"I was just using it to sound different"
October 30, 2014 5:28 AM   Subscribe

T-Pain performs without auto-tune for NPR's Tiny Desk Concert.
posted by Bulgaroktonos (86 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
This makes me hate autotune even more. How many good singers are lost behind that tech?
posted by srboisvert at 5:41 AM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


oh wow, can he come sing at my desk?
posted by sio42 at 5:41 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


seriously i'm getting goose bumps. this is amazing.
posted by sio42 at 5:42 AM on October 30, 2014


i liked how he was a bit nervous at first and then totally was just into it. this is just ... can T-Pain do an unplugged now please?
posted by sio42 at 5:43 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


T-Pain can actually sing without the uncanny valley robot business?

My world, she is rocked.
posted by winna at 5:46 AM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


This makes me hate autotune even more

I mean, I understand the sentiment, but do you hate reverb too? Distortion? Ultimately, it's just an effect, and the one they were looking for in their production. His voice is nice but pretty unremarkable, and dude has made an awesome living singing like a robot. That he can actually sing is just sort of gravy, innit?

(Although it does make me wonder if Michael Buble can really sing; my not-really-suspicion is that he actually sounds like autotuned T-Pain.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:48 AM on October 30, 2014 [17 favorites]


it's remarkable in that it's rarely heard these days. it's like having some clutter free music. there's still some distortion on the keys. it's just that there is so many less layers on something that's usually so layered. it's nice to hear this. refreshing.
posted by sio42 at 5:51 AM on October 30, 2014


As a fellow Tallahassean, let me just say this is a proud day for me... And I really hope this means the days of auto-tuner ubiquity are nearing an end. Not for moral reasons, but aesthetic ones. Autotuner is the modern-day equivalent of the 80s sax solo.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:03 AM on October 30, 2014


I mean, I understand the sentiment, but do you hate reverb too? Distortion?

Reverb doesn't change the pitch. But yes, in fact I *do* hate distortion. Why would you add literal noise on purpose? It's stupid and sounds awful.
posted by DU at 6:05 AM on October 30, 2014


DU, "distortion" as in... literally all guitar-based music since rock'n'roll? really?
posted by ominous_paws at 6:07 AM on October 30, 2014 [14 favorites]


Autotuner is the modern-day equivalent of the 80s sax solo.

Wait, do you hate autotune or love it? MAKE UP YOUR MIND!
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:08 AM on October 30, 2014 [28 favorites]


Also 2014 has been the Year of the Horn in modern pop, both woodwind and brass. "Problem," "Fireball," "Talk Dirty," "Shake It Off," "All About That Bass," it just goes on and on. Have we reached Peak Horn?
posted by uncleozzy at 6:12 AM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Reverb doesn't change the pitch. But yes, in fact I *do* hate distortion. Why would you add literal noise on purpose? It's stupid and sounds awful.

Does reverb not change pitch? It certainly changes the listener's reception of pitch, which might as well be the same thing. As for the distortion business, Jimi Hendrix refers you to Jim Hall (RIP). Listen to what pleases you, it isn't difficult.
posted by Wolof at 6:17 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Reverb doesn't change the pitch. But yes, in fact I *do* hate distortion. Why would you add literal noise on purpose?

Because that's not what distortion does?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:17 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Reverb definitely does not change pitch, or our perception of pitch. Are you maybe thinking of vibrato?
posted by ominous_paws at 6:19 AM on October 30, 2014


Have we reached Peak Horn?

Never, at least not while I'm alive.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:21 AM on October 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Autotune is a music production tool and an aesthetic choice, just like a lot of music technology. Like guitar distortion, drum machines, synthesizers, reverb, flangers, delay, compression...

Like, you can add a bit of compression to a voice track and people won't identify it as an effect, but will say "wow, that singer is great". Or you can crank the compression to max and then you get Daft Punk's pumping kick drum sound.

The 80's drum sound is mostly thanks to the development of digital compression and reverb. People still use digital reverb now, but they don't turn it up so high unless they're making vapourwave or something.

