Auto-tuning, the practice of digitally "repairing" off-key vocal tracks, is more visibly prominent than ever. But it's even more ubiquitous than people realise, and some musicians and fans aren't happy about it.
Auto-tune really only entered public consciousness with the release of that one Cher song that's somehow still playing in malls more than a decade later. And lately, some rappers, most notably T-Pain and most distressingly Kanye West, have taken up the robotic vocal torch. Even stark minimalist Bon Iver used the software, made by Antares Audio Technologies, on his most recent EP. But Time's recent article explains that auto-tune is used on just about every major-label pop album these days, from Britney Spears to Faith Hill. It's now assumed that auto-tuning will be applied to almost any recording that doesn't specifically refuse it.
Some, including legendary producer Rick Rubin and possible love of my life Neko Case, aren't fans of the near-required use of auto-tuning. Rubin notes that many classic recordings were only achieved after repeated attempts, and that emotion and passion can be lost with the use of the software. Case, in typical brash honesty, declared, "That shit sounds like shit!" regarding auto-tuned singers, and compared it to the artificiality of diet soda.
We often forget that it's the imperfection of vocals that can make them the most powerful. There's nothing wrong with glossy bubblegum like T-Pain, but to use auto-tuning indiscriminately can absolutely kill honest emotion.
On the other hand, it's hard not to like T-Pain; his unabashed lack of singing ability doesn't make him a lesser pop artist, and his pledge to create an iPhone app that would allow anybody to auto-tune themselves into a crooning robot actually sounds like a great idea. Britney, you can fix your warble all you want, but leave the serious music alone, okay? [Time]