Throughout the music industry, the increase of technology has greatly improved the sound quality of audio recordings. When Les Paul invented the multi-track recording device in the early 60s, it was a turning point on how fans would listen to the music of such bands of The Beach Boys as well as other influenced beach bands during that time. Today, a similar issue raises the question if the modern day artists even have any talent.
The invention of auto tune which started in 1997 was created by Dr. Harold (Andy) Hildebrand. It was originally going to be used for Exxon Production Research to interpret seismic data. In 1990, Dr. Andy founded the Antares Audio Technologies and used his ideas to form an audio processor that would correct pitch in vocals and instruments while disguising any off-key mistakes or impairments. Auto tune was the beginning of a new era in music because it allowed singers to perform perfect tracks without having to sing in tune. The company made their first secret experimental debut with Cher’s comeback single, “Believe,” in 1998 which grossed a major success of $10 million. Since then, many other artists in pop, electronic, hip hop and country have followed the idea of auto tune to be used in their track recordings. Country artists Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw have used auto tune. Brittany Spears, Miley Cyrus, and Cher as well as Daft Punk and Imogen Heap have used it. In hip hop T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Kanye West and many other rappers have manipulated auto tune into an artistic musical element.
However someone may word it, auto tune has revolutionized the sound and portrayal of hip hop. Auto tune is used by thousands of audio professionals because it’s fast, saves time in the studio editing room, eases the frustration of endless retakes, and gives the music a striking effect. Hip hop artists use auto tune by putting a vocoder that distorts the vocal sounds by giving it the “robotic” effect. Through the mid 2000s, rapper T-Pain has immensely used the robotic auto tune affect for all his songs. T-Pain has been applauded and criticized that he has overused the device because he’s either forming a new kind of trend or because he simply is not truly talented. Since the Cher incident which her producers were keen on leaving it a secret, T-Pain has turned the device from a quick technological tool into an artistic statement. In the last two years, T-Pain has released the two biggest selling albums in America.
Lil Wayne and Kanye West have also followed in T-Pain’s footsteps because they love auto tune. Lil Wayne has used the program extensively on his most highly anticipated album of 2008, Tha Carter III. Kanye West’s recent album 808s And Heartbreak, mostly contains auto tune including his first single “Love Lockdown.” Nic Bertino, a Sacramento-based producer, quoted auto tune to be, “a human sound that’s just a little bit robotic.” A problem that can come with auto tune is during emotional songs. When Cher sang, “Believe,” and Kanye West sang, “Love Lockdown,” there were minor glitches that occurred when the lyrics were at its highest emotional point. “Believe”, which seemed like a fun loving dance pop song was really about a breakup and “Love Lockdown”, which seems to hide Kanye’s emotions, is about the death of his mother and the breakdown of his relationship with his fiancée. Many haters of voice distortion agree that Kanye West should re-do “Love Lockdown” in a raw style so that it renders more truth to his personal life. In 1967, Marvin Gaye’s producer arranged the track “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” in a higher vocal register so that Gaye would strain his voice to hit higher notes. Although this song was written for someone else, and never gave truth to Gaye’s life, the rawness of the recording made it more believable for listeners then if it was recorded in a fake-sounding reality.
When hip hop artists use auto tune in their live performances, they begin by putting the vocal straight through the system before it gets amplified. However, sometimes things can go wrong if it isn’t set right. For example, when Billy Joel sang “The Star Spangled Banner” last year at the Super bowl, there was a shift between Joel’s voice and the auto tune. According to Nic Bertino, “It has to shift the tone of the vocal. And if the settings are off, you can hear the shift being made.” It was an electronic glitch that has formed today’s robotic sound or “the T-Pain/Cher-style effect.”