If your intent is "natural" sound, you can still use autotune, but you have to be clever so that people don't recognize its robotic quality. If your intent is awesome robot singing, that's totally cool too! See: Vocaloid singers.
posted by sixohsix at 6:21 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Reverb definitely does not change pitch, or our perception of pitch

Sure it does. Listen to any organ in a decent auditorium play more than one note.
posted by Wolof at 6:26 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Reverb definitely does not change pitch, or our perception of pitch

Ehhhh... yes, but. Reverb does do a good job of smearing the beating you'd otherwise hear if two notes are a little bit out of tune; it can make just-out-of-tune things sound in-tune (which is why you give your singer as little reverb as you can in their headphone mix).
posted by uncleozzy at 6:27 AM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Someone sent me this New Yorker article from March about T-Pain which was pretty interesting. (Although I don't like the article's characterization of Ke$ha as lame). People were really mean to T-Pain! Like, beyond Jay-Z's "y'all T-Painin' too much."

I don't know, he seems like a nice guy. This concert was not super remarkable (to me) beyond the novelty but he seems to be having fun with it.
posted by dismas at 6:29 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


DU, "distortion" as in... literally all guitar-based music since rock'n'roll? really?

Not literally all, but yes, all the ones where I can hear it. It sounds like music played over a PA system or sung by someone who needs to clear their throat. Awful.
posted by DU at 6:29 AM on October 30, 2014


Listen to any organ in a decent auditorium play more than one note.

Interesting! I can find a totality of one reference to this on an organ discussion board (fnar)... do you have anything else I could read on this?
posted by ominous_paws at 6:31 AM on October 30, 2014


Wait, do you hate autotune or love it? MAKE UP YOUR MIND!

You're not seriously suggesting some people may have developed a tolerance for those sax solos again in the post-80s are you? Because I'm pretty sure everybody in America had hit peak sax solo by 88 or so... I'm kind of glad disco made a come back, because that stuff actually got a raw deal. But sax solos and autotune just never clicked for me as aesthetic choices.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:31 AM on October 30, 2014


Have we reached Peak Horn?

What blasphemy is this? I'd love to see it go in the other direction and get a wider range of brass and woodwind instruments in contemporary music.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 6:32 AM on October 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Someone sent me this New Yorker article from March about T-Pain which was pretty interesting. (Although I don't like the article's characterization of Ke$ha as lame). People were really mean to T-Pain! Like, beyond Jay-Z's "y'all T-Painin' too much."

Yeah trashing Kesha is unnecessary, but that was a good article. Honestly, T-Pain's music is much sadder than it usually gets credit for being; what could be sadder than being in love with a stripper? There's real pathos in that. The autotune helps to bring that out, I think. As someone on Metafilter once said "Autotune is the sound of emotional alienation in the 21st century."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:36 AM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


I sat on a music law panel with one of T-Pain's promoters here in Tallahassee once many years ago, and that guy seemed like a good guy (probably thought I was an ass, because I get a little socially clueless when I'm nervous, and my wife and I really had no idea why we had been invited to sit on a music law panel, though we were grateful for the opportunity). T-Pain gets too much crap, I think. I mean, it's not like he's Kenny G or something.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:38 AM on October 30, 2014


It is entertaining to see the opinions of others re: standard studio effects.

Autotune doesn't have to sound robotic at all. That's just a setting - 100% quantized, extremely fast correction time - that people started using after Cher's "Believe" made it interesting. It - or Melodyne, or Ableton's pitch modification tool - is used on, I promise, almost every album you hear. You just don't know it is being used because it sounds completely natural.

As for sax solos, they're totally back. Just ask M83.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:40 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]




You just don't know it is being used because it sounds completely natural.

No, I do know (partly because I know some people who work in pro studios), and it most definitely does not sound "completely natural" to me and to a large number of other people in the listening audience.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:49 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Autotuner is the modern-day equivalent of the 80s sax solo.

Hey... some 80s saxophone is awesome.


Also 2014 has been the Year of the Horn in modern pop, both woodwind and brass. "Problem," "Fireball," "Talk Dirty," "Shake It Off," "All About That Bass," it just goes on and on. Have we reached Peak Horn?

