Friday, 16 April 2010

The wonders and horrors of Autotune

It seems as though nobody has to sing in key anymore. Radio artists everywhere are sticking this "Autotune" thing on their voices to sound like a robotic warble and it takes no effort whatsoever. Its ruined the Black Eyed Peas for good, and its fooling people everywhere.

What's it all about?

Firstly, its important to know that there seem to be two kinds of Autotune which we're hearing every day. The first is the blatant, robotic warble which seems really popular in Dance, RnB and other genres which get a lot of mainstream attention these days. The second is the one that isn't so obvious, but is probably more widespread than you know it.

Want to hear some of the second kind? Watch that horrible but somehow popular new show called Glee. The programme is practically an advert for what Autotune can achieve these days, and the amount of post production they're plastering over the recordings which the 'actors' then mime to is really quite criminal. For a show about an underdog high-school Glee club, its just painfully ironic.

But this kind of Autotune is everywhere, its just a lot more subtle. And to be honest, I don't mind it as much as most people do. In fact, I use it myself quite a lot, but thats only because I'm still a singer-in-training. When I'm recording myself it can be painfully frustrating to get a pitch-perfect take with all the feeling I'm after. Sometimes in a studio you'll get that perfect take which captures everything which the song is trying to say, but damnit a couple of notes were flat. In these cases, Autotune is a valuable tool, and can be used subtly just to make that perfect take a little less grating to listen to.

You may not know it, but you still have to sing relatively in-key for Autotune to work. Most Autotune software works on a pitch recognition algorithm, and if your pitch is in-between two notes then it'll just flip between the two, unsure of where to go. Even Melodyne, which works as a note-grid editor, will sound unnatural if you have to move a pitch too far.

In fact, for the "Autotune effect" robotic warble, you actually have to pretty much nail it. If you sing half heartedly and then stick Autotune on it with the settings maxed out, it'll sound more like a robot malfunctioning than a lazy singer fixed by magical software.

It's still evil though. I will always prefer listening to people singing naturally, as will everyone. Its the inability to hit pitch perfectly which makes a performance human, and makes it something we can all relate to. Even the best singers will never hit the pitch 100% absolutely bang on, and its this fact which makes Autotune so obvious in things like Glee. When they're singing too perfectly, you know there's some behind-the-scenes magic at work.

Its a blessing and a curse, but nevertheless its here and some people actually like listening to it. What are your thoughts?

Autotuned or not, keep loving music,

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