August 22, 2009

Death of Auto-Tune

This bit cracked me up on the Wikipedia page describing Jay-Z's song "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)."

One of the partial inspirations for Jay-Z to write the song was hearing Auto-Tune being used in an advertisement for Wendy's fast-food chain. It made him realize that what was once a trend has become a gimmick.[4]

If you're not familiar with the Auto-Tune, it's a sound processing technology that was created to automatically correct a singer's vocals, keeping them precisely on key. It's been around for many years now and it was quietly correcting singer's voices (on recordings and during live performances) until someone realized that by playing with the parameters of the Auto-Tune could create a strange effect. Instead of smoothly correcting a singer's voice, it could abruptly and harshly distort the human voice.

The first recording I know of in which it was used this way was Cher's "Believe." (listen here) That was 1998. You can hear the pitch of her voice abruptly changing in an unnatural way. To preserve the secret of Auto-Tune, they told people that they were using a vocoder to get the effect. The general public wasn't aware of the Auto-Tune, or that vocalists had been using it for a while as a "safety net" (some might say a somewhat dishonest trick.)

But it was too late. Other sound engineers figured out the trick and the effect began to appear in more and more pop music. T-Pain is especially known for it, and it's gotten to the point of parody. It was always pretty ridiculous, but this parody hammered it home pretty hard: The Lonely Island's "I'm On A Boat" featuring T-Pain himself. (NSFW - language).

When Cher puts a feature in her music, I wonder why it takes over 10 years for Jay-Z to realize it's gimmicky. And since when is Wendy's uncool!!!?!

In my opinion, the only really fun use of the Auto-Tune lately is in Auto-Tune the news.

Auto-Tune #2 and #5 are my favorites.

Pirates, Gay Marriage and the Angry Gorilla:

American exceptional ism and Joe Biden in space:

#4 is not bad, either. #7 has Pat Buchanan singing about white folks (and Katie Couric warning you about texting).

When you come right down to it, I applaud Jay-Z for rejecting the Auto-Tune, both for the effect and for the correction of bad singing. It's fun to see these artists get angry and take a stand about something as controversial and timely as Auto-Tune.

Posted by James at August 22, 2009 12:39 PM
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So that's what it's called. All I knew about it before was that I hated it.

Posted by: Julie at August 22, 2009 6:33 PM

Between Auto-Tune and voice doubling, most popular music today is pure-T crap.

Posted by: givesgoodemail at August 24, 2009 11:33 AM

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