Peak horn? Surely you jest.
posted by slkinsey at 6:57 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Recognizing every instance of autotune is like being able to identify everyone with plastic surgery, everyone with breast implants, everyone who is cross-dressing. It's a claim you can make really emphatically, but with no evidence behind it. (Apologies if you've actually done double-blind autotune identification experiments, saul)
posted by Bugbread at 6:57 AM on October 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


I dislike autotune because along with music videos, it allows too many untalented singers to dominate the (pop) charts by relying solely on how photogenic they are, and their ability to shake the booty. I predict that once life-like robots can twerk, that will be the end of actual human artists.
posted by joz at 6:58 AM on October 30, 2014


I LIKE electronic-sounding stuff. My favorite genre of music is the kind that is all pretty singing and then DISTORTED CHAINSAWS RIPPING YOUR GRILL. I'll never hold it against anyone for using autotune as long as they use it well.
posted by charred husk at 7:03 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


No, Bugbread, I'm sure I don't hear every single use of auto-tuner--but what I definitely do hear is that pop vocals rarely ever seem to be even the slightest bit off pitch anymore, which sounds bad to my ear because it takes the emotional edge off the voice. Being slightly sharp or flat sometimes, or sliding imprecisely between notes, is part of the natural expressive function of the human voice in singing and I miss it when it's not there anymore. Going back to listen to pre-autotuner pop, you'll notice it a lot. People were seldom perfectly on every note, and to me, that actually works better--especially on an emotional level. Also autotuner obliterates the natural harmonic decay of the voice. YMMV.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:10 AM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also 2014 has been the Year of the Horn in modern pop, both woodwind and brass. "Problem," "Fireball," "Talk Dirty," "Shake It Off," "All About That Bass," it just goes on and on. Have we reached Peak Horn?

As a former trombonist I have to say NO.

We will never reach Peak Horn! There can always be more horn! MOAR HORN FOR THE BRASS GODS.
posted by winna at 7:10 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


West Coast Ska Revival starts here!
posted by ominous_paws at 7:11 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't that be the West Coast Ska Revival Revival this time?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:19 AM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


After messing around with autotune a little bit (everyone should absolutely get a V256 vocoder for this effect and for its vocoder which is amazing) I came to really hate the loathing that autotune generally gets.

It typically has an umbrage of racism or sexism. How many male non-rappers get criticized about how they can't sing compared to Lorde or Taylor Swift or T-Pain? I read an interview a few months ago with a producer for Vampire Weekend who described in elaborate detail how he extended the foment or something in order to achieve a certain vocal effect like Elvis. Yet I doubt I'd find in a thousand youtube comments any "Ezra Koenig can't sing and is therefore worthless as an artist."

Autotune is just like any other music technology. According to "How Music Works" by David Byrne, "crooning" was only invented after microphones since before that singers had to sing all the way to the back of the house. You could sing in a quiet, intimate way with microphones. Is Frank Sinatra's music less valid than somebody who sings louder because Sinatra depended on technology?

All music technology can (and probably will) be overused especially after it was recently invented (off the top of my head: tape-delay in the 50s, stereo in the 60s, analog synthesizers in the 70s, cold bright digital recording in the 80s, etc.) Autotune can ruin something awesome like Kanye's 808s and Heartbreaks album or it can do something new and amazing like Kanye's Robert Fripp-esque vocoder solo at the end of "Runaway." In the intervening two years Kanye learned how to use this new and strange vocal effect.

Autotune for voice is new, but autotune itself isn't. At some point in the distant past somebody tied and then plucked a string over a resonating box. Getting your finger on the exact right place on the string in order to get the pitch exactly right was hard, and it prevented people from playing chords easily.

Somebody more recently added frets to this device so you could put your finger somewhere close to the right area on the string for a specific correct pitch to sound.

How is this any different from autotune?
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 7:20 AM on October 30, 2014 [30 favorites]


Ha, you know what, I was going to make the fretted-instrument comparison earlier but decided not to be fighty. But yes, that's the obvious (and accurate-enough) comparison.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:24 AM on October 30, 2014


> It sounds like music played over a PA system or sung by someone who needs to clear their throat. Awful.

So I take it you're really not a Tom Waits fan.
posted by contraption at 7:26 AM on October 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


The complaints about autotune making everything too perfect are sort of irrelevant to T-Pain, because that's not at all what T-Pain is doing. He's not using it to hit all of the pitches perfectly, he's using it to sound like a robot. Kanye took this even farther on one of his recent albums and basically hummed into the autotune for like a minute and half, creating a minute and a half of super-autotuned kazoo noises, basically. I enjoy that kind of stuff, but even if you don't, it doesn't really make sense to lump that in with Michael Buble or whoever.

