Join 3,552 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Francis Scott Off-Key
February 25, 2007 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Oh say can you see... (YT) the sound of Auto-Tune gone berserk?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (86 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not sure why they used an AutoTuner for BillyJoel unless he didn't have any monitors. He actually has a pretty decent voice. Similarly, Cher, can sing as well. The vocoder on that tune was used as an effect, not for pitch correction.

If you really want to listen to an autotuner gone berserk, go listen to samples on iTunes (but please don't buy anything for God's sake) of songs from either Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan's last albums. Neither of them can even come close to carrying a tune, (handle on it or not), so the songs sound pretty close to what you would expect if you had your Mac's VoiceOver utility singing them instead.
posted by psmealey at 9:29 AM on February 25, 2007


Dido is another artist who seems to rely almost exclusively on the AutoTune.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:31 AM on February 25, 2007


not sure why you'd auto-tune to compensate for a lack of monitoring. surely he was wearing wireless, in-ear monitors.
oddly, we've not heard from Joel himself on the issue. maybe he's dead, and what we saw was a projected hologram. the vocal track was spliced together from past performances, like Chef in South Park.

-s
posted by spish at 9:54 AM on February 25, 2007


Avril Lavigne's latest tune, for the movie Eragon, is almost as bad as that Superbowl performance.
posted by armoured-ant at 9:55 AM on February 25, 2007


not sure why you'd auto-tune to compensate for a lack of monitoring.

It was just a guess, but I think you might do it in an excessively huge, noisy or cavernous venue, where sounds and ambient noises are bouncing around like crazy and get so distorted, you can be thrown off pitch. That's the only reason I can think of. Kind of a belt and suspenders approach.

When he started singing the song, it was pretty clear to me that he was having difficulty hearing himself.
posted by psmealey at 9:59 AM on February 25, 2007


Marlee Matlin seemed to be the only one actually enjoying it.

The 1:20 - 1:35 portion is just weird. Zoom in on a player's bloodshot eye and then fade to a mom teaching her kid how to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth while RoboBilly croons in the background.
posted by revgeorge at 10:00 AM on February 25, 2007


The song "Lightspeed" by Matt & Kim uses autotune to kind of a cool effect.
posted by hypocritical ross at 10:03 AM on February 25, 2007


Considering the way others have butchered that tune on a football or baseball field, I thought it sounded pretty good, and I guess I didn't detect any weirdness.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:06 AM on February 25, 2007


...except for the zooming in on that football player's eye. That was definitely weird.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:07 AM on February 25, 2007


Rosie's rendition was totally f*cking punk rock. It was one for the ages.
posted by ScreechingEyeballStupidShitboxClownshoes at 10:09 AM on February 25, 2007


The player's eyes looked weird probably because he was wearing the red Nike Maxsight contact lenses [typical Nike flash-heavy site]. And yes, it was weird.
posted by zsazsa at 10:12 AM on February 25, 2007


Hey, who else thinks RoboBilly should collaborate with RoboTrane?
posted by obvious at 10:15 AM on February 25, 2007


At least Carl Lewis gave it the ol' college try.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:21 AM on February 25, 2007


Im amazed that so many people still have no idea what auto-tune is. I think its safe to say that 99 pecent of major pop stars use it on their albums.

Are they on MTV? They use auto-tune. And have used auto-tune for years.

Even artists like Tori Amos and Billy Joel, who have good voices, get the synthesizer-robot-voice on their records because its just automatically used by producers, without thinking. Welcome to the future.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 10:21 AM on February 25, 2007


That super bowl clip sounds like a classic autotune-in-live-performance screwup, namely, setting the wrong key. So, Joel sings a correct note, in the key he's in, then autotune says "No, dipshit, that's a sharp" and tries to haul the note up a full half step.

Now, the question is did the sound guy know the right key (that is, the key that Joel was going to perform in) and setup the autotune wrong, or was he told to set it to the incorrect key, or did Joel pick a new key at the last second? The last is doubtful if he knows anything about how pitch correctors work, since he'd know that he'd be fighting with the effect if he changed keys without warning.

Actually, listening again (ugh) I think they set it to chromatic mode, and the stupid thing is triggering on the natural vibrato. The fact that this happened sucks, the fact that the effect *stayed in* means whoever was mixing needs to be taken out back, beaten up, and then fired.

Screwups happen, but you fade the effect out, fix it, and fade it back in. Letting the effect fight the performer for the whole song isn't the right answer.
posted by eriko at 10:22 AM on February 25, 2007


At this point, I think rather than an Explicit Lyrics Advisory on a CD package, it would be more helpful to have a No AutoTune Used in the Production of this Music label.

Shitty pop music manufactured for mass consumption has existed for as long as there has been a record industry, but at least in Phil Spector's day, the artists could actually sing.
posted by psmealey at 10:27 AM on February 25, 2007


There was a big thread on the Tape Op message board about this. It sounds to me like it was set to chromatic mode with a fast retune speed, which is stupid.

I'm going to come to the defense of autotune for a moment though and say that it's a great plugin when used correctly. Using it correctly means using the right settings for the job. If you want an obvious robot effect, use automatic mode, but in graphical mode it can be used to nudge pitches in a subtle and transparent way. I've used it a bunch on strings and brass players who aren't perfectly in tune, as well as singers. If the pitch is way off, there's going to be an artifact, but if it's pretty close, you can autotune it and no one will ever hear the difference. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But whoever was in charge of that Billy Joel thing really blew it.