April V. who has worked with auto tune from 1999-2002 at SONY studios in New York City, has described the program to be a fixation of pitch mistakes and was run through pro-tools. April said that auto tune “can turn it into a flawless vocal.” She continued to add that in vocal production if something went off key the studio would use auto tune. It helped save studio time, was mostly used for Pop and R&B, and gave people who didn’t have perfect pitch a chance of stardom. A few negative aspects of auto tune April said were that it makes the vocals a bit boring and “lifeless.” April continued to say that it makes “everyone sound like a cookie cutter,” and that the studio used auto tune on people who were never good in real life. On live stage, April noted that music producers would put auto tune through the microphone and then tune it live with a slight delay. Auto tune has changed the music industry because according to April, “so many singers and musicians don’t have to be that good.” She added that the finished product does not sound as authentic as it did in the 70s, and that producers can take any sexy female with a steady voice and turn her into a musical star. We can ask ourselves if these artists are musicians, or manufactured for business? If April ever became an artist she would decline to use the program. However, it has revolutionized hip hop by changing the beats and tempo from fast to slow without having to change the key. Auto tune has also induced sampling from P Diddy’s remix influence which has exposed people to other genres such as Mozart’s classical, and techno that has made hip hop more dance-able. April also said that when the vocals speed up you get the Chipmunk affect. April believes that auto tune will last forever until someone else comes up with an easier program. “People are lazy,” April said when stating that people don’t want to put in the work for the easy product. April ended the interview saying that auto tune “has the potential to destroy the integrity of real music.”
There has also been much negative feedback from purist and artists who refuse to use auto tune. Although auto tune is usually undetected by the average listener, the overdubbing of instruments and vocals that producers create in the studio is mostly done on every album. The artificial tactic is eliminating the natural quality of music and according to purists; it is the stripping away of humanity. A number of artists in Country who have refused to do auto tune are: Loretta Lynn, Allison Moorer, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, and Patty Loveless. As for hip hop, Jay-Z’s most recent 2009 album The Blueprint 3 protests auto tune with the song “D.O.A (Death of Auto tune).” Jay-Z planned to raise the awareness that auto tune has been overused and is becoming a trend gimmick. At the 51st Grammy Awards the alternative rock band Death Cab for Cutie protested to auto tune by wearing blue ribbons while walking down the red carpet. In 2009, Time magazine quoted an anonymous Grammy-winning recording engineering saying, “Let’s just say I’ve had Auto-Tune save vocals on everything from Brittany Spears to Hollywood soundtrack albums. And every singer now presumes that you’ll just run their voice through the box.”
Today, with the new technologies music sounds differently in R&B, Hip Hop and Pop from 35 years ago. Records now are being listened to on iPod earphones making the sound louder and compressed to the point where recordings lose high and low dynamics. A problem when people burn vinyl onto CDs is that the lower spots in the song will be marked as the end of the song and instead will form a new track. Purists also claim auto tune as an example of the coldness modern technology that has been brought to music.
Artists and people who enjoy auto tune have found ways to keep it alive by spoofing it. In a recent video, T-Pain distorts President Obama’s voice to sound like the computerized robotic recordings that are prevalent in all of T-Pain’s songs. It received many positive comments and humorous reactions. Andy Samberg, a comedic actor on Saturday Night Live made a spoof of the device when he included T-Pain in his group The Lonely Island for the song, “I’m on a boat.” “I’m on a boat,” received a lot of fame for its humor and lack of seriousness. The iPhone even added a T-Pain application where you can give yourself the robotic voice by talking into one of the speakers. Many other random YouTube videos have copied the auto tune spoof and made it out to be a funny joke or a comical act.
There are many speculations as to how auto tune will affect the music industry in the future. Some people think that artists will eventually be robots by inputting lyrics into a computer and having it sing back in the melodies of one choosing. A recording software such as Garage Band has already made it possible for people to put music to tape or digital file by making it as easy as playing a video game. Others think that the auto tune trend will die out and music will go back to the basics. When musicians would play in a room and an engineer would capture that sound with a few microphones to be used as a final product. It seems today that it is much easier for artists to sell their music because of the internet and a little tuning trick they call auto tune.
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