I also find it rewarding to interpret T-Pain's music as being quite sad, but I've already made a long-ish comment about that on MetaFilter, so I won't re-tread that ground. For God's sake, though, the man chose to perform under a name with the word "pain" in it.
posted by Copronymus at 7:30 AM on October 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


Children learn empathy from the natural tones and frequency modulations of their mother's voice. There are social and biological reasons that more naturally pitchy singing can connect with people on a more visceral, emotional level. Autotuned vocals are too slippery and unnatural to evoke an empathic connection in me.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:34 AM on October 30, 2014


Being slightly sharp or flat sometimes, or sliding imprecisely between notes, is part of the natural expressive function of the human voice in singing and I miss it when it's not there anymore.

Ah, see, there is the kind of thing why many of us can't see eye-to-eye. With some notable exceptions (for example, Tom Waits), I prefer to not hear the natural expressive function of the human voice. I basically don't hear lyrics, and prefer the voice -- generally -- purely as instrument. "Boing boom chuck" is a great use of the voice to me, or just sampled, modded and looped. Or none at all is perfectly fine. Or, a 'perfect' voice, which does add some 'stress' (isn't quite right), is interesting to me. We come to expect imperfection, and when it disappears, some dislike it, but some find it more interesting due to the difference. I'm reminded of the 'cinematic' look; low frame rates, etc. which, when we take away with high frame rate grainless 4K, looks wrong. But the "wrong" can be exploited for effect.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:39 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Autotuned vocals are too slippery and unnatural to evoke an empathic connection in me.

Cool, but that's obviously not true for all people. I'm not even sure it's true for most people.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:39 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


> T-Pain can actually sing without the uncanny valley robot business?

Your opinion is valid but please stop using 'uncanny valley' as a generic expression meaning "I find it distasteful and electronics are involved."
posted by ardgedee at 7:44 AM on October 30, 2014


On a less fighty note, how about a T-Pain cover? I think it's probably not auto-tuned--it seems like a couple of the notes are flat--but I like the delivery anyway and the decision to move the vocals into a different key; it feels like there's more of an edge to it than in either of T-Pain's versions.
posted by johnofjack at 7:47 AM on October 30, 2014


> But yes, in fact I *do* hate distortion. Why would you add literal noise on purpose?

You must really hate classical and chamber music too, with all those augmented chords and instruments generating odd-harmonic overtones.
posted by ardgedee at 7:48 AM on October 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Pitch Perfect? - "Join Andy Hildebrand, the inventor of Auto-Tune, for a discussion about the tool's legacy and future."
posted by kliuless at 7:49 AM on October 30, 2014


Cool, but that's obviously not true for all people. I'm not even sure it's true for most people.

We'd have to do tests to see how engaged peope's empathic brain functions are when listening to autotuned vocals versus nonautotuned vocals to tell, because my thinking isn't that people who like auto-tuner don't really enjoy it, it's that they aren't getting the same thing out of the experience that people used to get out of the experience of listening to a less perfectly tuned human voice singing (which I think has a biological component due to the special role the human voice plays in the development of empathy). I don't even think that's necessarily a problem, but it might be worth thinking about.

But agreed it probably really just comes down to taste in the end, and there's really no point getting all heated up over matters of taste.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:50 AM on October 30, 2014


Well, saulgoodman, we're both experienced! I produce music on the regular and make use of Auto-tune (or its equivalents) but I do not apply it to entire tracks, which I think is what you're hearing. To get a natural sound you need to only apply it to individual notes and/or phrases where the singer is just too far off to be palatable. You fade it in and out and meticulously edit the transition points so that it is undetectable. I'm talking about maybe 5-15 seconds, max, of a 3-5 minute vocal take. If people can hear it, you're doing it wrong, presuming you're not going for that shiny pop and/or pre-TDC-T-Pain sound.

I am curious: how do you think AT "obliterates the natural harmonic decay" of the human voice?
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:53 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am curious: how do you think AT "obliterates the natural harmonic decay" of the human voice?

I really only meant this particular point to apply in the case of overtuned vocals--the gimmicky, run everything through approach--not the more precise tuning you're talking about, which is just fine by me if it saves an otherwise good take and isn't used to chisel away all the character.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:57 AM on October 30, 2014


Your opinion is valid but please stop using 'uncanny valley' as a generic expression meaning "I find it distasteful and electronics are involved."