Incidentally, it turns out that the Cher "Believe" effect was in fact auto-tune.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:32 AM on February 25, 2007


The player's eyes looked weird probably because he was wearing the red Nike Maxsight contact lenses [typical Nike flash-heavy site].

Crap. Product placement even during the national anthem.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:45 AM on February 25, 2007


ElmerFishpaw writes "Even artists like Tori Amos and Billy Joel, who have good voices, get the synthesizer-robot-voice on their records because its just automatically used by producers, without thinking. Welcome to the future."

I would completely disagree. Tori only uses vocal modification for effect, as far as I know, and has absolutely perfect pitch. Someone I used to know several years ago was friends with her, and has heard her sing at home. No difference (except for, of course, level balancing, reverb, whatever) from her album singing.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:00 AM on February 25, 2007


Thanks for this. I was discussing Auto-Tune with a friend recently, and was looking for some examples so I could hear exactly what it sounds like.
posted by niles at 11:15 AM on February 25, 2007


The New Pornographers' Neko Case on Auto Tune

Auto Tune is also featured prominently (but not in its usual mode of use) on the vocals of Daft Punk's One More Time (listen to the vocalizing during the bridge).
posted by kaytwo at 11:36 AM on February 25, 2007


I'm going to come to the defense of autotune for a moment though and say that it's a great plugin when used correctly.

it's even better when you don't use it correctly ... do a vocal ... then process it with an editor with extreme auto-tune ... put the two vocal tracks you now have in the mix with the real vocal track a few db louder than the autotuned track

voila! double tracked vocals

niko case - It's not an effect like people try to say, it's for people like Shania Twain who can't sing.

no, it's a MUSICAL INSTRUMENT ... it can be played well or poorly or not played in a song at all, just like a guitar, a piano, a stomp box, or a recording studio can

if musical purists had their way, she wouldn't be playing electric guitar ... just because so many people abuse it doesn't mean that it can't be useful
posted by pyramid termite at 11:42 AM on February 25, 2007


Shitty pop music manufactured for mass consumption has existed for as long as there has been a record industry, but at least in Phil Spector's day, the artists could actually sing.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let's keep Phil Spector out of discussions of shitty pop music, please. That's the best pop music evah.

As far as Auto-Tune in modern pop music goes, well -- applying a punk rock or roots music asthetic to pop music is just as bad as doing the reverse. I don't expect Bob Dylan to look good in a bikini, so why should I expect summer beach music to be produced by an unplugged folk collective?

If R. Kelly's voice is modded to all heck in "Ignition (remix)," (and it is), it doesn't change the fact that that song is delicious pop candy.

Now, if it's just being done out of laziness, when there are plenty of other ways to patch up, um, patchy performances, then I can see the point.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:45 AM on February 25, 2007


Welcome to the future.

Yep.
posted by cillit bang at 11:51 AM on February 25, 2007


voila! double tracked vocals

Meh, not really.

no, it's a MUSICAL INSTRUMENT

If you have an extremely loose definition of musical instrument. It doesn't create any sounds, it only modifies them. If you want to consider compressors, EQs, reverbs, etc. musical instruments, then that would be consistent, but it doesn't seem like a useful definition to me.

Now, if it's just being done out of laziness, when there are plenty of other ways to patch up, um, patchy performances, then I can see the point.

I agree that autotune-track-insert as unthinking default is an awful trend. But autotune in general shouldn't be correlated with "shitty pop music manufactured for mass consumption." It's just a tool, like a compressor. Lots of shitty pop music uses way too much compression, but that's no reason to hate compressors.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:55 AM on February 25, 2007


Forgive me, as this Auto-Tune thingy is new to me....

But you're telling me that now, the Britany Spears of the world can finally let go of the sole ostensible skill that they possess that even slightly justifies the incredible, obnoxious degree with which they permeate our culture, because a computer will fix whatever unfortunate vocal problems they might have, so they can focus on the important job of being whoever the tastemakers decided will be a star, and looking good wearing hardly anything?

If so: then is it any WONDER that Spears' has been showing her crotch to anyone who'll ask, and shaved her head? She's come to realize by what a tenuous thread her success has hung, and is desperately seeking approval to reassure herself that she had even a single thing to do with it.
posted by JHarris at 12:12 PM on February 25, 2007


JHarris, digital pitch correction has been around for more than 10 years.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:15 PM on February 25, 2007


It's just as difficult to describe what music sounds like as it is to agree on what sounds good. To me, "soul" lies in the tension created when a voice or instrument differs from what the ear expects; it's hard to put a finger on it, but slight modulations in tone, pitch, or dynamics create these tensions and are a necessary characteristic of what I call soul. Even dropped beats or loose quantization in drum-machine rhythms can spark the feeling that what was so right about a song was exactly what wasn't quite right. Autotuners, as they are used now, remove much of the tension from vocal performances in an effort to make things perfect. I think this perfection lacks soul, and I usually don't think soulless music is worth listening to.

