Auto Tune: Photoshop for Music?

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.

When Is Enough Enough?

Carly Rae Jepsen Brings 'Kiss' to Walmart Soun...

Carly Rae Jepsen (Photo credit: Lunchbox LP)

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!

9 thoughts on “Auto Tune: Photoshop for Music?

  1. My feeling is that it worked well for Cher, who I believe was one of the pioneering artists of the use of Auto Tune as a vocal effect in dance songs, However, when Rachel on Glee does it, it’s overdone.

  2. Wow, big difference there, Annie! I would bet to say that without all the fluff the song may not have been such a big hit. Taking the acoustic version would it be such a big hit. Got me to thinking about AI last season and how Phillip Phillips would not let the producers change his wardrobe nor strip him of what he believed his music was and he did what he felt. I never was a big fan of his but I liked that he stayed true to his beliefs. Does “Home” fall under that category do you think? Or did the producers and the money makers win out? I think he may have finely split hairs.

    • I think it ‘could’ have been a big hit if Auto Tune wasn’t so prevalent. Anymore, to find raw vocals, you have to dive into the indie music scene.

      I agree on Phillip Phillips. I too, wasn’t a huge fan, but I think mainly because it always looked to me like he was really going to wreck his vocal cords the way he sang, but I appreciated the “this is me, take it or leave it” attitude. Unfortunately, I think that until he is in a position of producing his own records, he will be at the mercy of producers.

  3. I agree with your whole article, Annie!! You expressed it so much better than I could!

    I wonder about young folks who seemingly never heard anything BUT Autotune in their pop music.

    You compare it with Photoshop, that’s interesting. I use Photoshop extensively in my costuming books…but that’s all about producing a magical stage illusion…like sets, lighting…

    • It’s interesting that you mention young people. I think they know the difference (for the most part). My daughter (15) is aware of Auto Tune and what it does, and she says she actually prefers music from the “old days” aka…the 80’s. lol She does listen to the new stuff, but she has a very wide range of taste and has a lot of different types of music on her iPhone that she listens to.

      I LOVE LOVE LOVE Photoshop, and I am in it and using it all the time. It has its purpose, and can create some really beautiful art. I just get so tired of seeing these magazine covers with clearly Photoshopped actors and models. This has been an ongoing battle since the rise of the super model, but we should really be celebrating and honoring the “real” person so that our young people have attainable and reasonable body and facial expectations of themselves. Self esteem among “normal” women of all ages is often influenced by these air brushed models. Say what you will about tabloids like The Enquirer, but I think they actually do a great service when they run those articles on “stars without makeup”. It shows that these celebrities look just like everyone else, and it is only through the magic of makeup, wardrobe, hair stylists and Photoshop that they look like beautiful aliens.

  4. I’m using the TC-Helicon VoiceLive Touch on this and the other linked songs to give you an idea of the functions (which includes Auto Tune)…I’ll mention I’m in my 70’s so this is just a new toy,I do find it hard to navigate at my age,so my use of this vocal processor is all hit and miss….I’d also like to add,this doesn’t help you sing better,it’s the opposite,if you go off key this unit really makes you sound bad,so I don’t consider it cheating whatsoever…as for that “Call Me Maybe” video shown by ‘Annie’ she wasn’t using ‘Auto-Tune’ but was using the ‘Double Voice’ effect…..please keep in mind,the videos I posted on the links were my first time trying this unit

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