I’m lucky enough to have a girlfriend who is as passionate about music as me. Unfortunately, because she’s into chart music and I’m more into metal, vocals are the one thing that we can be guaranteed to disagree on. She insists that every vocalist that I like sounds like they’re screaming from Robb Flynn (who is) to Tarja Turunen (who isn’t because she’s a classically trained opera singer) while I insist that the voice of every vocalist she likes is so heavily processed through effects packages that any personality is systematically crushed out of their voice.
At the centre of this disagreement is a single aspect of music production that she barely notices but I feel is like having my ears pressed against an industrial linisher – Autotune. Here’s three reasons why you too should try as hard as possible to banish this electronic menace from your iPod.
1: Autotune is used as a crutch
Quite simply, Autotune is used to make it sound like singers can hit notes that they can’t. I can almost forgive T-Pain and his assertions that how he uses Autotune is just an effect because it is so blatent. I think that it sounds awful and is the result of someone who obviously can’t sing wanting desperately to be a singer, but at least it doesn’t have the same taste of deception as the artists who are slightly more subtle in their use of Autotune.
Beyond this, if a singer can’t perform in the studio without a bit of digital trickery to back them up then they definately won’t be able to perform live, which results in concerts that rely on the use of Autotune or backing tracks so excessive that the artist might as well not even be on stage.
2: Autotune is overused and masks talent
This is the most depressing side of Autotune to me. I’ve had plently of arguments with friends who insist that no pop singers can actually sing, citing the widespread use of Autotune as evidence of this. That just doesn’t make sense; with the exception of talent show winners anyone who appears in the charts was once an underground artist of the type that my friends point to as ‘real singers’. Assuming that there isn’t a movement that surgically removes talent from charting artists, you’d expect enough skilled singers to break through that this argument would be dead in the water.
The answer is that even the great singers are convinced to use excessive amounts of Autotune by their producers, because that’s what sells. This is why I find it so utterly disappointing everytime I hear Autotune’s influence in Lady Gaga’s music – she is a genuinely talented singer whose craft is lessened by the electronic muzzle that is forced onto her vocals.
3: Autotune homogenises music
As well as locking a singer’s voice to a specific note, Autotune gives this oddly electronic tone to their voice which becomes particularly obvious when their voice is layered on top of itself. The result is that individuality is cut out of the affected vocals, which are pushed towards the same robotic, soulless ideal that seemingly everyone in the charts aims for.
It sounds ‘nice’ and is easy to appreciate, but this is why I think Kayne West’s Yeezus is one of the most important albums to come out this year. As well as including confrontational lyrics that are many times more lucid than you’d expect from a man who decided his child should grow up with a pun for a name it’s an abrasive, violent sounding album that rejects the idea that chart music should be easily consumable.
I wish more artists would take this approach, challenging music is just inherently more interesting to listen to. Accepting different vocal styles in the chart rather than forcing all singers to aim towards one or two archetypes would be a great start to this, as well as providing an opportunity for talented musicians to ditch this unnecessary electronic interferance.