Maybe future generations of autotuning algorithms will return the nuance and tension to autotuned vocals. Or maybe skilled producers will one day wield them carefully, in such a way that the soul of a vocal isn't compromised. Until then, autotuning is the death of soul.
posted by breezeway at 12:24 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


breezeway, have you used autotune or similar software? I'm pretty confident that a performance you'd consider "soulful" could be autotuned and you wouldn't realize it. These things leave a lot of control in the hands of the user - there's a big gradient in between a natural sounding vocal and the Cher effect.

And while I value real musicality as much as the next guy, it seems a little odd to me that anyone 2007 would be all that bothered by the idea that something like Britney's vocals are fake. For comparison, programmed drums seem totally accepted these days.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:31 PM on February 25, 2007


Amen, breezeway.

Oddly enough, my wife and I rented the documentary on Woodstock, which I had never seen before in my life. I didn't expect to like it, but I had heard such good things over the years, I decided to give it a shot.

It was an excellent film on many levels, but I was completely stunned by the level of vocal performances presented therein, particularly from Richie Havens, Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin. I really fail to think of anyone performing today than have such amazingly rich tonal qualities, as well as a capacity to move a crowd like that. Also, kind of funny to think of what 1969 Joe Cocker would sound like autotuned. Not very good, I would imagine.

It's kind of sad, actually. I almost wonder if the fact the technology has made better performances more accessible to marginally talented artists has had an effect in discouraging record labels from finding true talent that might not necessarily be as attractive to look at as today's "stars". It would seem so.
posted by psmealey at 12:32 PM on February 25, 2007


breezeway, you've stated the case very elegantly - as it was in 1988.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:42 PM on February 25, 2007


Ha. Well put, ikkyu2.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:45 PM on February 25, 2007


I'm still pretty outraged ludwig_van, I refuse to be Now Now'd because they've been around for years. Drums are one thing, they are an explicit instrument. What more personal aspect of producing a song is there than voice? There's songwriting perhaps but come on, most pop songs are not that inventive. If a computer can fix everything about a singer's voice, then what do we even need the singer for?

Why not just cook up a fully virtual star who won't have drug problems, won't jump to other labels, won't make goofy demands, and won't worry about petty little things like "artistic vision?" And if you make 'em up in a computer, with all the data produced For Hire, you get to own 'em for 95 years, instead of the thirty-or-so of juice from flesh-and-blood, if you're lucky.

Come to think of it, that's probably be better for all involved, since presumably a collection of data files won't get drunk and shack up with random losers, which the Company won't have to give recording contracts to. Although I think ultimately the publicity from pop stars' failings just makes them more popular in the end. (Including, perhaps, the very hate I seem to be prepared to invest in them? Bah.)
posted by JHarris at 12:46 PM on February 25, 2007


Drums are one thing, they are an explicit instrument. What more personal aspect of producing a song is there than voice? There's songwriting perhaps but come on, most pop songs are not that inventive. If a computer can fix everything about a singer's voice, then what do we even need the singer for?

I don't follow this argument at all. Drums are okay because they're an "explicit instrument?" Is a singer's voice an implicit instrument? And of course pop songs can be inventive.

And to be clear, all auto-tune does is correct pitch, although there are voice modelling applications on the market these days that purport to change the vocal qualities of the singer, but I have no experience with those and I don't think they're in very wide use.

Why not just cook up a fully virtual star

Ok, I'll bite: yeah, why not? Good music is good music. Why should we get so hung up on where and who it comes from?

What I'm saying is that people need to disassociate the art from the tools used to create it. Would Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier have been crappy if it had been the Well-Tempered Synthesizer instead?

There's also a matter of confirmation bias. People only notice autotune when it's used heavy-handedly - when it's used subtlely they can't tell it's there. So people associate autotune exclusively with the heavy-handed usage, which is wrong.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:56 PM on February 25, 2007


I think the problem that most people here have with autotune is when it is used as a crutch for people with little to no vocal talent. It's more than a little disheartening, because there are singers (not to mention musicians) with genuine talent who are going to be overlooked in favor of the latest, hottest new pop star. This is not going to change anytime soon and as others have noted this has been the trend for quite some time now.

But autotune itself is just a tool. I'm don't really want to defend it really, but in a studio, a lot of artists will use every tool they can to their advantage and that includes autotune. Personally I like to listen to bands that can actually perform live, but I'm also going to recognize that a studio recording is something different. You can compare, for instance, a live recording of The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, each has its own merits.

Finally, somewhat along with what Breezeway said, for some bands, autotune (especially used improperly) can detract from a performance so much that I'm no longer inclined to listen. I think the Joel National Anthem is a good example of what I'm talking about.
posted by timelord at 12:59 PM on February 25, 2007


People only notice autotune when it's used heavy-handedly - when it's used subtlely they can't tell it's there.

if you can hear the difference, why would you think that "people" don't? ... (and if you can't hear the difference, you wouldn't mess with it, would you?)
posted by pyramid termite at 1:04 PM on February 25, 2007


I know what you mean timelord, but I guess I can't really bring myself to care about these poor unattractive but vocally gifted folks I'm always hearing about in these discussions who miss their shot at being the next mainstream pop star.

