getting in tune

it’s all cher’s fault.

back in 1998, a new technology, called auto-tune, was employed on cher’s hit single believe to ensure that her vocals were perfect.  (if you’re brave, you can give it a listen. i’ll wait.)

did you hear those notes where it almost sounds like her voice has become like a synthesizer? where she sounds more like a machine than a human? welcome to the magic of auto-tune.  and over the past 10 years, it has become a huge tool in the world of pop and R&B. people in country have admitted to using it, too, like shania twain, tim mcgraw, and faith hill. it appears that everybody want to rule their pitch.

music, to those of you who know me or who have paid any attention whatsoever to my blog over the past 9 years, takes up a lot of space in my brain. to me, it is an art that clutches at all that is human inside me and which expresses frailties and strengths about our experiences in life and love and spirit and everything in between. auto-tune removes all that is human and imperfect from music. it distances the artist from the craft. and it creates a gap between the artist and me. there is this computer that sanitizes and perfects the experience.

if you are really all about the music, and  if you are really all about creating a real experience, a real moment between yourself and others, then you need not use auto-tune. i cannot imagine bob dylan auto-tuned, or bruce springsteen, or aimee mann, or anyone whose work i respect. i don’t expect them to have perfect performances, and i don’t want their voices synthesized into electronic nirvana. i want to hear them raw and real and regular. i don’t expect vocal pyrotechnics; i expect emotional truth and warmth.

can you imagine john lennon auto-tuned? nope. me, neither.

sometimes, especially in pop and R&B, there is this need to embellish vocal embellishments. it’s like artists are not so much interested in the emotion of the song but rather in proving they can glide around 16 notes in a second. their vocal chords are superior, apparently. but doing so is fraught with easy failure. auto-tune to the rescue! just because whitney houston could do it without doesn’t mean you need to, and you, too, can sound like a diva! the tv show glee is rife with it. i wonder whether broadway is now, too.

nope. not for me. maybe it’s the aural equivalent of telling those damn kids to get off my lawn, but i don’t want any auto-tune in my music.  and if they want to keep it real, then artists ought to demand that their imperfections remain for us fans to love or not love. i know music is a business, but if the product actually becomes 100% manufactured for our listening pleasure, then there’s no art left.

i like the illusion that there’s something honest going on there, but auto-tune completely pulls back the curtain and let’s you see that the wizard is truly bankrupt, false, and neurotic.

quite possibly, talentless as well.

5 thoughts on “getting in tune

  1. 1). This is one of the many reasons why I like you. You fight for the right things.
    2). Are you familiar with Pearl Jam’s cover of “Last Kiss?”. Legend has it that the song was not intended to be recorded, but rather was just a random sound check that happened to be recorded and happens to be awesome. You can hear Eddie Vedder’s voice crack just a little towards the end of the song. Now, while I can’t imagine Eddie using auto-tune anyway, I can’t help but love the song a little extra for that.

  2. 1) aw, shucks. thanks. i must admit, though, that i never did fight for the right to party. but i do tend to have my share of windmills rife for tilting at.

    2) wow, i didn’t know that. to me, there are wonderfully human moments when people bother to catch them. one of my favorites: in the beatles song “if i fell,” there’s a point where macca sings (i think the second time) “and i would be sad if our new love was in vain.” and his voice cracks. absolutely cracks. bless his heart, he wasn’t big enough to complain then, and bless george martin’s heart a thousand-fold more, because he left that imperfection in.

  3. Not at all a fan of auto-tune either (to the extent that I was not brave enough to listen to the Cher song…I just couldn’t).

    Back in the 90’s I remember going to a Sarah McLachlan concert in Toronto. Sarah had a cold at the time, and was very apologetic that her voice was not what it normally would be. The funny thing was, it ended up being a fabulous concert. Her voice was a tad lower and raspier than usual, and occasionally she had trouble reaching the higher notes, but I think the fact that she had a cold made her put that much more effort into making in a great concert for all of us. She made up for her voice in commitment to her performance instead of relying on technology to help her out.

  4. Did you ever watch Buffy? There was a really great episode that featured the song “Believe” by Cher. Buffy’s college roommate drove her crazy by, among other things, playing that song over and over and over again.

    I’m generally with you on Autotune. I’m a fan of hearing vocals as vocals. I love Leonard Cohen’s voice, for example, for all its so-called imperfections.

    I guess I do have a big exception, though. I really like the some of the work done by Symphony of Science. In this case, they are taking speech, and turning into song. I find “A Glorious Dawn,” featuring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, to be very moving. Also “We Are All Connected.” They’re beautifully sciency.

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