Monday, November 24, 2008

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Aretha!

I was in the shuttle yesterday awaiting the powers that be to show to shoot our part of the commercial.  We huddled into a van to escape the cold atop a parking garage next to the El (they had an entire production rig stuffed into two cars circling the loop running on the inside rack).  As we were waiting, the driver turned on NPR and they were doing a segment on the bastion of all professional audio studios - Antares AutoTune.

Per Wikipedia, Auto-Tune is a proprietary audio processor created by Antares Audio Technologies which uses a phase vocoder to correct pitch in vocal and instrumental performances. It is used to disguise inaccuracies and mistakes, and has allowed many artists to produce more precisely tuned recordings.  So, in other words, it creates believable yet unbelievable recordings .

One assertion the commentator made was that Aretha Franklin, considered one of the greatest singers of our time (as well as one of the biggest drama queens ), said "she's never heard of it".  As soon as I heard that, I was immediately incensed!  Perhaps it's my perception of her and my scorn towards the reverence given to her by people, but c'mon, anybody who's a recording artist knows about pitch correction and basic studio trickery used to make records.  She comes off to me as an even more pretentious diva when she implies to me that she's such a great singer, she's never needed it, thus, has never heard of it.  As a colleague pointed out to me, the probably used it on her records without telling her what they did.  Unless she's in the habit of letting people record her in any fashion and doesn't care about the output (highly unlikely), she's had to have heard of these tools. 

A large majority of mainstream records made (I'm going with at least 75%) use some level of unauthentic studio magic.  The commercial records you hear on the radio had a lot of work done to them to get them to sound that good.  Multi-tracking, arrays of effects and processors, drag-and-drop capability, and the digital domain have been in use for years to make records.In the old days, pieces of tape were shuttled around and spliced together to get awesome takes.  AutoTune is just another tool in the arsenal that's available to artists and producers.

Sometimes it's the performance of the vocal than its pitch that's more important to the overall recording.  If you sing something out of tune but it's believable and you make me feel it, it's forgivable.  I am not against using it as I've used it on some of my recordings but if an artist can do a performance without retuning, that's best thing that can happen.
Currently listening:
By Cher
Release date: 1998-11-10

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