If you've got serious vocal chops and real singing technique is important to you, what are you doing trying to be a mainstream pop star instead of a classical singer? If you're really into pop music why aren't you writing your own songs instead of trying to compete with simulacra like Britney Spears? Top 40 pop is about image, studio production, spectacle, and many other things, but it's not about vocal talent, and I don't feel all that sorry for anybody who hasn't picked up on that and adjusted accordingly.

pyramid termite: if you can hear the difference, why would you think that "people" don't? ... (and if you can't hear the difference, you wouldn't mess with it, would you?)

I'm not sure what you're asking. I'm saying that people tend to notice autotune only when it leaves artifacts and not when it doesn't, so they think that autotune = robot sounds when in fact it's capable of transparent correction.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:11 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


ludwig_van - agreed.

It's precisely analogous to my pet peeve: people who insist that breast implants always look fake because they can tell that the badly done boob jobs they notice are fake.
posted by wilberforce at 1:28 PM on February 25, 2007


I'm not sure what you're asking.

i'm saying that i hear records all the time where there's a peculiar exactitude to extended vocal notes ... almost like a whinyness or breathiness ... i don't know quite how to describe it, but it is there ... it isn't natural, as i never hear it on older recordings ... and it isn't "robot sounds" as it's good enough to fool most people; it really is quite subtle

a lot of the great (and good) singers, like sinatra or franklin, use microtonality ... they're not "on" all the time, they're close, in a personal way ... nowadays, i hear singers who are"on" almost constantly ... they're too perfect too often

most people won't notice it consciously ... but i think they do subconsciously and make remarks about soulfulness

most of the new stuff on mainstream radio i hear seems to have that sound to it now ... so, it's not as subtle as you think it is

if YOU can hear the difference then someone else can ... and if you can't hear the difference, how can you know if you've done it right?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:30 PM on February 25, 2007


I stated an opinion, not a case; perhaps your stone ears just can't hear the death rattle, ikkyu2. Mine can.

If autotuning is being used so subtly and sparingly, is it really necessary? I mean, gratuitous swipes at indisputable taste aside, are there singers who can really sing the fuck out of a song who really need autotuning? Or is it just a tool to make the vocals sit well in the mix?

I've heard recent radio pop on which the autotuning is as bare and hooty as a plucked owl. It sounded sterile and metallic, and it was obvious. And the autotuning of live Joel at the Superbowl was pretty bald and unpleasant, too.

If a singer sang like Jean Stanbeck, why on earth would a producer want to mess with her pitch? And if a singer sang like Lou Reed, why on earth would a producer want to make his voice tuneful? Sure, there are in-betweens, but the in-betweens are exactly what makes music such a joy, whether it's 1988 or now.

The irony of it all is that we love exactly the same music for exactly the same reasons, ikkyu2. You just can't hear as well as I can.
posted by breezeway at 1:30 PM on February 25, 2007


I guess I can't really bring myself to care about these poor unattractive but vocally gifted folks I'm always hearing about in these discussions who miss their shot at being the next mainstream pop star.

Good for you. My point, as a consumer of music, is that I'd rather hear someone who's delivery and presentation is slightly flawed but huge, rathen than processed shimmery perfect stuff we hear today. Or maybe, as you imply, such people don't exist anymore. That the talented R&B influenced stars of the 60s with their raspy dope and wine tinged voices somehow were bred out of the gene pool.
posted by psmealey at 1:46 PM on February 25, 2007


if YOU can hear the difference then someone else can ... and if you can't hear the difference, how can you know if you've done it right?

I still don't get your confusion. I'm talking about using autotune for pitch correction. Transparent correction would mean making the note sound acceptably in-tune without leaving behind any artifacts. Many times I've used autotune such that it corrects the pitch (which is to say that yes, I can hear the difference in pitch) without noticeably altering the sound in any other way (so I can't hear any evidence of alteration when listening to the instrument soloed, let alone as part of a mix).

a lot of the great (and good) singers, like sinatra or franklin, use microtonality ... they're not "on" all the time, they're close, in a personal way ... nowadays, i hear singers who are"on" almost constantly ... they're too perfect too often

I realize all that and don't think it negates my point. Have you used the software? I feel like it can be difficult to discuss with people who haven't because of the misconceptions about how it works. Autotune doesn't necessarily produce results that are perfectly in tune all the time. One could even use it to take a vocal that was very close to perfect all the time and make it less perfect. It can, but does not necessarily, eradicate all nuance.

Look at the screenshot here. It's an example of preserving the singer's pitch envelope and inflection, but nudging it so that it centers around the intended pitch. I'd wager that the result of such processing would not sound noticeably altered compared to the unprocessed track. That's what I mean when I talk about transparent correction. The fact that you can hear autotuning on mainstream radio doesn't disprove what I'm saying.

If autotuning is being used so subtly and sparingly, is it really necessary? I mean, gratuitous swipes at indisputable taste aside, are there singers who can really sing the fuck out of a song who really need autotuning?

First of all, like I've said, what you're railing against are the cases where it's not used subtlely or sparingly. Sometimes it's used completely unnecessarily, which is indeed crappy. There are lines of bad taste that people unfortunately have a habit of crossing, but that doesn't mean the technology isn't useful. But it's a good tool because now when you get a really good, emotional, soulful take that's marred by a few sour notes, you don't have to go sing it again.

And it lowers the barrier to entry to making "professional" recordings, just like all the other digital tools we have these days that lets people make good-sounding stuff in their bedrooms. Was it better when you had to pay tons of money and go to an analog studio with all kinds of complicated, expensive machines in order to make a polished recording?

