Auto Tune: Photoshop for Music?

Does Auto Tune have a place in music or is it just cheating?

Auto Tune

Photo Credit (Wikipedia)

Auto Tune is Photoshopped Music

Auto Tune is an audio processor designed to fix pitch of vocals or instruments. I won't go through the details of what it does and how it does it, but suffice to say, I'm not a fan. I equate Auto Tune's use to remove musical imperfections to Photoshop's use to erase wrinkles and bulges from photos. Don't get me wrong, I want to sing better, and let's face it... look better, but if it's fake, then it's just an illusion of perfection, and it's really our imperfections that make us the unique wonderful creatures we are.

I think Auto Tune has its place as an effect. There are songs that it lends itself to very well, such as a lot of current rap and hip hop songs, as well as some pop songs; mainly ones with a techno aspect. I don't think it has a place in country or rock music at all! Country music is most often about life's loves and losses. The singer should be conveying that through their voice, and a "perfect" vocal just doesn't give the ability to convey those highs and lows with any sincerity. Rock is pure and raw and should be left that way.

I guess I should mention that I'm not a fan of manufactured entertainment. I don't like photoshopped, airbrushed models and actors, and I don't like average singers being made to sound phenomenal. What happened to raw talent? Can you imagine Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash songs with pitch perfection? I am tired of these "artists" being pulled in out of nowhere and made into big stars based on nothing more than market appeal (i.e. cute, sexy). I want to FEEL a song, even if it is not sung perfectly note for note. To me, it is more real and more raw and more emotional when it is NOT perfect.

Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen
Photo Credit (Lunchbox LP)

When is Enough Enough?

Take a listen to last year's big hit Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen (Canada Idol's #3 runner up). This is the recorded version, and this is an acoustic version. I still think there is a bit of Auto Tune going on with the acoustic version, but I could be wrong. If it's there, it's subtle and I can be ok with that. The acoustic version is so much more sweet and vulnerable to me than the manufactured version. The manufactured version doesn't convey vulnerability, just desperation, and who wants to feel desperate?

Auto Tune has been used on practically every record made from the late 90's through today, so is it here to stay? I'm going to go the optimistic route and say "no", at least not in its current overuse. I think the pendulum will swing back and we will find a happy medium for its use. There are artists in the industry who strongly oppose its use, but not enough. Even my beloved Maroon 5 has used it, most notably on She Will Be Loved. There is a growing consensus among audiences that if the song has strong Auto Tune attached, that the singer is a bad singer and is using Auto Tune to cover it up. This stigma may drive singers away from its use.

Cheater Cheater

Is it cheating? Perhaps. Consider this though: far back before Cher started this craze with the song Believe, studio enhancements and tweaks were made to vocals. Long before Auto Tune, sound engineers in the studio would fix minor imperfections in a recording. NOTE: I said MINOR imperfections. They didn't completely reroute the entire voice into a cyborg version of itself. When you bought a record (for those of you who don't know... a record was a large round black vinyl disk that you played on a record player), it sounded great, but when you went to that performer's concert, it sounded different. Not worse (necessarily) but different, less "manufactured". I can live with this. I can live with my record being perfect and the live show being not so perfect. What I can't live with is the record being perfect or robotic and the live performance being crap on wheels! If no-talent hacks can make millions of bucks "singing", why can't I? Oh yeah, I'm not young, cute and sexy.

So, is it just jealousy? These guys figured out a way to play the game and make a living fooling the listening public doing something I dreamed about my entire life? Am I resentful? I admit it... yes. But it's also about the music. Music has spoken to me my whole life, and I have huge admiration for people who can truly sing with clarity and feeling and make me weep or smile. Most times, these days, you won't get much out of me other than a head bop to the catchy beat.

What about All the Other Fake Stuff?

So, I haven't exactly hidden my feelings on Auto Tune and its overuse. I've equated it to Photoshop used to touch up photos. For the sake of argument, let's say the world bands together to do away with these fakeries. What next? Should cosmetic surgery be outlawed too? What about makeup? Girdles? Let's face it, since the beginning of time, we as a species, have done anything and everything to make us look like something we aren't. I'm no exception. I wear makeup, I straighten my wavy hair. Do we need to go so far as to ban all modes of self "enhancement"? I don't think we need to go that far, but as with makeup and cosmetic fixes, too much can be awkward and unflattering. Let's find that happy medium.

Let the Real Singers Stand up and Be Counted

One last note before you go: I get so angry at singers or producers who scoff at karaoke. Are they kidding? Who are they to mock amateur artists finding an outlet for their dreams of being a singing sensation if only for a few minutes? They are fake, we are real. We may not be the most talented singers (although there are some amazing ones), but at least we FEEL it. We put our all into singing our favorite songs, and for me, I will take a few warbles and off-key notes over bland perfection any day. Stop Photoshopping vocalists. Let us decide what we like based on actual talent. Join me on SingSnap and sing me an imperfect song! Happy screeching!