Auto-Tune. Sounds perfect, but…

“The Voice of China”, a famous singing competition programme in China, was doubted by the audience that the contestants’ voices were being altered via Auto-Tune. Also the same happened on X Factor in the US. The technique of Auto-Tune has become more popular the last decade and a half, from commercial recordings to live music shows.

Let’s first have a rough view of what Auto-Tune is. An octave in the chromatic musical scale is divided into 12 pitches, each separated by a semitone (Think of a piano, which has 12 keys in each octave. A semitone is the difference in note between two adjacent piano keys). The goal of pitch correction is to retune a slightly high or low note to the nearest semitone. If an attempt at singing an A note actually was for example 445Hz instead of the desired 440Hz, then using a computer to correct the frequency back down would ensure that the recording sounds in tune.

“While working with Cher on the song “Believe” in 1998, producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling discovered that if they set Auto-Tune on its most aggressive setting, so that it corrected the pitch at the exact moment it received the signal, the result was an unsettlingly robotic tone.”  —Greg Milner (2009)

Recorded in 1998, the song “Believe” from Cher was the first commercial recording to use the software for auto-tune. Personally, I heard this song several years ago and I like it very much. This  song is “widely credited with injecting Auto-Tune’s mechanical modulations into pop consciousness.” (Chris Lee of the Los Angeles Times)
However, the condition in live music show is not that positive:

This video shows how it works:

Few singers are perfect indeed. Sometimes, the pitch of their vocal slightly misses the exact note that they are trying to hit. But is that fair to the audience that if the singers use the auto-tune during their live music show? Personally I don’t like it even if that means I will hear perfect music at the end. It is a bit like cheating. And I don’t believe that people love some singers only because of the perfect artificial music out from the speaker.

At the end, I would like to hear from you about this topic!!

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3 Responses to Auto-Tune. Sounds perfect, but…

  1. Lu Hongyang says:

    I don’t like the auto-tune in the live music, either. Indeed the singers can use auto-tune in their albums to make their voice perfect but in the live show, the atmosphere, the feeling of audience are much more important than just music. If the audience want to listen perfect voice, why not just buy an album and use earphones to listen? The music is not only just about sounds and voice, but also the feelings and emotions. Auto-tune can make everyone to “sing” well but cannot create singers.

    • lichenzha says:

      Can’t agree more… The live music is the bridge between the singer and his or her fans. Auto-tune is like a huge gap on that bridge. As a result the bridge becomes meaningless, and further, the live music becomes colourless.

    • Thanks for the comment! I have a small remark: Auto-Tune does not magically make someone sing well. If a vocal performance is not good, the result will still sound bad, or at least it will be obvious that pitch correction is used and personally I hate that kind of sound.
      I like to believe that many of the artists that I listen to don’t use Auto-Tune, but certainly for studio recordings it’s probably used more that I would like to hear about. Then again, if it’s minor corrections that make me unable to distinguish it from their natural voice, I guess I can hardly make an argument against it. But I have a lot of respect for artists that don’t use any pitch correction, and I fully agree that for live performances it’s more about connecting with the audience.

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