Auto-Tune and Its Over-use in Pop Music
The advent of Auto-tune in 1996 marked the beginning of a transformation in music that has not been all positive. The software has made pop music uniform and artificial, eroding the essence of talent and diligence. In this research paper, the technology is studied for what it is, why it is ubiquitously applied and the impact it has had on the music industry. The study concludes that auto-tune is doing more harm than the good it was originally meant to do.
With auto-tune being applied to the vast majority of pop music being released today, it is clear that authentic sounds is increasingly at risk. Many artists today have little if any vocal talent, instead relying heavily on auto-tune to correct their vocals. This means that those with real talents are marginalized, as physical attractiveness and other superficial measures supplant talent as the principal factor in landing recording deals. At the same time, ethical questions are glaring, given the fact that audiences are being given a raw deal; they pay at concerts and purchase albums of musicians who they believe to be gifted, yet the content they are treated to is anything but authentic. The integrity of the music industry is on trial.
In this research, a number of sources have been analyzed. They cover the advent of auto-tune, the abuse of the same by producers and artists, the boring and monotonous nature of ‘auto-tuned’ music and the responses from either side of the divide to the increasing controversy.
This paper takes the position that auto-tune can be a valuable tool if used in moderation and appropriately, as opposed to the abuse it is being subjected to by current pop music makers, and that fans deserve more than artificial sound to justify the money they folk out for music.
1. Peimani M.A (2009), Pitch Correction for The Human Voice
This article explores the origins of Auto-tune and its essential functionalities. It introduces Andy Hildebrand, who worked on auto-tune for a few months, leveraging upon his background in seismic analysis to come up with a software for cleaning up vocals. He meant for it to make it easier for recording artists and producers to fine tune their recordings, dulling the frustration of endless re-takes. Auto-tune works by matching the notes of a performer’s voice to the nearest note on the spectrum, ensuring that the occasional off-key notes come out as perfect.
I chose this literature so as to get an objective introduction into the background of Auto-tune and understand its workings, so I could analyze the reactions it has elicited and the impact it has had from an informed standpoint. The article served this purpose well.
2. Frere, J. “Auto-Tune’s Power to Correct and Distort”, in The New Yorker, (9th June 2008), 128-129pp.
Frere points out the pros and cons of auto-tune. He pays tribute to the software for its ability to make the work of recording artists that much easier by ironing out the occasional off-key note, essentially complementing talent and bringing it out in best light. On the other hand, he talks of ‘the power to distort’, where talent no longer matters. He decries the fact that the use of auto-tune has reached new lows where music makers no longer even guise the fact that the sounds they produce is engineered. In fact, he mentions, engineering of music has become the new craze, and software of the likes of auto-tune seem like they are here for the long haul.
I chose to analyze this article as a source of balanced critical analysis of the subject under review. I however found it slanting more toward the critical aspect. This may be because there are more genuine criticisms or complements, or it otherwise simply betrays the author’s biases.
3. McAvan E, (2009), Boring is the New Interesting: September 11, Realness, and the Politics of Authenticity in Pop Music, Fairleigh Dickison
This article is heavily critical of the use of auto-tune. It describes how pop music today is entirely uniform, as every release is pitch-perfect, making all songs sound the same and therefore boring. This trend has gone hand in hand with extensive marketing for new albums and artistes, forcing itself onto the center stage in pop culture and ensuring that the majority of young audiences ascribe to it as the new fad. From Kanye West to Lil’ Wayne, Lady Gaga to T-Pain, the most popular artistes in showbiz rely heavily, if not entirely, on sound engineering.
I chose this article for the extremely critical perspective on this topic, and it served its purpose more than adequately.
4. Tyrangiel, J. “Auto-tune: Why Pop Music Sounds Perfect”, Time Magazine (Feb 2009)
In searching for an article that supports Auto-tune, I discovered that virtually no resources existed extolling the virtues of its over-use. The next best article I found was this Time Magazine article that interviews candidly a number of artistes and producers who confess to using auto-tune and explain why. T-Pain is interviewed, and mentions that the software simply works well with his voice, and has given him a competitive advantage, without which no one would have ever known he exists. Producer Rick Rubin admits that most productions today, including his own, use Auto-tune as an indispensable tool, although he advocates for its moderate use, encouraging artists to rely more on talent and hard work.
From the literature reviewed, there is little that is positive to be said about auto-tune save for the fact that it comes in handy to help out producers working with truly talented musicians. On the other side however, the over-use of auto-tune has resulted in uniform music that strips the very essence of talent and diligence. Audiences are getting a raw deal, as they pay for engineered products of little authentic value, effectively presenting an ethical dilemma. Really talented artistes are being side-lined as their gifts are given less emphasis. The current trend in vocal engineering is putting at risk the integrity of the entire music industry.