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The Autotuned Generation

an article about the use of auto-tune

Vist Aaron Slick Henry's Profile

The Autotuned Generation

Inspiration or intense editing?
Queen! Sting! The Jackson 5! Frank Sinatra! Would these still be the greats that we look up to now if they had used autotune? We talk about natural talent with an expectation that the talent is natural, but what’s natural about a box that pitches your voice perfectly for you?

Autotune is the source of many arguments throughout the music industry. Some say that the musicians that blindly disagree with the use of the autotune are hypercritical because they themselves use similar technology to enhance the sounds of their instruments. As technology has progressed over the years there has been more and more to help people in the creation of music. The invention of the electric guitar in 1924 brought the sounds and the creativity of musicians to a new level, the invention of amplifiers in 1947, by Nathan Sokal and Allen Sokal, gave the guitar the power to compete with the intense sounds of the orchestra, and then in the 1960 ‘s came the invention of the Guitar effects, so why can the instruments get away with the use off these effects while the autotune gets such a bad response? To understand this first you must know how it works!
Autotune uses a specific scale or group of notes to correct the pitch of the vocalist. For example if the vocalist was singing in A major and they hit a note which was slightly sharp or flat of a note in the scale which they intended to hit, it would be automatically brought up or down to the correct pitch of that note. The majority of artists in the charts today use autotune, these include T-pain, Rihanna
and Katy Perry. Although it can be argued that some of these artists need autotune to be able to sing, it also seems to be becoming very fashionable to use it – even if you can sing in tune! A great example of this is JLS. Although they can all sing extremely well and have no need for something like autotune they still use it! T-Pain has even brought out his own application on iTunes for use on the iPhone and iPod Touch. This app only costs 59 pence, contains a huge variety of keys you can sing in and will tune your notes to perfect pitch within the key you select!
Nowadays anybody in the world can get into the charts easily even if they don’t have much, if any, talent. All people want to see is someone who is attractive to the eye, can dance around on stage and sing in perfect pitch. Unfortunately, although the person may be attractive and they may be able to dance to a choreographed sequence, without the aid of autotune would they really be able to pull off such a great performance with all the atmosphere and passion that people want to see at a concert and still be as successful as they are today? On the other hand autotune has meant people can go and see their favourite artist at a live performance and they know that they will sound exactly as they did on the album. So they will be able to enjoy the show knowing there will be no vocal mistakes. This has affected music making very much as there are less and less talented artists who are able to get into the charts and therefore makes it very hard for them to make a living because everything is so dominated by artists using autotune. This means that the majority of music making is slowly creeping away from live instruments and voices and towards a load of electronically altered vocalists. But if this vocal effect didn’t exist the charts today would consist of a totally different variety of artists who could actually sing without effects in a live performance.

The x factor scandal

The news on the X Factor in 2010 was that the producers of the show were auto tuning the acts that they wanted to get through the first rounds so that they had an advantage over the other contestants. This defeats the whole idea of a talent competition. This is the equivalent of entering a guitarist competition and recording slash to play your peace for you!

What we think!

Looking at all the reasons for and against the Autotune, as a musician myself I believe that there’s no problem with people at home using Autotune, but when it comes to professional musicians and competitions autotune has no place. It defeats the point of actually singing. The X Factor has lost our respect and so have the producers that allow people like Justin Bieber to make it with autotune.


1 IP1zine | on 05 April 2011

Very interesting article, we enjoyed reading that

2 simonjn | on 05 April 2011

Agreed, very good article. I particularly agree with the comparison between autotune used on vocals and electronic effects used on instruments.

I think it’s pertinent that in much commercial rnb, hip hop and dancehall music today (like T-Pain), autotune is used as much as a method of obtaining a certain sound as it is to correct the musician’s off-key singing.

Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak album in particular was based largely on the robotic sound autotuning gave the vocals. Regardless of whether West can or can’t sing in pitch, the point of using autotune there was not to make his singing sound natural, but odd, metallic and synthesised.

It strikes me as hypocritical that detractors point to the use of this technique as a cheat, where much vaunted musicians, Stevie Wonder springs to mind, made great use of vocoders to a similar end.

Then again, Stevie definitely could sing in the first place.

3 Aaron Slick Henry | on 05 April 2011

Thanks for taking the time to reply to that, i totally agree with what you have said. tis topic brought up a lot of discussion in college. the main point that kept coming up was the use of auto-tune for that desired effect rather than actually fixing vocals

4 Frisky Dingo | on 06 April 2011

I have to acknowledge that you have wrote an interesting, thought provoking article and congratulate you on that; as even a visceral response should be greatly welcomed, as it shows that your writing is anything but bland.

However, your view point of part-time or ‘bedroom musicians’ being allowed to use it and professional musicians not, is elitist. Many pro musicians/artists started in their bedroom producing music and just because they now make a living solely off their art they’re now forbidding to use the effect? And is that your description of professional musician, someone who can live off their art without any other means of income?
If so, then rap and rnb artists should be allowed to use it, as we know many of them are trying to flob us their clothing and fragrance, which is another means of funds other than their music.

Secondly using effects, like delay, chorus, etc, to enhance a guitar sound is in no comparison to the over use of auto tune. If I play a wrong or ‘bum’ note on guitar, it has to, more times then not, have to be re-recorded, not so with the over use of auto tune, whatever vocal tripe is recorded can be used in a pro recording.

And although it is not so important to the main discussion of the article, comparing X-factor to an actual contest, is like comparing David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive to Micheal Bay’s Transformers 2 and saying their both equally artistic movies; or if you prefer, saying the WWE is a talent contest, where the best participant wins. (I could rant about X factor for hours; want to win or at least reach the finals? Have a family member who’s terminally ill or be a single mother working at Aldi who wants to achieve their life-long dream. It’s a mockery of the music industry)

But I digress. I wish I had more time to write in detail but I am at work, so this is rushed and wrote on the sly. I would like to discuss this further.
Again I say, well done on the article

5 Alex Michalas | on 17 May 2011

Great article.X- Factor should have never have had our respect in the first place… If anything it promotes this new generation of model/musicians, who do not posses any talent to start with… its just propaganda.. don’t get me wrong, when it comes to these artists not all of them are un-talanted. Bottom line is ‘‘autotune’’ musicians of today shall not live as long as the incredible talents of the past. Once they grow out of fashion or there looks disappear their name shall be forgotten. It’s just a crisis, there will be a new cultural outburst in music, it maybe electronic but it will happen…

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