In the summer of 1998, dance clubs around the world felt a shockwave of energy; a powerful surge of industry changing oomph that no-one knew was coming. This wave was called the ‘Cher effect’ and little did we know it would last indefinitely. When Cher’s song ‘Believe’ hit the charts and the clubs, no-one knew how to react; it was the first time that auto tune had been used to distort the voice of a singer and naturally it had a mixed reception.
Some called it revolutionary, the perfect combination of technology and acoustics to create something special, whereas others saw it as a cheap and lazy way for a singer to perform; the equivalent of an Olympic athlete opting to use steroids. Simply put, it’s a divided school of thought, but what can’t be denied by anyone is the popularity of auto-tune, as ever since that late 90’s summer, more and more artists are using it in their work.
So is auto-tune really as bad as they say it is? Or is it a genuine revolution of the music industry? Let’s take a look.
While many critics note the main feature of auto tune is the distorting effect it has on songs, the fundamental purpose of auto tune is in fact as a correctional tool. It blends off-key or flubbed notes to the nearest true semi-tone which produces the effect of perfect singing every time. This corrective effect is a lot harder to notice because when it’s used properly, it’s an inaudible process. Basically, the more off-key a singer is, the harder it is to hide the use of technology. Why does this make auto-tune good? Well because technology has been used to help artists well before auto tune came along and it actually works incredibly well in some cases.
You listen to Cher’s song and say you don’t love it just a little, it’s a classic! And auto tune helped make it that way!
Of course, the main association auto tune has with music is producing awfully off-key songs as well as hurting the music industry as a whole. Because of the popularity of auto-tune, many feel the emphasis on how good a singer is has been cast aside for how technologically gifted they are. In the late 2000’s, many record labels were opting to pick up more hip-hop, R&B and pop acts so that they could turn that popularity into profit while leaving many of their loyal, more acoustic acts in the dust. Times magazine summed up this argument best with these words:
“It’s a technology that can make bad singers sound good and really bad singers sound like robots. And it gives singers who sound like Kanye West or Cher the misplaced confidence that they too can croon. Thanks a lot, computers.”
Auto-tune can now be accessed by anyone in the world, meaning anyone with dreams of becoming a singer can easily get closer to it. On the one hand, this is a brilliant thing; it promotes inclusivity and the idea that anyone can achieve their dreams if they want to. It also means that there is more of a chance to find a hidden gem in amongst a sea of unknown artists, and it can work to enhance a voice – as we’ve seen with countless artists such as Alice Cooper, Bon Iver and Eminem. Also remember the song ‘Blue’ by Eiffel 65? Well you can thank auto tune for that too.
On the other hand, the frequent use of auto tune could potentially block any good newcomers to the music industry with artists who can’t actually sing but whose voice sounds great all robotic. It also invites the idea of the work of a music artist being incredibly easy. Sing how you like in one end, a good song will come out the other sort of deal.
So with all those points in mind it seems that auto tune can either be an incredibly helpful tool that aids great talent in producing good music, or it’s an invitation to everyone who’s only singing experience is at their local karaoke bar to try and make it in the music industry. As the conclusion to this discussion, we leave you with the words of an anonymous Grammy award winning engineer:
“You haul out Auto-Tune to make one thing better, but then it’s very hard to resist the temptation to spruce up the whole vocal, give everything a little nip-tuck. Like plastic surgery, more people have had it than you think.”
Oh and because you asked for it:
Soho Sonic is a recording studio in London with over a decade’s experience in the music industry that accommodates musicians, record labels and media companies alike.