It’s the new buzzword amongst pop music’s critics: Autotune. Run a quick Google search and you can find a plethora of complaints: “Everything on the radio is ‘autotuned’”; an artist’s voice has been “autotuned to death”; “Autotune is killing music.” Some hack in the comments section said that “Hold It Against Me” was marred by “Britney’s autotuned voice.”
Please. This stupid cliche is debasing music criticism — and people don’t even understand what Autotune actually is.
Myth: Autotune can make a bad singer sound good
Although the term carries connotations of magically transforming awful singers into divas, “Autotune” is nothing more than simple pitch correction. If an artist is somewhat off on a note — if that A-sharp just didn’t ring unequivocally — it can be tweaked to make it clear and consistent. If a producer wants to play around with the melody of a song, he can alter the pitch even further. The most ‘autotuned’ song I’ve listened to in a while is “Animal (Billboard Remix)” by Ke$ha. Compare the original with the remix.
If you want to make a bad singer sound tolerable, then adding reverb, echo effect, vocal layering, and endless harmonies is your best bet. Terrible tone will still be terrible, regardless of whether that note is an F or a G. (Witness Heidi Montag’s “Superficial”: nothing can cover the fact that she simply is not a very good singer.)
Myth: Autotune is only found in Top 40 music
Autotune is used by rock singers, metal bands, soul divas, and gospel artists. It’s meant — like other vocal effects — to add gloss to a professional, studio-quality recording. It didn’t start with Cher, Daft Punk, or T-Pain — they simply found that they could play around with pitch-correction to create a futuristic effect. But autotune on its own is very common and is hardly limited to Top-40 music.
Myth: Autotune is harming music
Who wants to listen to a second-rate rendition of a quality song? When I hear a song, I want it to come through crisp, clean, and clear: just as the songwriters and singers idealize it. “Animal” is not merely a verdict on Ke$ha as the vocalist, but on Greg Kurstin, Dr. Luke, Pebe Sebert, and the small army of producers and engineers behind it. It’s meant to be a finished product: our judgment of Ke$ha’s vocal abilities, in a vacuum, is an entirely separate matter. I want to hear that song as it was meant to be heard — and so do all of the short-sighted critics, whether they want to admit it or not. If purity of recording is what you want, that can be found in black metal and the Juno soundtrack — they sure ain’t usin’ pitch correction there. But few people actually prefer that music to a good pop or rock song.
So stop complaining.