Tune-In, Talent Out

Typically, my published opinions dwell in the realm of movies and games. If they weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this in the first place. That doesn’t mean I can’t branch out, right? So let me switch gears and gripe about what passes as music these days.

Sounds a little like I’m some old fogey who just can’t get into the kids’ music. Except that I’m 33 and this isn’t about my distaste in style changes. Instead I want to focus on the growing trend of using something called Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune, and other products like it, is a device or software plug-in created by Antares Audio Technologies that corrects the pitch of vocal and instrumental performances. Using it produces a distinct tonal quality to whatever it corrects that is supposed to sound natural, but produces a tinny, artificial note that (in most cases) we’re not supposed to hear. Give you an example. A few years back, Cher recorded “Believe” that made extensive use of the Auto-Tune for effect. Youtube search for Auto-Tune and you’ll get a slew of examples.

Cher’s use was intentional. Unfortunately, the effect turned into standard operating procedure to fix the obvious flaws in their own vocal performance. Hundreds of top name artists record themselves through the processor before publishing their music and subsequently using them during concerts. This makes it possible for quite literally anyone to be a singer with perfect pitch. And that’s just plain sad. As I recall, a similar practice was brought to light and ruined the careers of a certain Milli Vanilli back in the 80s.

So what happened to having talent? It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but I find myself having a lot of respect for Jay-Z’s recent protest of the tool, despite my dislike of just about everything else Jay-Z. The abuse can be traced back to R&B (ahem) “singer” T-Pain and makes it possible for every pre-pubescent Disney actress to become a recording artist overnight. It’s a slap in the face to anyone with real talent.

I don’t know that there’s anything that can be done to deter engineers from using it, except pressure from other artists and engineers who speak out about it. My solution? Disqualify artists using the tech to fix their voices from Grammy and similar award nominations. It might not prevent them from making a profit, but it would prevent them from receiving recognition for a talent they aren’t actually demonstrating.

After all, would you award the gold medal for the hundred meter dash to a guy in a sports car? I didn’t think so. Singers out there, take a note: If you’re stuck on a note, practice harder. Use that whole not-having-a-real-job spare time to actually rehearse.

Christopher Kirkman

Christopher is an old school nerd: designer, animator, code monkey, writer, gamer and Star Wars geek. As owner and Editor-In-Chief of Media Geeks, he takes playing games and watching movies very seriously. You know, in between naps.

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