Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Auto-Tune: The Future of Music?

Auto-tune is a topic that crosses many music fan's lips. Many are opposed to the use of the technology, arguing that the music industry is employing "pretty faces" rather than people with actual talent. With many songs auto-tune cannot be detected due to rare use, leaving some people blissfully unaware, while as in other tracks the technology is used to the extreme that the artist's voice sounds unnatural, almost robotic.
The technology was originally developed for oil detection by Andy Hildebrand. Hildebrand had spent eighteen years in seismic data exploration, working in signal processing. He originally used auto-tuning hardware to map out the earth's subsurface by sending out sound waves and recording their reflections via a geophone. Soon enough Hildebrand, who had taken some music courses, discovered that the technology he had produced could detect pitch as well as oil. Upon this discovery he turned his talents to the music industry, pop music in particular.

Since it's discovery, auto-tune has been used increasingly in music. The first example of increased overuse of it was Cher's 1998 heit "Believe". Cher sounds unnatural and robotic, despite the producers' attempt to add more emotion through the pitch correction technology. Since the release of this song, overuse of auto-tune has been known as "The Cher Effect". Despite this, more artists have chosen to auto-tune their tracks, and more recent examples of auto-tune in music include tracks such as; JoJo "Too Little Too Late", T-Pain - "I'm Sprung" and Maroon 5 - "She Will Be Loved".

Many producers argue that the use of auto-tune is a time-saver when budgets are tight. Craig Street, a producer who has worked with Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson, said "If you have a smaller budget what you're doing is trying to cram a lot of work into a small period of time; so you may not have as much time to do a vocal.". Street argues that the like or dislike of auto-tune is down to aesthetics. Other producers such as Craig Anderton oppose the overuse of the technology. He states that "If someone uses it tastefully just to correct a few notes here and there, you don't even know that it's been used ... But if someone misuses it, it's very obvious - the sound quality of the voice."
Some musicians, such as Jay Z, are opposed to the use of auto-tune. Jay Z made a huge statement to the rap community by releasing the song entitled "D.O.A." or "Death of Auto-Tune". Some of the lyrics include statements like "This is anti-auto-tune, death of the ringtone, this ain't for iTunes, this ain't for sing-a-longs.". Indie band Death Cab for a Cutie are also anti-auto-tune. Thier lead singer, Ben Gibbard, said this of auto-tune at a Grammy Awards ceremony "Auto-tuning is ... affecting literally thousands of singers today and thousands of records that are coming out. We just want to raise awareness while we're here and try to bring back the blue note ... The note that's not so perfectly in pitch and just gives the recording some soul and some kind of real character. It's how people really sing."

The problem that really stands with the use of auto-tune is how unnaturally robotic it can sound. Many music fans argue that auto-tune takes the human emotion out of a song; when the creative release of human emotion is why we listen to music. If we cannot relate to music then what does it become?

As Hildebrand once said regarding auto-tune being evil "Well, my wife wears make-up. Is that evil?". Although evil is an overstatement, Hildebrand's analogy is fitting. In a world of people striving for perfection in everything, where many unnatural modifications are widely accepted, is it any surprise that the music industry has taken this step?

What do you all think? Is Auto-Tune ruining music?

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