Automated Double Tracking was invented because John Lennon hated the tedium of having to manually double his vocals. Was that an affront to good taste when The Beatles used it on Revolver? Lennon wanted a product that matched his vision, he didn't want to spend hours in the studio doing the same things over and over. I have a feeling he'd appreciate the expediting powers of autotune if he were still around.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:47 PM on February 25, 2007


My point, as a consumer of music, is that I'd rather hear someone who's delivery and presentation is slightly flawed but huge, rathen than processed shimmery perfect stuff we hear today.

Well if you're only hearing the latter and not the former, perhaps you're simply listening to the wrong music.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:49 PM on February 25, 2007


psmealey writes "I really fail to think of anyone performing today than have such amazingly rich tonal qualities, as well as a capacity to move a crowd like that."

Sarah McLachlan
Tori Amos
Rolling Stones (more for the crowd moving, but man can Mick rock)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2007


Well if you're only hearing the latter and not the former, perhaps you're simply listening to the wrong music.

Ok, agreed. But it's not for lack of trying.
posted by psmealey at 2:02 PM on February 25, 2007


And there are certainly excellent, expressive singers making music today. Antony Hegarty, Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird, Neko Case, and Will Oldham, to name a few. And if we're just talking singers whose music and voices are powerful and emotive while not being technically perfect, I could name tons more.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:05 PM on February 25, 2007


I still don't get your confusion.

i'm not confused ... i'm telling you what i hear on the radio ... a lot of obvious uses and a lot of subtle uses that i can hear ... and, if it wasn't plain from what i wrote, i consider a perfect pitch vocal to be an "artifact" ... damn few people have ever sang like that

what really disturbs me isn't that people are doing it on recordings but that this perfect pitchness is going to start influencing vocal styles ... in fact, i think it already has

and yes, i have used it ... most often, as a different way to do double tracking ... i tried it and liked it ... if you did, and didn't like it, fine ... i wouldn't use it all the time, anyway

i think slight flaws make music more interesting ... and, no, i don't think it's a crime to correct or process things that one doesn't like because it isn't "natural" or "real" ... i just feel that there's a little too much tweaking going on these days, a little too much perfection
posted by pyramid termite at 2:11 PM on February 25, 2007


Allison Moorer acutally has stickers on the cases of her CD, "no digital tuning or enhancement has been used on the vocals on this album." or somthing like that. First time I saw it, I thought she was trying too hard. Now I appreciate it.
posted by notsnot at 2:24 PM on February 25, 2007


Why not just cook up a fully virtual star

Well, why not indeed. Something like that has already been around for a copule of years.

I have been amazed by bad usage of Autotune in recent years, especially in live PA-systems. Some of the earliest examples can be found from a Metallica live album, when the poor machine didn't understand that growling is not something it should tune...

Autotune is a tool - it can be used creatively to make new sounds or brush up otherwise perfect performances. I've used it in studio for both lead and background vocals. Most of the time there is no way an ordinary listener can distinguish the difference between a tuned and un-tuned performance. Especially instrumental solos can be tuned really a lot before you can spot the difference. And you don't have to use it for all tracks all the time with the same adjustments. If there is enough time (read budget) tuning can be done manually note by note. I've done that with a couple of albums. 2500 edits for one album alone...

Actually before Autotune was invented similar things were done with the Harmonizer by Eventide. (My favourite tuning software is Waves. Easy to use and superb sound quality.)

But, just like this case showed us, all tuners can be used badly too. In recent years with the advent of "perfect tune" I've noticed also a trend of using "badly tuned" instruments and vocal tracks just to get a different sound. "Perfect tune" is just one way of using musical scales and tunings. A good example is "Overload" by the Sugababes. In the chorus lower octave is probably tuned and in pitch through the whole part, but the higher octave is way off. And that's why IMHO the sound is so irresistable.
posted by hoskala at 2:28 PM on February 25, 2007


Autotune is a tool - it can be used creatively to make new sounds or brush up otherwise [im]perfect performances.

That's true. It is also good for reducing studio time that comes up when laying down vocal tracks. This is particularly helpful for folks like me who are paying for studio time out of their own pockets.

I think with only a couple of slight exceptions, people are not objecting to the use of the autotune per se. I think they are objecting to its overuse in situations where the the singer has very poor technique. This is when it is most obvious and sounds most digital, it's distracting.

For what it's worth, I didn't mind its use on Cher's Believe primarily because the effect was to provide a novel hook for a song. Of course it then became something of a cliché, but I didn't mind it the first time I heard it (a bit like Delores O'Riordan's Celtic yodel).
posted by psmealey at 2:54 PM on February 25, 2007


If only the slightest touch of autotuning is needed to make a vocal perfect, I'd suggest the singer go practice a slight touch more so the autotuning isn't necessary. If that's what separates them from the professionals of yore, I'd suggest they try to be a little more professional.

Why? So you don't have to clutter the signal path with more processing. The fewer effects, the clearer the signal, and if you're piping it all into a mix, you won't have to compress everything else (even ever so slightly) to make the mix sound good.