Please don't assume I don't know what I'm saying.

I do think autotune makes human voices sound almost but not quite like actual human voices. It's a valid use of the term, thanks.

As someone who thinks the copier makes a lovely song, I am hardly the right person to give a scold about electronics in music.
posted by winna at 8:00 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Saul - Exactly. I think a large number of us would agree that there's too much heavy-handed use of auto-tune, where you CAN hear that it's being used, but/and not in a "I intend to approach t-pain/post-Cher-Believe roboticky effect" way. (Although that usage is pretty much overdone, too).

It is totally a handy tool, tho (especially Melodyne, dang!) for making near-transparent edits to crappy vocal pitches.
posted by bitterkitten at 8:02 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


winna: "I do think autotune makes human voices sound almost but not quite like actual human voices."

Yes, but not the way T-Pain uses (used) vocoder.

That would be like saying "computers can make animation that looks almost, but not quite like, actual human people. The phrase 'uncanny valley' is used to express that. So I'm using the expression "uncanny valley" correctly when I talk about the uncanny valley appearance of the characters in Despicable Me".
posted by Bugbread at 8:19 AM on October 30, 2014


I don't understand all the hate autotune gets. It's a tool that can be used very effectively cf. 808s & Heartbreak.

Still awesome to hear T-Pain without it, though. Like Daft Punk without the masks or something.
posted by Gymnopedist at 8:29 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is there some AutoTune defenders league of which I was heretofore unaware? Or has uncanny valley been copyrighted since the last time I checked?
posted by winna at 8:37 AM on October 30, 2014


Since we're talking about pitch adjustment -- has anyone used V-Vocal in Sonar? Powerful but terrible at the same time. Just creating a V-Vocal clip produces audible boxiness and increased sibiliance, even before pitch correction is applied. I can definitely hear the difference between a V-Vocal clip and one without, but that's a problem with the tool and not pitch adjustment in itself.

Perhaps I should switch to Melodyne.
posted by gox3r at 8:48 AM on October 30, 2014


Autotune got over-used and became an annoying gimmick. That's where the hate comes from. Also I guess it gave people who hate pop music something new to sneer at.

As far as distortion, there are so many kinds that it seems odd to say you hate it. I can relate to hating, for example, the scooped-out mids, high gain, generic hard rock guitar tone, that so many people use all the time, though.
posted by thelonius at 8:52 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


"what could be sadder than being in love with a stripper?"

I don't know. Hmmmm...how about the Holocaust?
posted by I-baLL at 9:28 AM on October 30, 2014


Saul - Exactly. I think a large number of us would agree that there's too much heavy-handed use of auto-tune, where you CAN hear that it's being used, but/and not in a "I intend to approach t-pain/post-Cher-Believe roboticky effect" way.

EXACTLY. <- just a recent example linked from mefi that made me irate. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, don't just slap on enough pitch-correction so it warbles to the right notes through little trills and melismas, and call it a day! UGH.
posted by onehalfjunco at 9:51 AM on October 30, 2014


I don't get the hate for the auto-tune. Besides the pitch correction, it's basically the same thing as the talk box.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 9:52 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Autotune got over-used and became an annoying gimmick. That's where the hate comes from. Also I guess it gave people who hate pop music something new to sneer at.

Yeah, I think there's an awful lot of that to it. Not solely that, but a whole lot and that probably represents the overwhelming share of unsubstantiated drive-by criticism. It's a good setup for it: autotune is easy to complain about, and easy to pick out, which makes it ideal fodder for lazy complaints. Casually recognize trendy audio trick, complain about trendy audio trick; hear other people complaining about it, deduce that it's a safe gambit for socialization through complaint.

I do think there are more specific complaints, too, however much I may disagree with some of 'em:

- Some people just do find the mechanical feel of conspicuous autotune unpleasant, the way I shudder at the sound of a metal rake on a concrete sidewalk. If it gives you the willies, it gives you the willies, and that's nobody's fault and it makes perfect sense to resent its ubiquity.

- Some people object less to the sound of it itself as to the idea that it's cheapening/cheating the art of vocal control, that to use autotune is to reject or rebuke or refuse to embrace and respect pristine singing as a craft. It's a principle thing: you should be as good a vocalist as the most disciplined vocalists, and if you aren't the answer is to work harder at it or get out of the game, not to use gadgets to blue shell your way around the talent differential.

- Some people just really, really like the naturalistic feel of less mannered or less pitch-stepping vocals, and so autotune when used widely in pop is robbing them of something they like in the genre. Imagine Janis Joplin chucking Bobby McGee into a pitch quantization routine: it's exactly what the song isn't. So autotune being prevalent means them hearing less of what they want, independent of whether they have strongly antagonistic feelings toward any particular autotuned pop song itself.

- Some people associate autotune somewhat unfairly with broader changes in the audio production process over the last 30 years in general; the sound and style of a lot of pop music production has been significantly driven by the move to digital workflows and workstations and the rise of much more powerful and varied non-analog effects and processors. Autotune is one small but significant example of that shift, but it's also the one everybody knows the name of and so you hear more complaints about it than you do about e.g. various drum triggering plugins for Pro Tools.

Personally, I dig autotune because I grew up loving Laurie Anderson's work with vocoders and autotune's just a specific variation on that older, bodgier analog hack. But I dig all kinds of effects processing; I like that the palette is richer than ever, even if I'm not particularly into everything everybody makes. Effects are possibilities; I like music having a big possibility space.
posted by cortex at 9:54 AM on October 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


Well, to be honest, cortex, a big part of my hate for autotuner when I was younger (I hated it then and never hesitated to say so) was that I was a singer, but didn't really take to it naturally and had to spend years and years working to get to the point where I could hold a tune in a bucket. See, I could hear what it was supposed to sound like, but didn't naturally have the ability to produce it. So when I first heard of auto-tuner, I felt personally ripped off for all the hard work I'd done teaching myself to sing (because by that point, I generally could). I was also not quite even an adult at this point and wasn't exactly full of wisdom and generosity of spirit.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:03 AM on October 30, 2014


I suspect there are a lot of people who, similarly, first came at the auto-tuner issue as one of product substitution outrage.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:04 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


EXACTLY. <- just a recent example linked from mefi that made me irate. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, don't just slap on enough pitch-correction so it warbles to the right notes through little trills and melismas, and call it a day! UGH.

See, that's interesting to me because (a) I don't particularly like that phased/double/tweaked sound on Tori's vocal part in the song, but (b) Tori Amos is someone who has been neck-deep in both nuanced vocal work (much of her work, with its famously swooping and wandering pitch structures, would suffer just as much from indiscriminate pitch correction as would Bobby McGee) and in very deliberate production choices including use of all kinds of effects to achieve the specific sound she's hounding for.

And so, while maybe there's a specific clusterfuck story behind the production of that song that I don't know about, my default assumption is that if there's a sound on a Tori Amos song, it's there because that's exactly what she chose to do. It's the opposite of slapping on a lazy effect and calling it a day: it's a very intentional production choice. In this case she's singing a call-and-reponse-ish duet with someone in a similar vocal range and timbre, which is a strong argument for finding some way to differentiate the treatment of their respective vocal tracks to create space between them and let the vox lines play off each other instead of muddling together; an effects pipeline that tweaks the EQ and phases the frequencies on her idiosyncratic voice to make it sound a bit different and off while her daughter's voice stays more naturalistic is an effective move there even if it means Tori sort of taking one for the team in terms of vocal presentation.
posted by cortex at 10:06 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Autotune is not a vocoder which is not a talk box.

A talk box is basically an amplified speaker in your mouth which then modifies the sound using your face and gets picked up by a microphone. See: Livin on a Prayer.

A vocoder is a processor which takes the frequency content of a modulator signal, usually a voice, and applies that eq profile to a carrier signal, usually a synth. The result is often the "robot voice" you hear in Kraftwerk or Daft Punk, though the carrier and modulator signals can be anything you want, like drums and a goat screaming. Similar in concept to the voice box but far more versatile.

Autotune simply changes the pitch of a signal. It may be using vocoder techniques to maintain formant consistency, but it is not a vocoder. Often extreme autotune will be paired with distortion and heavy compression which can make it sound synthy. Most importantly, you cannot use it to combine sounds like a vocoder.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:12 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


DU: "
Not literally all, but yes, all the ones where I can hear it. It sounds like music played over a PA system or sung by someone who needs to clear their throat. Awful.
"

The best distortion I ever got from an instrument was my first guitar. My friend had this old radio she jacked up to act as an amp, in a suitcase, it was wicked rad. She sold me it with the guitar. It wasn't loud, but served as a decent practice amp.

But the distortion in that thing. Oh. My. God. It was beautiful. Just pushing out the smooth creamy buzz. It wasn't overdriven or anything, there were plenty of mids in with the highs so it just was pleasing...

Distortion, like auto-tune, can be an amazing tool. I'd hate to think of what my life would be like without distortion. No thrash music. No dirty electronic sounds, no deep rumbling bass pushing the limits. What a sad sad world it would be if it was all ukeleles and acoustic guitars.
posted by symbioid at 10:29 AM on October 30, 2014


grumpybear69: "Autotune is not a vocoder which is not a talk box.

A talk box is basically an amplified speaker in your mouth which then modifies the sound using your face and gets picked up by a microphone. See: Livin on a Prayer.
"

I think more accurately/pedantically, you could almost say that the mouth/cheek shape acts as a filter effect on the signal. Listen to some progressive-trance to hear a lot of that sound. Compare that to a talkbox or say, a jaw harp, and you'll find that they're very similar (I won't say they're exactly the same... someone would then have to pedanticize me if I did ;))
posted by symbioid at 10:32 AM on October 30, 2014


I'm in the office but thanks to this I have achieved a zen state of ultimate chilled outness.
posted by capricorn at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2014


Come to think of it, we've got some desks here, why don't we have tiny concerts? I'm going to take this very important concern to my HR department.
posted by capricorn at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm in the office but thanks to this I have achieved a zen state of ultimate chilled outness.

It's seriously pretty great. I'm obviously happy to yammer about the meaning and use of autotune, but it would be a shame if we lost sight of how good Buy U a Drank is with just T-Pain's unaltered voice and a keyboard.
posted by Copronymus at 10:42 AM on October 30, 2014


Agreed, Symbiod. It definitley does act like a filter. In fact it is doing exactly what a vocoder is doing but with strictly limited parameters, specifically the shape of your mouth and the texture of your skin and the quality / placement of the mic.

There are actually sweeping notch filters which can be used to approximate human vowel sounds that a lot of EDM tracks use, usually with silly names like Yeeeoowww or Aeeeeeeooooo or occasionally yayayaya.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:44 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


What this thread needs is a little butternut reduction.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2014


Like any studio tool, it's all about how you use it. On a song like Daft Punk's "Instant Crush," it makes Julian Casablancas' vocals fit into the band's ouevre. I think the song is still emotionally effecting even though the obvious goal is to make him sound like a robot.

Regarding autotune allowing *more* barely competent but good looking singers to have top 40 hits, I suspect this might not be true. The way you dealt with a limited but cute singer before would be to hire a studio vocalist to enhance their work (or to just sing the song outright) or to arrange the song so that everything was in their range. I'm looking at you, Shaun Cassidey. I bet there are just as many vapid pop idols now as in any other generation though I have no vapid v chart-success data to back my theory.

As for T-Pain, the man can sing.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:14 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


BOOOOOOM!
posted by nikoniko at 11:15 AM on October 30, 2014


> Regarding autotune allowing *more* barely competent but good looking singers to have top 40 hits, I suspect this might not be true. The way you dealt with a limited but cute singer before would be to hire a studio vocalist to enhance their work (or to just sing the song outright) or to arrange the song so that everything was in their range. I'm looking at you, Shaun Cassidey. I bet there are just as many vapid pop idols now as in any other generation though I have no vapid v chart-success data to back my theory.

Yeah, considering today's pop charts to be the era of photogenic pop stars enhanced by technology and manufactured by the music industry is kind of hilarious. I mean...hello, the 1960s.
posted by desuetude at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


No, Bugbread, I'm sure I don't hear every single use of auto-tuner--but what I definitely do hear is that pop vocals rarely ever seem to be even the slightest bit off pitch anymore, which sounds bad to my ear because it takes the emotional edge off the voice. Being slightly sharp or flat sometimes, or sliding imprecisely between notes, is part of the natural expressive function of the human voice in singing and I miss it when it's not there anymore.

Some of this is also just too many takes and edits. Anyway I totally agree that level of "perfection" isn't appropriate for a lot of songs/genres, but I mean, indie and lo-fi and DIY happened. There's a ton of off-key singing available for your listening pleasure - that's just not where radio pop is at right now.
posted by atoxyl at 11:25 AM on October 30, 2014


Cortex: "...an effects pipeline that tweaks the EQ and phases the frequencies on her idiosyncratic voice to make it sound a bit different and off while her daughter's voice stays more naturalistic is an effective move there even if it means Tori sort of taking one for the team in terms of vocal presentation." (bolded for emphasis)

Oh, Tori's voice and pitch is fine. But her daughter's voice is NOT naturalistic in terms of pitch correction. It's warbling all over the place in her first 3 phrases, on the words "so" "say" and "judge." And she sounds fine for a 13 year old, but I would maybe advise against attempting those melismas, instead of just melodyne'ing them into place.

Or are you saying the heavy effecting on Tori's voice is to overemphasize the effects on Tori so that we don't hear how corrected Tash's voice is?
posted by onehalfjunco at 12:22 PM on October 30, 2014


Someone made a comment to me that a singer I was listening to relied too much on autotune. I found this amusing, since the singer was Hatsune Miku.
posted by SPrintF at 12:35 PM on October 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I think deliberate conspicuous processing of Tori's voice to draw attention away from more subtle work on her daughter's vocal line is a plausible part of how the decision-making for that track went.

But I'll also say that the degree to which there's pitch-correction work on the daughter's vocal line strikes me as relatively subtle itself. Not as in "no, that's not there", but it's not there to the degree that most casual listeners are even going to register it as autotuned vs. just a more stepping-stone approach to the melody.

Which, I think there's a totally legitimate technical/aesthetic argument to have there, comparing a pitch-corrected approach to that style to e.g. Regina Spektor just straight up killing it the hard way, and looking at the question of where and when and why the distinction matters if pragmatically it ends up being two paths to a similar stylistic product. But I don't think the vast majority of people likely to beef casually about e.g. T-Pain using autotune are approaching it with that degree of nuance or context.

In any case, I'll admit to also maybe just not being as sensitive to the borderline stuff if the end result sits okay with me, so this is probably partly just us disagreeing over how distracting a thing we find differently distracting is.
posted by cortex at 12:47 PM on October 30, 2014


onehalfjunco: "And she sounds fine for a 13 year old, but I would maybe advise against attempting those melismas, instead of just melodyne'ing them into place. "

Or just not attempting those melismas because...ugh ugh ugh too much pointless melisma. Oh honey. But anyway, I agree with cortex's take, though, that there is an intentional "differently processed" sound to play up the contrast between their voices, and that the actual pitch correction on her daughter's voice is not punched up into the realm of being mechanical-sounding.
posted by desuetude at 2:16 PM on October 30, 2014


My wife just gave it a listen and says she's angry she's been forced to listen to autotuned T-Pain all these years. His natural voice is great!
posted by saulgoodman at 3:06 PM on October 30, 2014


i just came across this elsewhere and i am BLOWN AWAY.

"Autotune is the sound of emotional alienation in the 21st century."

i read an essay on this topic - i think discussing t-pain - and it's what got me to download 808s and heartbreak by kanye and completely turned me around on how some artists were using these sorts of effects. even still, i never really went back to t-pain because the tracks i heard him feature on were so dull that i thought he was just doing dumb party rap type shit. even more than the quality of his voice (which i would listen to all day every day), the depth of some of his lyrics has stunned me. i'm going to have to give his music a go and see what sticks.
posted by nadawi at 3:24 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


For whatever it's worth (virtually nil), I just shuffled through three tracks from the "Top Hits" playlist on Spotify, and all three had noticeable tuning artifacts that didn't seem to be part of an overall aesthetic choice (that is, they were intermittent).
posted by uncleozzy at 10:51 AM on November 4, 2014


I'm not one to turn up my nose at underground music -- I love Vampire Weekend, for example -- but I've never understood why Rap music couldn't have more actual singing. It would be so much more pleasant and enjoyable. T'Pain just proved it, he can sing like a bird!
posted by typical npr listener at 10:46 AM on November 13, 2014


there's a lot of singing in rap...
posted by nadawi at 11:00 AM on November 13, 2014


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