire song or section over again the engineers could just fix these minor errors with the click of a mouse. From my standpoint as the Executive Producer overseeing the budget, I got to really appreciate that software! 

I agree there are times when used in a subtle way this is useful for a bum note in a great performance, or when you hire an incompetent producer ;-) 

Agreed, used to fix up a off note-especailly within a real orch-it isn't going to be an issue for anyone. Didn't that used to be called overdubs? Done well, that type of thing won't be noticed. I'm taking the issue here being the lead vocal track auto tuned. I really think AT will date the music, and that type of thing won't age well. But, hey, I'm over 25 and can't listen to the stuff. 

Well, in our case we had not only a wonderful group of musicians, but one of the best producers in the business, and an engineer who was incredible. As the various track sections were being done our producer/arranger, Carey Deadman, would always amaze those of us sitting in the VIP area watching. They would finish a passage and he would calmly point out little tiny timing or key errors to the specific instrument, bar and note that none of us could hear. His ear for perfection just blew us all away. Chris Steinmetz, our head engineer, would grab the mouse on the Pro Tools rig and fix these things in seconds, saving expensive retakes. Chris has worked with both Phil Ramone and Clive Davis and is a wizzard as both an engineer and in production processes.

It's not really part of this topic, but if anyone would like to hear the outcome you can go to this link: http://www.denisebrigham.com/music.htm

AT. Sigh. Well, it's here and it's not leaving. It's a useful engineering tool anyway. Whether it's used as an effect or not will be a trend thing and will come and go, and most likely stay with certain genres for longer.

What it means to the industry (speaking as an indie musician) is a sad thing though. They would rather find malleable 10 year olds, raise them as if they were in a lab (or in an old Hollywood studio) and, no matter how much practicing the little mites do, aren't going to be capable of getting past a certain caliber so autotune will get them there. Then Clear Channel will play it until people are completely brainwashed into thinking its tolerable simply through overexposure the song and voila, a whole new generation of less-than-talented performers will be born.

It's a bit like compression. I hear so much these days that music sounds like one fat wall of blurred sound. I'm waiting for the backlash where musicians go back into the studio and take pride in their skills with live takes, little effects. Won't happen in every genre but I see it comin up from underground these days. Glad to hear it, myself. I loved doing that in the old days and will do that now on occasion too. 

I agree Autotuned vocals will come and go, as they are the defining sound of certain genres of music today. I can't see it becoming a permanent fixture in most styles of music, but I beleive in the long run it will be used tastefully by most studios to spot-correct a couple areas of otherwise stellar performances. I also agree with Nita about the backlash of musicians taking pride in their skills. I am seeing this trend in my own studio where bands want to go back to the days of tracking most of the parts "live" and capturing a more organic performance rather than the over-processed sounds popular today. 

Whoa Woha Woha Nita, I mean come on, you don't like the fact that music doesn't breathe anymore?!?!? Come on, I can't get thru the day without 10 cc's of caffeine and wall to wall SCREAMING slammed to the balls compressed music to make my ears buzz 24 hours at a pop... :_)) Hee HEEE smell that - that's sarcasm ;-) And anyway I just can't get ENUFF Kanye West Auto-tune, man oh man that man's a genius, oh crap , more sarcasm, sorry sorry sorry, tho I have to say finally without sarcasm, I heard a song with vocal auto-tune that I simply think is divine, the song, Fireflies by Owl City... It's the first song on his MySpace
The song is kinda prog pop even, and it might not be everyone's cup of tea but at least he uses it as more of an instrument then as an effect.. Just my 2,000 cents ;-) 

Zing zang yin yang wham bam thank you mam!

AT vox sends shivers up my spine, it's just so unnatural it should have an E number classification. 

The use of Auto Tune today is a trend, It came and left in the late 70's early 80's with Roger and Zapp, Cameo etc.It resurfaced with certain R&B hits in the 90's such as Computer Love. It will continue for another year or so, and then we won't hear from it for another ten years. 

Man if only Millie Vanillie had had auto-tune... coulda been on their own record... DOH!!



* - and to add a homegrown disclaimer here...If you happen t be one of the people whose comment I re-posted and you DON'T want to remain anonymous, let me know and I'll be happy to give you credit.