Much of todays sound is heavily processed. The newer generation processors are less lossy or leave fewer traces than ever, but they still alter the tonal characteristics of the original track. It's audible, if you're listening closely. The loss and compression of digital effects scoops out the mix and leaves us with recordings that, in order to make the vocal sound natural, make everything sound grey.

I'd much rather listen to recordings with chips and punch, even with slightly warty vocals, than something that sounds like it was mixed through a tube. Best of all would be if the artists practiced enough to record without a crutch.

Speaking of the Stones, "Exile on Main Street" sounds so damn good because they practiced each song more than a hundred times before they ever pressed record. Same with the Sinatra/Riddle records, "In the Wee Small Hours" and "Songs for Swinging Lovers."

Music is often described by great musicians as a compulsion, something they have to get right and have to record to get out there for reasons they can barely grasp, like they were seized by uncontrollable urges to write and record. What true compulsive would be satisfied by half-measures?

Practice, not processing, makes perfect.
posted by breezeway at 3:04 PM on February 25, 2007


You've misinterpreted me somewhere, breezeway. I think AutoTune sucks, for the same reason I hate movies like Shrek. But good Lord, it's out there.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:07 PM on February 25, 2007


i consider a perfect pitch vocal to be an "artifact" ... damn few people have ever sang like that

And like I said, while pitch correction software is capable of producing inhumanly perfect pitch, it is also capable of adjusting pitch so that it sounds acceptably in-tune but not unnatural.

what really disturbs me isn't that people are doing it on recordings but that this perfect pitchness is going to start influencing vocal styles ... in fact, i think it already has

How do you figure? Overuse of autotune is going to create a generation of singers with intonation that's too good?

If only the slightest touch of autotuning is needed to make a vocal perfect, I'd suggest the singer go practice a slight touch more so the autotuning isn't necessary.

In a perfect world, no one would need pitch correction. But in the real world, recording studios charge by the hour, time is limited, etc. you're right that a cleaner signal path is closer to ideal, but the fact is that one simply cannot distinguish a slightly corrected track from an uncorrected one. Speaking for myself, I want my music to match my artistic vision, and my artistic vision doesn't involve the violinist or backup singer or whoever being out of tune, so I'm going to do whatever I can to make the product match my vision before I release it.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:13 PM on February 25, 2007


This thread is so rockist.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:14 PM on February 25, 2007


You know, on reading over it, I thought your comment might not have been the snarky troll I thought it was. Sorry about that, ikkyu2. I responded with a snarky troll of my own, and now that I know I was wrong, I feel pretty embarrassed. Sorry to call you names. Or at least, sorry to call your ear names. That was bad form on my part.

I meant what I said about us liking the same music. Or at least, some of the same music. Or, at least, liking music. Heh.

My bad.

I bet you have a problem with Shrek because they're trying to create CGI humans, whereas in something like Toy Story, they're animating the inanimate, so it's okay, right? That's the way I feel, in any case.
posted by breezeway at 3:14 PM on February 25, 2007


Actually, ludwig_van, some of the examples that come to mind of music that would lose its soul if autotuned aren't rock at all, but blues and jazz. Take Magic Sam. He's one of my favorites, and I think the charm of it all is how out-of-tune he is. It's true, his vocals are drenched in echo, but I'll take his missed notes over the tonally similar but to my mind less appealing (and pitch perfect) Robert Cray.

Jazz, especially live jazz, is wonderfully warty, and much of the art of recording small jazz combos is in microphone placement. I wish recording engineers on rock music would have a more laissez-faire attitude toward the intersection of their vision and that of the band, and just let things fly. I want to hear the bass player spill his beer. I want to hear jet airplanes overhead.

When it comes to classical music, I could only imagine pitch correction being done on chamber ensembles. I really do notice the sonic changes of autotuning and the scooping of compression, and I can't imagine a processed violin sounding all that great (I also can't imagine a violinist being satisfied with a note being so out-of-tune as to need autotuning; there's something to be said for Schlomo Mintz-style messy fast passages, too).

In rap and contemporary R&B, one can see autotuning and other processing used to great effect. The crystal clarity of production, and the vast gulf separating bass from treble, really works. But there, the producer usually is the musician, or at least the driving creative force behind the music, or at least an important part of deciding what sounds like what. Rap music (the music, not the raps) is usually created in studios, not in some garage or practice room, and thus lends itself to the use of production tricks and tools.

Obviously, there are more types of recorded music to consider, but I'm thumbing all this on my Blackberry and my thumbs are tired.

I do see where you're coming from, that autotuning is a tool and can be used expertly and transparently. But it almost never is, and some ears really can hear the scoop of a cluttered signal path. Sometimes it's barely noticeable, but sometimes it's disconcerting.

I just love when music makes my hair stand on end, and that usually doesn't happen when I can hear the autotuner.
posted by breezeway at 3:45 PM on February 25, 2007


some of the examples that come to mind of music that would lose its soul if autotuned aren't rock at all, but blues and jazz.

I'd never deny that there are plenty of things that shouldn't be autotuned. It's an aesthetic decision. It's about doing whatever it takes to realize an artistic vision. If the vision is reached without any type of processing, great. If it takes processing to achieve what the artist has in mind, that's fine too.

