Another commonly heard accusation mounted against Auto-Tune is that it depersonalizes, eradicating the individuality and character of voices. In their natural mode, vocal cords don’t produce a clear signal: there’s “noise” mixed in there, the grit and grain that is a physical residue of the process of speaking or singing. This is the very aspect of the voice—its carnal thickness—that differentiates one from another. Digital transmission can interfere with that anyway, especially at the lower bandwidths—it’s why, say, if you call your mom on her cellphone from your cellphone, she can sound unlike herself to an unsettling degree. But pitch-correction technology really messes with the voice as substance and signature. Given that this embodied quality, as opposed to the learned dramatic arts of singing expressively, is a big part of why one voice turns us on and another leaves us cold,
surely anything that diminishes them is a reduction?
Maybe, and yet it is still possible to identify our favorite singers or rappers through the depersonalizing medium of pitch-correction—and to form a bond with new performers. In fact, you could argue that Auto-Tune, by becoming an industry standard, creates even more premium on the other elements that make up vocal appeal—phrasing, personality—as well as extra-musical aspects like image and biography.
These and other examples also lay waste to the related argument that pitch-correction is a deskilling innovation that allows the talent-free—performers who can’t sing in tune without help—to make it. Actually, it refocused what talent in pop is.
The history of popular music is full of super-professional session singers and backing vocalists who could sing pitch-perfect at the drop of a mic, but for whatever reason, never made it as frontline stars—they lacked a certain characterful quality to the voice or just couldn’t command the spotlight. Auto-Tune means that these attributes—less to do with training or technique than personality or presence—become even more important. Hitting the right notes has never been that important when it comes to having a hit.
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