I really do notice the sonic changes of autotuning and the scooping of compression, and I can't imagine a processed violin sounding all that great (I also can't imagine a violinist being satisfied with a note being so out-of-tune as to need autotuning

I didn't say that autotuning never produces noticeable changes. I said it is capable of being unnoticeable, just like compression. You can set a compressor such that you can hear it pumping and coloring the sound, or you can set it so it evens things out but you never notice it. You're never going to be able to compress something really hard, or EQ extremely, or severely autotune without making the effect noticeable. That's just the nature of signal processing.

As for violin, it sounds just fine, and maybe the violinist wasn't totally satisfied, but like I said, the opportunity doesn't always exist to re-track it.

Rap music (the music, not the raps) is usually created in studios, not in some garage or practice room, and thus lends itself to the use of production tricks and tools.

The same thing applies to much (most) of today's pop music, in my opinion.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:56 PM on February 25, 2007


Yeah, I don't really care too much either ludwig_van. Anyone who thinks they can play the pop radio game on talent alone is in for a huge disappointment.

I think breezeway's point about genres is valid. In Jazz intonation is a lot more "free" than it would be in a classical ensemble for instance. Sure, you could use Auto-Tune to fine tune a blue note but I think you'd be defeating the purpose. And I think any professional, classical musician who couldn't control the pitch of their instrument would be quickly replaced.

Of course as always, The Simpsons (YT) have already been there.
posted by timelord at 4:05 PM on February 25, 2007


by fine tuning a blue note, I mean shape the pitch in a sort of anal-retentive way.
posted by timelord at 4:06 PM on February 25, 2007


One more tangent I suppose...sometimes in an orchestra has to make do w/ an old instrument that can't be reliably tuned a standard concert A...so oftentimes the orchestra will tune to that instrument. I could sorta see a use for Auto-Tune there in a recording studio. I'm not really opposed to autotune per se...but I don't think it's appropriate for all music (not to imply that anyone has said anything to the contrary).
posted by timelord at 4:12 PM on February 25, 2007


Is it just me that I can't hear this AutoTune effect at all? Can someone break it down for me?
posted by zardoz at 4:25 PM on February 25, 2007


I totally noticed the day of the Super Bowl. I saw other people comment on it too.

In general, I'm in the "Autotune's just a tool like any other. It can certainly be abused, and frequently is, but there are also interesting creative uses for it." crowd.

Examples of cool/interesting uses of autotune:

The vocal effect on several radiohead songs (Kid A the song, Pulk/Pull) is achieved by putting a wildly inaccurate key into an autotuner, and then just kind of speaking into the mic. A more subtle "deadening" effect on the vocals for Packt Like Sardines also sounds like an autotuner to my ears.
posted by sparkletone at 4:25 PM on February 25, 2007


Addendum to earlier comment: That deadening effect on the Packt vocals practically makes the song and is probably my favorite example of positive effects achieved via autotune.

Is it just me that I can't hear this AutoTune effect at all? Can someone break it down for me?

It's kind of tricky to describe. Basically, you can hear the autotuner adjusting his voice in ways that make his voice sound like no natural human voice. The intonation is just off. The OP YouTube video doesn't have the best audio. This version is much better.
posted by sparkletone at 4:39 PM on February 25, 2007


[Simpsons]
Eee-van Et Nee-aaahhj!
[/Simpsons]

I am acquainted with a guy who worked sound for Queens of the Stone Age when they toured with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Apparently Kiedis can't carry a tune for shit anymore (if he ever could?). Every concert that tour he had an autotuner on his vocals, so my contact claims.

By the way, that picture of Cher gives me a woody.
posted by papakwanz at 4:47 PM on February 25, 2007


If they'd just scrap that stiff, clunky, unwieldy and practically unsingable Star Spangled Banner and choose a new tune with a more user-friendly melody as the National Anthem, we wouldn't even have to be having this goddamn auto-tune discussion. People would be able to sing it in tune in the first place.

While we're at it, perhaps we could also come up with a tune carrying a message more along the lines of how the nation cherishes independence of thought, anti-authoritarianism, etc., as opposed to the glorification of bombs exploding and the exalting of a piece of stripey cloth.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:07 PM on February 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


ludwig_van: If you have an extremely loose definition of musical instrument. [The auto-tuner] doesn't create any sounds, it only modifies them.

Kind of like a trumpet, or other brass instruments?
posted by hattifattener at 5:12 PM on February 25, 2007


How do you figure? Overuse of autotune is going to create a generation of singers with intonation that's too good?

yes ... and before you laugh at that, consider blue notes and their role in many kinds of music ... consider also that if it's being used as a live effect that people may adjust their phrasing for it ... or their microphone technique

i'm hearing these kind of subtle differences in how people sing these days ... it's not just that they're autotuned, it's that they know they're going to be auto-tuned and adjust for it ... and soon, we'll have a generation of singers who grew up listening to that sound

Apparently Kiedis can't carry a tune for shit anymore (if he ever could?).

i saw him on tv during the last woodstock thing, which was awhile ago ... man, was he out of tune at times (nsfw nudity)
posted by pyramid termite at 5:39 PM on February 25, 2007


And she will ~~~ be loved

And she will ~~~ be lo-o-o-ved
posted by edverb at 6:07 PM on February 25, 2007


That Matt and Kim song is wonderful but also makes me feel incredibly anxious. It sounds like a poor, suffering soul is being kept alive by robots and forced to sing through some strange robo-apparatus.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:40 PM on February 25, 2007


Crap. Product placement even during the national anthem.

Goddamn America makes me laugh sometimes. You know, through the tears and all.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:08 PM on February 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


This national anthem brought to you by Red Glare brand rockets.

Get in the glare.

posted by sparkletone at 8:24 PM on February 25, 2007


This national anthem brought to you by Red Glare brand rockets.

Get in the glare.

posted by sparkletone at 8:24 PM on February 25, 2007


This double post brought to by Stupid Accident brand double posts.

Durrr. I r stupid.

posted by sparkletone at 8:26 PM on February 25, 2007


In the words of the great, tempo-challenged drummer god, Peart:
All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open-hearted
Not so fully charted it's really just a question of
Your honesty. (Yeah, your honesty.)
It's all about honesty. Are you using auto-tune to cover for your own lack of vocal ability? Or are you using it to do something different and interesting?

WARNING: Cher derail ahead...

ludwig_van: Incidentally, it turns out that the Cher "Believe" effect was in fact auto-tune.

See, now, I'm confused. Read the whole article. A prepended "Historical Footnote" says:
Cher's 'Believe' (Dec 1998) was the first commercial recording to feature the audible side-effects of Antares Auto-tune software used as a deliberate creative effect.
But then later when they describe how they got the effect:
For those who've been wondering, yes -- it's basically down to vocoding and filtering...
They go on to describe the Korg VC10 in detail and how they selectively applied its effect in Cubase. In fact, "auto-tune" is not mentioned once except for that opening Historical Footnote blurb, which AFAIK wasn't part of the original article.

I've never given a shit about Cher, but dammit now I want to know!!
posted by LordSludge at 7:57 AM on February 26, 2007


The historical footnote was added after the fact. As I understand it, originally the guys denied it was autotune in order to keep their technique a secret, but later came clean about it.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:14 AM on February 26, 2007


The Auto-Tune trick on the Cher song was something of a trade secret at the time, but as anyone who's ever dorked around with the software knows, that effect is very easily achieved. (The story is that Cher herself liked the effect & fought for its inclusion on the record when her label expressed apprehension that "people wouldn't know it was a Cher song".)

It's definitely not the first time a music producer has purposely withheld information about his or her particular back of tricks.

Incidentally, Auto-Tune has had competition in the studio market for a few years now. A program called Melodyne is often used in place of Auto-Tune, usually with far less detectable results.
posted by tantrumthecat at 9:25 AM on February 26, 2007


Yeah, there are a bunch of competing products - Waves has one, too. I've never used any others, though. There's a recent thread on the TapeOp board about the various options.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:21 AM on February 26, 2007


particular back BAG of tricks

FIXED.

Guh...
posted by tantrumthecat at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2007


Ah, excellent; thanks for the clarification!

Now, I too can sing like an electronic angel. (or demon?)
posted by LordSludge at 11:11 AM on February 26, 2007


ludwig_van: slightly off-topic, but how do you feel about the TapeOp board? I hang around on the Sound on Sound forums a lot, lurk regularly on PSW R/E/P and occasionally scroll about on the Homerecording BBS and Gearslutz, but I've never really delved into TapeOp. (Maybe it's just spite for being unable to get the free mag subscribtion in Europe, grrr. ;)) Is the forum any good?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:17 AM on February 26, 2007


Your honesty. (Yeah, your honesty.)

It's all about honesty. Are you using auto-tune to cover for your own lack of vocal ability? Or are you using it to do something different and interesting?


An interesting citation. If Rush had actually used a computer synthesized voice to sing their songs rather than Geddy Lee, they probably would have had much broader appeal.
posted by psmealey at 11:46 AM on February 26, 2007


The notion of honesty may indeed be at the root of conflicting views on this topic. I definitely used to fall on the other side of this debate, being a musician. But I've learned to somewhat divorce my musician self from my producer self, which I find necessary when producing my own recordings. And as a producer, my feeling is that the notion of honesty is completely outmoded in the context of modern studio recording.

The place to hear something "real" or "honest" is in a concert hall, and so I don't think it's right to use pitch correction in a live performance. And granted there are recordings whose aim is to recreate that concert experience (and this was the dominant model of recording before the 60s), but I think those are fundamentally different from the studio album in the post-Sgt. Peppers model.

When I make a record, you're ideally hearing exactly what I want you to hear. I probably didn't sing in the middle of a cathedral, but I might put a reverb on my voice to make it sound that way. I don't have two twin brothers, but I might record myself three times over. There might be 30 tracks in a song, but there were never actually 30 people playing at the same time. I can chop things up, mix them around, and distort them anyway I see fit - that's all a part of making a record. It's no more "dishonest" than expressionist painting or writing fiction. You're not getting an accurate representation of something that ocurred in the real world, you're getting an artificial (because we can't have art without artifice!) experience.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:15 PM on February 26, 2007


And GNFTI, I think the TapeOp board is great. I've made some valuable real world connections there.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:15 PM on February 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks ludwig, I'm heading straight over there.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:39 PM on February 26, 2007


Just came across this article which has some interesting comments on Auto-Tune by well-known mixing engineers.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:31 AM on February 27, 2007


(About halfway down the page.)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:31 AM on February 27, 2007


« Older Four Men And A Cello...  |  The Redirection.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments