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The Deceptive Perfection of Auto-Tune 437

Posted by Soulskill
from the hitting-all-the-right-notes dept.
theodp writes "For a medium in which mediocre singing has never been a bar to entry, a lot of pop vocals suddenly sound better than great — they're note- and pitch-perfect. It's all thanks to Auto-Tune, the brainchild of Andy Hildebrand, who realized that the wonders of autocorrelation — which he once used to map drilling sites for the oil industry — could also be used to bestow perfect pitch upon the Britney Spears of the world. While Auto-Tune was intended to be used unnoticed, musicians are growing fond of adjusting the program's retune speed to eliminate the natural transition between notes, which yield jumpy and automated-sounding vocals. 'I never figured anyone in their right mind would want to do that,' says Hildebrand." As these techniques improve and become more popular, it makes me wonder what music produced twenty or fifty years from now will sound like, and how much authenticity will be left.
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The Deceptive Perfection of Auto-Tune

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:18AM (#26763871)
    People are still making the music, sure it might not be coming from the vibrations of strings and vocal chords but its still authentic music.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Too bad Auto-tune wasn't around when Bob Dylan was made pop music.

    • by geekmux (1040042) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:50PM (#26764555)

      People are still making the music, sure it might not be coming from the vibrations of strings and vocal chords but its still authentic music.

      Ah, correction, writers are still making music. The "artists" or "singers" on the other hand, are finding more and more ways to artificially make themselves sound better than they really are. Therefore, the ONLY thing that is left to being authentic is whatever is left after the "they stole my song!" lawsuit dust settles, and the general masses acknowledge a song as one persons work.

      For the rest of the tripe being "manufacturered" today, it's as fake as half the "natural" breasts in Hollywood. Give me a break, a hardcore rapper being nominated for album of the year? Like half those beats aren't stolen from the last 37 rap albums.

      Music is dead. Say hello to Marketing. And if you have a hard time believing that statement, then I have two words for you. Hanna Montana. Still not convinced? Here's two more. American Idol.

      • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld@gmai l . c om> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:22PM (#26764807)

        Pardon me sir, I did'nt notice I was on your lawn there. I appologize.

        Do you realize that there has always been, and always will be, a glut of pig swill crap being passed off by those willing to hustle folk as hit music? You do realize, that if you only sample from this trough the two things you will ever be guareenteed to get are crap and swill?

        And that's ignoring your swipe at the idea that the only actual artists are the ones who perform vocally 'au natural'.

        There are plenty of quality artist out there, some of them even make it mainsteam. But most either don't bother or don't fit the 'marketer's dream' well enough.

      • by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75@yahoo.STRAWcom minus berry> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @02:04PM (#26765145)

        Ah, correction, writers are still making music. The "artists" or "singers" on the other hand, are finding more and more ways to artificially make themselves sound better than they really are.

        Eh, and this is nothing new either.

        What would you define as an ideal setup that allows, say, a rock musician to "sound as good as they really are"? Everything rock musicians have ever used have made them sound better than they are, right down to the amps they use to amplify their guitars, the effects they use (even amps from the 50's and 60's had reverb and could be overdriven), the pickups in the guitars themselves, the strings they choose to use, etc. A singer will sound better or worse based on the microphone they use, the equalization settings, etc.

        This idea that there's ever been *any* unaltered recorded music out there is rubbish. There never has been. Even just a guy playing by himself with an acoustic and singing into a microphone is having his sound altered by various things during the recording, mixing and mastering.

        I'm not arguing in favor of auto-tune, all I'm saying is that there are no absolutes and the line across which you do not (to quote Walter Sobchak) is different for everybody. And this is a generational thing; in the 1960's, people railed against rock music for exactly this same reason, citing some of the things I said above as making the music "fake". Today we consider those same things as being responsible for what we call "authentic" rock music. And now a new generation has new tools to make themselves sound the way they want, and we rail against it the same way our parents and grandparents did 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.

      • by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:30PM (#26766479) Homepage Journal

        I mostly agree with you, but your point is not entirely valid and you proved it in your own example: American Idol.

        If marketing were the answer, there would be no need for a contest of any form, they'd simply pick a random idiot and market them into radio plays. This isn't in fact the case -- even the mediocre 'crap' on the radio is a lot better than the vast majority of the population could pull off in studio.

        There are very very few musical geniuses and finding them is always a problem, and marketing the moderately talented ones to death is not so bad, when you consider they're not that bad (compared to your neighbour in the shower).

        After all, how would you or I find out about the good talent, the truly good talent, before they're dead and gone for a hundred years if not by marketing of some form?

        • by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:45PM (#26767389)

          If marketing were the answer, there would be no need for a contest of any form, they'd simply pick a random idiot and market them into radio plays.

          Maybe you haven't seen American Idol. They are simply picking a random idiot and marketing them into radio plays. Part of that marketing is a "contest" -- "contests" that are decided by consumer spending are knowing in the marketing world as "test marketing", and that's exactly what American Idol is from the perspective of record companies.

          Now the show also makes money in it's own right, before album sales ever come in to play. And therefore the show has some interest in picking moderately talented people to perform, though like most TV the determination of "talent" is largely based on physical appearance and other characteristics consumers expect in commercial television, and not particularly musical ability.

    • by catmistake (814204) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:51PM (#26764565) Journal

      Authentic crap.
      After triggerred drums and mpeg compression, auto-tune is the next scourge of the music industry... its everywhere, and it sounds like ass.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by iluvcapra (782887)

        And like triggered drums and mpeg compression, you're hearing it a lot more than you think and you don't notice.

        And most people are hearing it all the time and don't realize it exists.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Chuckstar (799005)

        Drummers have been using triggered drums since the mid-80s. Neil Pert, famously, used them to avoid the difficulty of keeping drums in tune between recording sessions. For live play it is even more useful, especially for outdoor venues.

        For rock musicians, the trick is that the triggered drums feed into a synthesizer that uses recordings of "perfect" drum hits. To use the same example, Neil Pert spent hours getting just the right sound from each drum. Then he triggered his drum set, with the triggers actuati

  • And... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:18AM (#26763875)

    I thought they all lip-synced.

    Next up: Fake Symphonies with synthesized "Real Life" performers. (with the symphony ticket cost)

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:21AM (#26763891)

    Yes, because everything that isn't done manually is inauthentic. And it's been getting worse almost every day since the end of the Bronze Age.

    • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by clifyt (11768) <sonikmatter@nOspam.gmail.com> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:38AM (#26764029) Homepage

      AMEN to this.

      What the fuck is authentic these days? I'm sick of the notion that creative output needs to have an olympic mentality to it. It is like the guys that can play 64th note riffs on guitars and then act as if anyone that cannot approach their technical ability has no business playing.

      In my case, I was a professional musician for a number of years. Toured nationally with a Grammy winning group. Had to get out of it because I developed severe arthritis that impacted my ability to play (it is an autoimmune disease as opposed to just bad technique...put me in a wheel chair for a year bad). I *STILL* compose and play somewhat, and went on to work with the same artist on the next album...some of my work ended up on it as I had left it as opposed to being replaced by other artists. Since I used a sequencer and samples, some would say this is inauthentic. So, if someone is robbed of technical ability (or never had any), their creative output means NOTHING?

      Of course, quite a few musicians trade the autotune 'perfect' output as an alternative to creativity...so long as everything hits on the right notes, it will sell. I don't believe in that either. Creativity involves falling outside of the lines occasionally. And sometimes it involves being right on the line. Personally, I don't get the folks that think perfect technique has anything to do with musicality...some of my favorite works come from non-musicians with absolutely no training or technique but had something to say and used ANY possibility they could to get it up there. Far more authentic than most of the instrumental / technique bands I could ever hear...those guys are as coldly robotic as any autotune could be.

      • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:51AM (#26764119)
        Of course, quite a few musicians trade the autotune 'perfect' output as an alternative to creativity...so long as everything hits on the right notes, it will sell. I don't believe in that either. Creativity involves falling outside of the lines occasionally. And sometimes it involves being right on the line. Personally, I don't get the folks that think perfect technique has anything to do with musicality...some of my favorite works come from non-musicians with absolutely no training or technique but had something to say and used ANY possibility they could to get it up there. Far more authentic than most of the instrumental / technique bands I could ever hear...those guys are as coldly robotic as any autotune could be.

        Ding! And that's exactly where true musicianship enters into it. Technical excellence is only one part of the equation. But having the sense and ability to hold notes for just the right amount of time, or to add that slight staccato element to a phrase is where someone with real musical ability shines. And these aren't the things that will ever be notated on a score. It's where interpretation and understanding of the piece comes into play.

        Think about someone reading a paragraph from a book. Sure, all the periods and commas are there. Being able to say the words with the right pauses and stops is the technical aspect. But knowing when to put emphasis on certain words or phrases, or to add a slight pause even where there isn't a comma--that takes skill. It's why some people are better orators than others.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by rivaldufus (634820)
          How about learning how to sing in tune? People have been doing it for centuries. Is that bar too high? Talking about articulation isn't very useful if you can't perform the most elementary tasks on your instrument. Is someone who uses gimp or photoshop to run some filters on a drawing a real artist? Is it sufficient that he or she "looks like an artist?"
      • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Fungii (153063) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:58AM (#26764167)

        I actually agree with what you're saying, but I think you're off the mark in this case - you talk about true creativity falling outside the lines occasionally, but in pop music autotuners are used to turn every vocalist into a robotic, pitch perfect singer. What T-Pain is doing is creative, he's going for an original sound but for the most part autotuners are the antithesis of creativity.

        • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Insightful)

          by fastest fascist (1086001) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:37PM (#26764423)
          Keep in mind we're talking about mainstream pop music here. It's not like it was creative before Auto-tune. Big-money pop-music is about identifying trends as quickly as possible and milking them dry before moving on to the next big thing, any creativity is accidental.
        • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Interesting)

          by philicorda (544449) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:33PM (#26767317)

          What has this got to do with creativity?

          Before autotune, we'd drop in on the same bit of vocal for hours if need be.

          Now, if the spirit of the take is good, but there are a couple of pitch problems, you can fix them without endless retakes taking away the vibe.

          I'd say it does the opposite to removing creativity. It liberates artists to let go a little when singing and go for feel over perfection.

      • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:59AM (#26764179)

        It does seem that music and art, as with so many other things, the vision is what we're there for. Execution has to be good or we get distracted, but it's not what we turn the radio on for. Anything that conveys the full vision more completely, is a good thing.

        Does anyone believe Britney has any actual talent outside of shaking her ass? Have you listened to her speak, do you think she's actually capable of stringing sentences together much less composing the lyrics to her songs? Come on. Someone writes her songs for her, composes and performs the music, modifies her voice... whatever. It doesn't change the fact that if you like her music, you actually like the team that creates it.

      • Re:Authenticity (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:20PM (#26764303) Journal
        "Personally, I don't get the folks that think perfect technique has anything to do with musicality"

        Perfect technique is great to have, but it better not be your only "selling/brag point" as a musician.

        Especially so for recorded music. Computers can do "perfect technique" 24 hours a day, with > 99% uptime.

        You want the perfect snare hit? OK record a "perfect technique" musician to hitting a few "perfect" snare hits, then you can play them back on demand _exactly_ when you want in the recording.

        Go see what artists have done since cameras came about. Hardly any of them make much noise about having "perfect technique".

        If all you have to offer is perfect technique, do not be surprised if one day you are more of a curiosity - like one of those savants who can pencil photorealistic images from memory - but cannot create a new and spectacularly moving scene from "nothing".
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mrbooze (49713)

        I heard an interview with John Doe (of X, The Knitters, etc) and he was asked about auto-tuning at one point. He said that even if you're someone who doesn't normally use them, sometimes when you've been in the studio for hours and you're just having one of those days where you can't seem to get a particular part right, you just decide fuck it and use the auto-tuner so that you can record the damn thing and move on.

      • Re:Authenticity (Score:4, Insightful)

        by bonch (38532) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @06:14PM (#26767159)

        By authentic, we're referring to the humanity of the music. What you describe is authentic musicianship. Compare that to a band that goes into a studio and records a verse, a chorus, auto-tunes it all, clicks in some MIDI drum notes, then copies and pastes those parts multiple times to fill out three minutes of a single. That's pretty different from what you're talking about where you actually "make" the music.

        My personal opinion is that popular music has no real future and that we're entering an era of smaller, more distributed successes through MySpace, iTunes, and whatever else is coming. Instead of a few big-name acts, there will be lots of small-name acts who come and go depending on the iTunes top ten. This will further lead to an assembly-line process for making music, but thankfully it will be easier to find the authentic stuff amongst the crap.

        Most of the big-name acts today are either established acts from previous eras or reality show stars who will eventually be forgotten. This decade has been remarkably bland and lacking in direction, and I think it's a sign of the future and of our deadened culture.

      • Re:Authenticity (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ClassMyAss (976281) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:49PM (#26769171) Homepage

        Personally, I don't get the folks that think perfect technique has anything to do with musicality...

        Dead on. Berklee College of Music churns out class after class of fire-without-heat players, people with fantastic technique, most of whom go on to do absolutely nothing worthwhile musically. This despite the fact that they can outplay most of the musicians that create music that people actually want to listen to.

        It's an easy trap to get into, and it happens in programming, too - who amongst us has not had to work with some technically brilliant programmer that wrote fast, concise, and "impressive" code that despite working for its purpose ended up being so incomprehensible to everyone else that it was unmaintainable? People that start down the path of technical skill and forget to stop and smell the roses are far too likely to forget that technical facility is only a means to an end, and they start evaluating both themselves and others on the technicalities of what they do, not the results.

        To me, stuff like auto-tune is the equivalent of using a decent IDE, or programming in a language that is well suited to your task rather than one that makes you do everything yourself. Yes, it probably takes a better programmer to code CGI stuff in C than in PHP, and plenty of poor programmers rely on all the built in functionality of PHP to cover the fact that they can't code; that doesn't mean that the good programmers should always stick with straight C when PHP could cut out a lot of the work, though.

        If a musician uses auto-tune to turn a 20 take marathon into a couple of takes that can be cleaned up after the fact (and end up with similar results), that's fine, they still may be an excellent musician, they're just working smart. If they're using it to cover the fact that they really can't sing, that's another issue altogether, but even then, if they have something worth singing and can't pull it off technically, why not fix it up with technology? If it enables a good product that otherwise couldn't have been created, then maybe they have excellent songwriting skills but poor vocal ones, and why should they not do whatever they can to put it out?

    • I'll take hand-painted simple picture over complex 3d raytraced scene any day

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sa1lnr (669048)

      "Yes, because everything that isn't done manually is inauthentic"

      How do you do non-manual singing?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jeepien (848819)

        "Yes, because everything that isn't done manually is inauthentic"

        How do you do non-manual singing?

        Many singers find the throat to be useful in this regard.

  • Authenticity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:22AM (#26763895)

    As these techniques improve and become more popular, it makes me wonder what music produced twenty or fifty years from now will sound like, and how much authenticity will be left.

    What does authenticity have to do with music? If you like the sound, listen to it. It's that simple.

    • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DavidR1991 (1047748) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:26AM (#26763939) Homepage

      It is however a downer for smaller groups or actual singers with decent voices, because they have to compete with an altered (potentially 'perfect-sounding') voice.

      We'll end up with the same thing as what has happened with photoshopped magazine images - people expect unreasonable perfection, and the people without an army of machines behind them get made to look inferior. We'll end up losing touch with reality at this rate... What's a human singing voice sound like again...?

      • Re:Authenticity (Score:4, Interesting)

        by aliquis (678370) <dospam@gmail.com> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:30AM (#26763965) Homepage

        So what? Stop competing, make music and sing because you like it, get the music for the same reason, if you can make money from it to, good for you.

        If I made music I would want it to sound whatever way I liked, if that was cheating or not what others wanted I wouldn't give much care for that.

        You got a point regarding looks though, I know what I expect in peoples look :D

        • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Insightful)

          by pressman (182919) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:55AM (#26764157) Homepage

          There will always be a Tom Waits, Neil Young, Les Claypool, etc. People with less than perfect voices, but write amazing music. Pop music is a business. Period. The suits are going to find the faces that will sell albums and worry about talent and ability to sing after the fact.

          Though these technologies will primarily be used for the sake of making hacks sound passable to the mass audience, there will always be artists out there who will also put it to creative use. Bands like the Residents, Fantomas, Devo, Mr. Bungle, John Zorn, etc. will be drawn to the new toys and use them in unexpected ways.

          People need to stop bitching about the quality of pop music. It's been crap since the 70's and only gets worse. There will always be great music if you bother to look for it.

      • Re:Authenticity (Score:4, Insightful)

        by plover (150551) * on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:47AM (#26764093) Homepage Journal

        It is however a downer for smaller groups or actual singers with decent voices, because they have to compete with an altered (potentially 'perfect-sounding') voice.

        Nonsense. We already went through this in the 1960s and 1970s, with the introduction of synthesizers. I remember a Queen [wikipedia.org] album that featured this comment on the sleeve: NO SYNTHESIZERS. They were proud of their hard work, complex guitar work, and mixing and engineering efforts. So the next authentic singing group comes around an puts NO AUTO-TUNE on their album. Problem solved.

        Authenticity becomes a selling point to those who care. Music lovers can trash-talk Britney because she uses AutoTune. Big deal -- they've been trash talking her for her entire career anyway.

        AutoTune changes nothing.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheLink (130905)
          Queen still used synths in the 80s though.

          Not sure if most people really cared whether they did or didn't. All I know is I like most of their stuff that I've heard so far :).
          • Re:Authenticity (Score:4, Informative)

            by ciderVisor (1318765) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:52PM (#26765061)

            The disclaimer on their early albums wasn't because they felt synths to be artificial or 'unmusical' or even 'cheating'. As you rightly point out - they used synths a lot in the '80s.

            It was because they, together with their producer Roy Thomas Baker, created a wall of sound using ONLY guitars and vocals as the source. They wanted people to know that these eerily perfect sounds weren't coming out of a vocoder or synthesizer - that they hadn't taken any shortcuts.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by LordVader717 (888547)

              It always makes me laugh when people praise "guitars" over synthesizers. An electric guitar/amp combo is nothig other than a very primitive analog synthesizer which uses oscillating wires as a wave-gen.

    • Re:Authenticity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:48AM (#26764101)
      And for every trend there is a counter-trend. For "authenticity" buffs there are the indie bands whose voices warble to detuned thrift-shop guitars recorded on audiocasette in a tool shed.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by British (51765)

        There is some truth to this. I know of plenty of bands that didn't have much money & they had to rely on their own creativity(lyrics, etc) without any extra dough from the record company. The result is their best music. once they get popular, the record company throws horn sections, a popular producer, etc, and it sounds bland and over-produced. ANY new wave band that gets a horn section that never had one before is a guaranteed failure. Devo's "Oh No! It's Devo!" screamed "we're trying to finish out ou

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bonch (38532)

      What does authenticity have to do with music?

      Ashley Simpson posts on Slashdot?

  • As these techniques improve and become more popular, it makes me wonder what music produced twenty or fifty years from now will sound like, and how much authenticity will be left.

    Are you serious? Is hip-hop and R&B the only form of music? Most modern folk, rock, and classical recordings have far more fidelity (thus more authentic to the original sound of performance) than those made twenty or fifty years ago.

    • by tompaulco (629533) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:34AM (#26763995) Homepage Journal
      Is hip-hop and R&B the only form of music?
      Is hip-hop and R&B EVEN a form of music?
      Actually, I kind of like R&B, but I refuse to recognize Hip-Hop as music. I mean sure, it's got a beat and you can kill cops to it, but it's still lacking something.
      • Re:Inauthentic? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tuba_dude (584287) <tuba.terry@gmail.com> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:43AM (#26764065) Homepage Journal

        ...but I refuse to recognize Hip-Hop as music. I mean sure, it's got a beat and you can kill cops to it, but it's still lacking something.

        It's poetry with a beat behind it! And guns! They're like beatniks with automatic weapons.

      • by plover (150551) *

        I refuse to recognize Hip-Hop as music. I mean sure, it's got a beat and you can kill cops to it, but it's still lacking something.

        Just remember: "You can't have 'crap' without 'rap'."

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jesus_666 (702802)
        It really depends on the artist in question. Take, for example, "Tag am Meer" [youtube.com] (actual song starts at 1:20) by German Hip Hop band Die Fantastischen Vier, an extremely relaxed song about spending a day at the beach. Granted, the band is known as a rather artsy Hip Hop band but there's plenty of bands like them.

        Most probably you only know gangsta rap as Hip Hop because that's what dominates the media in the States (whereas Germany used to be dominated by Fanta Vier and the fun-focused Hamburg rap scene). Th
  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:24AM (#26763907) Journal

    But whenever the artist is live, they end up falling flat on their face. I saw Lily Allen on Johnathon Ross the other night, and she sounds *terrible* live, I've heard schoolgirls singing along to their MP3 player better than that.

  • How long before this feature is part of the amplifier, and live musicians are singing 'tweaked' vocals?
    At first I thought that there will always be authentic live music, but thinking some more, maybe that is doomed too.
    Of course you can always switch it off.

    • Re:Real Time? (Score:4, Informative)

      by tompaulco (629533) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:36AM (#26764015) Homepage Journal
      I have a harmonizer that I bought back before this guy supposedly invented this process, which does pitch correction in realtime, and can definitely be used live.
      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        I have a harmonizer that I bought back before this guy supposedly invented this process

        Incidentally, how do harmonizers work? IIRC I've heard that they've been around since the mid-1970s [blogcritics.org], but surely that was years before digital processing was possible- so how did they do it?

        • Re:Real Time? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tompaulco (629533) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:30PM (#26764359) Homepage Journal
          I don't know how they would have worked in real time. I could see speeding up or slowing down a tape loop, but since the note length would then be different, you'd have to splice in or remove enough tape to make the notes end at the same time.
          Mine is digital and works in real time just fine. I only ever really used it for live stuff as in the studio, I would just have all the harmonies sung and recorded individually.
          My harmonizer would let you do interesting things like assigning certain tracks as male and certain tracks as female and it would change your voice inflection to match appropriately.
          As I mentioned, it also had a pitch corrector. When I first got it, I played around with the pitch corrector as a novelty, but I never used it in a performance or recording. Part of what makes a voice interesting is that it is not perfect. It is a fine line for certain. Too perfect sounds flat and boring. Too imperfect sounds dissonant and terrible. I like Sheryl Crow's voice because it is not perfect and it always sounds like she's just about to be badly off key, but it never happens.
          Similarly, in orchestral music, if two perfectly in tune trumpets played, it would sound like one trumpet, which would not be that interesting. Two badly out of tune trumpets playing would sound like two badly out of tune trumpets playing and would sound awful. Two trumpets that are nearly but not exactly in tune gives just enough dissonance to give a rich, full sound.
    • You can use Autotune live just as easily as you can in the studio.

      In the studio, you can here what it sounds like before cutting it, while live, unless you sing exactly the same every time, it's not perfectly predictable. I supposed if you adjusted the plugin to your average level of crappiness you could probably sing pretty well with it.

  • Don't worry, soon actual artificial singers will have replaced artificial-sounding pop singers. Sure, the current Vocaloid offerings are still distinguishable from human singers for lead vocals, but when used professionally and as part of a backing track you'd never notice.
    • Don't worry, soon actual artificial singers will have replaced artificial-sounding pop singers.

      And I, for one, will welcome our robo-singing popular-music overlords.

  • Overused & Abused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:25AM (#26763919) Journal

    I never figured anyone in their right mind would want to do that

    And who ever discovered analogue distortion by maxing the signal probably thought no one in their right mind would use that either. They were wrong. However, whoever discovered digital distortion by clipping probably thought no one in their right mind would want to use that ... and they have been for the most part correct.

    I'm going to make a prediction that this is going to turn out to be a lot like synth drums in the 80s. They were invented for fast beats that no human drummer could play. Except everyone started using them. On every song--with utter disregard for whether or not a regular drummer could play that. And what we have is a lot of hot fast songs from the 80s with synth drums and a whole bunch of hilariously cheesy disgusting synthesized drum songs. Synth drums are still used today but tastefully and when needed and--most importantly--in moderation.

    I predict that we will look back at this vocal manipulation and see it the same way. It will have its place in a studio's toolbox where people want to modulate their voice unnaturally fast for a single song and can experiment with it. But these albums where every song has this applied to it are probably going to look like we resurrected & worshipped Max Headroom to future generations.

    One more important thing: you don't know who is doing this. Is it Britney Spears? Does she really have control over her music? Are the fans actually demanding it? If this package is only $600 then why don't we see more bands (even independent) using this stuff? That's within any studio's price range.

    I'm going to guess that it's safer for the corporate guys who run Spears & Co to bet on a machine to make perfect pitch. The fans are just told what to listen to by the radio anyway. I still get a kick out of listening to people defend Britney Spears as a talented musician when I'm pretty sure she's just a world class entertainer. Someone else shows her what to sing and how to dance--she's the piece of meat that keeps sales coming. Sad really.

    Kudos to Hildebrand for making such a large jump between two completely different fields for the same technology. That stuff is getting more and more rare these days. Unfortunately it's for two of my least favorite industries :)

    • Re:Overused & Abused (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:37AM (#26764023)
      Mod parent up! The post is spot-on. In another 10-20 years, we'll be able to look back/listen to today's pop hits and say "There's that mid/late-oughts synthesized vocal sound." And yes, in the future it will be used to add a nostalgic element to music. The same as with the synth drums example in the previous post. The same as with the Phil Specter wall-of-sound reverb effect. It's a style that's part of the production toolbox. Just that at the moment it's the tool that's being overused.

      And the parent is also absolutely correct re: "artistic input" of the modern-day pop idol. For a brief while I worked as a PA to a guy who wrote/produced songs for hit machines like Britney. When he and his partner would write a new song, I'd be the one sending it out to various talent managers to shop it around. Some wouldn't be interested, others would. It's not unlike actors vying for a leading role in a movie. Several audition to get the song, and one gets it. They're just the presentation face. To use the movie analogy again, do you think the actors write the lines that they say? They have a little input, but for the most part, they're just the hired help that's being told what to do.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dogtanian (588974)

      And who ever discovered analogue distortion by maxing the signal probably thought no one in their right mind would use that either. They were wrong.

      First time I heard "Revolution" by The Beatles I thought there was something wrong with the recording or the amplifier- I didn't realise it was *meant* to sound like that. I remember coming across a review of the song from when it first came out which described it as a "fuzzy mess".

  • How much authenticity is left now in pop music?

    There was a time when lip syncing would get your grammys taken away and have you shun by the music Industry and fans. These days it just seems commonplace.

  • by mrL1nX (798019) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:25AM (#26763925) Homepage
    As a musician and a sound engineer I shun everyone who relies on Auto Tune to make themselves sing in pitch!

    If you don't have the vocal ability to sing in tune then you shouldn't be singing.

    I think it's disgraceful that AutoTune be used for anything other than correcting minor blemishes and should never be used live. In fact, I usually take the stance that if I can't reproduce the effect live then I won't put it into the song. The audience has paid to see a live performance. Not your studio album played through speakers.

    Unfortunately this is becoming all too common nowadays, using digital tools to touch everything up because you can. I weep for music's future.
    • by Zironic (1112127)

      I thought it was generally accepted that it's impossible for a human to sing in perfect pitch.

      Personally I find it fairly interesting to see how people use technology to make better sounding music.

      Anyhow it's probably not very important if all the sound can be replicated in full quality live since a live audience performance is all about the environment and the show and people care a lot less about how the actual music sounds.

      • by snl2587 (1177409)

        I thought it was generally accepted that it's impossible for a human to sing in perfect pitch.

        Not impossible, just very, very difficult.

        Personally I find it fairly interesting to see how people use technology to make better sounding music.

        I can't say that I like a single vocalist that uses Autotune on a frequent basis...and it's not even necessarily because they use Autotune. It's because their music can't stand for itself.

        Anyhow it's probably not very important if all the sound can be replicated in full quality live since a live audience performance is all about the environment and the show and people care a lot less about how the actual music sounds.

        That really depends, again, on what type of music we're talking about here. I've been to shows where I've walked out because the sound was terrible (never for my favorite bands, but that's kind of why they're my favorites: they almost always sound good) and other shows where the ba

    • by DarkOx (621550)

      Provided the musican is more then just a performer but also a composer I don't have a problem with them using any tool in their art. Where I take issue with something like this is when they start using it all the time. Its one thing to do it on a few songs you want to sound a certain way for asthetic reasons because its "neat, interesting, creates a certain mood whatever", if you are doing it everywhere though then its no longer an artistic tool its just a cruch.

      Take Andy Whorhol and the other pop artists

  • I listen to quite a lot of MIDI/XM/MOD stuff already, and some are actually very decent.

  • Old technology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tompaulco (629533) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:31AM (#26763969) Homepage Journal
    Hildebrand may have invented the particular algorithm which is used by many musicians, but the ability to electronically pitch correct has been around for quite some time. I have a harmonizer from that period of time which has a perfect pitch setting where it samples your voice and corrects it to the nearest pitch.
    I was going to suggest that the vocoder was much older technology that does the same thing, however more research shows that Hilderbrands implementation actually uses a phase vocoder.
    That said, the use of the autotune in the forefront I find absolutely atrocious. To me it's the musical equivalent of applying makeup in order to highlight the mole on your face.
  • As these techniques improve and become more popular, it makes me wonder what music produced twenty or fifty years from now will sound like, and how much authenticity will be left.

    You make it sound like there's any authenticity now. Authenticity in the music business is an airbrush used to sell an artist's music. There's no reality to an "authentic" sound. You don't get a certificate with your CD or MP3 that says "this artist is an authentic descendant of Elbonian yak callers, and his music is guaranteed an authentic rendition of that ancient culture" (well, and actually means it).

  • AudioSlave (Score:5, Informative)

    by bhsx (458600) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:34AM (#26763991)
    Chris Cornell uses this for the end of "I Am The Highway" (i think that's the name). That's what their talking about when referring to using it in unusual, unanticipated ways.
  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:34AM (#26763997) Homepage

    The article is about people using this technology to produce effects, so the word "deliberate deception" no longer seems to apply. In this case it's an instrument, like synthesizer or even a lute.

    Scene: 9,000 BC:
    Hey, that guy has some gut strings on a hollow log that he makes vibrate, and they're tuned in harmony! He plucks them as he sings, so he can sing in tune all the time! That's deliberate deception!

  • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:36AM (#26764013)

    I could not care in the least whether the voice on "Circus" and "Toxic" belongs to a young blond woman named Britney Spears or an AI in a basement in Kyoto. It's pop music: flash, rhymes, synth, beat, top hat and just enough cowbell. Ever since MTV it's also been good looks and plenty of skin, and that's fine too. Lemme say it again: It's Pop Music! It's not classical, or jazz, or standards, or any of the genres which mandate legit chops. When I listen to a pop song, I am under no illusion that the person credited wrote the song, is playing the instrument, or sings like that in real life. I don't care about the artist (or his/her politics) I care about the production of the song.

    Jeez... didn't The Monkees teach us anything?

  • I'm guessing there'll be as much authenticity in pop music ten years from now as there is in the cover of beauty magazines (Cosmo et al.) now.
  • by Guppy (12314) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @11:39AM (#26764039)

    Or perhaps for some purposes, we'll eventually dispense with real vocalists altogether -- Vocaloid [wikipedia.org]. A few quick examples of Miku Hatsune's work:

    Reset: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrCxVzocnyo [youtube.com]
    Uninstall: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-fja9RtRBc [youtube.com]
    You: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AV5JH8jUeXY [youtube.com]

    BTW, if anyone has any other examples they're particularly fond of, please link below.

  • I think I heard that shit on a radio ad a couple months ago. It ended with a song with a female singer. Sounded real, but there were these step transitions between the notes, and I thought it was some sort of computer generated or sampled voice.

  • Kanye will eventually get shot by one of his employees/managers/rivals, and auto-tune will go back into hibernation for another decade.

    Eventually, "artists" will learn that electronic music tools should remain in the electronic music genre, as sonic exploration devices. Daft Punk can auto-tune whatever the hell they want, because they're not in the singing business.

    In other words, if your computer does the singing for you, don't go around telling people you can sing.

  • Rush said it best. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by koan (80826) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:01PM (#26764189)

    All this machinery
    Making modern music
    Can still be open-hearted
    Not so coldly charted
    Its really just a question
    Of your honesty

  • Where can I get one of these autotuners? Oh, and where's the next American Idol session being held?
  • I don't have a problem when Mr. Incredible is not a real person, why should have a problem when his voice is synthetic as well.

  • by rivaldufus (634820) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @12:23PM (#26764323)
    II think the issue is that people never learn the skills to sing in tune. It's not something one has to inherit, either. Singing in tune is kind of a fundamental skill, for a singer... kind of like how novelists learn to read and write. I've often wondered that... it doesn't very long to learn to read music... yet so many pop musicians can't do it. Why don't they make the effort? It's a good thing Shakespeare and all the other famous writers/poets learned to write. Anyway, 99% of the "music" released today is pretty much garbage, but I guess the target audience is what really matters.
  • by obarthelemy (160321) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @01:49PM (#26765031)

    it already mainly comes
    - not live, but from a piece of plastic
    - not "natural", but from artificial instruments/synthetizers
    - not as played, but from a careful, non real-time, mix of several tracks recorded separately
    - from a performer different than the creator

    All of these would have been anathema to snobs at some earlier time. There is stil music I like, and there will still be for a long time.

    So, next to get the "improve" treatment is the vocal part. How is that different from the rest ? WHo cares ?

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <.gro.todhsals. .ta. .deteled.> on Saturday February 07, 2009 @02:04PM (#26765151)

    Vocoders have been developed since 1936.

    The problems always were the number of channels/bands. The more, the better it sounds. But only with computers, you can simulate many of them, without it resulting a huge machine.
    As an example, a typical vocoder that I used for fun effects (because nobody says than any of the two inputs has to be voice, or even an instrument), had 8 bands.

    Modern software, like the one from "Native Instruments" has 1024 bands, and I bet they went up since I last looked, nearly two years ago.

    And that's all. It's just that since it was the style at that time to add noticeable vocoder effects on purpose, and that nowadays you can have them very powerful and very cheap, that everybody knows how to use them. So if you're a big music producer of a crook (which is the same thing) why not make more cash, by not letting you stop by the little annoyance of a totally crappy singer, when she has big tits.

  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:06PM (#26766269) Journal
    I make electronic music. A lot of it - and for me, we are in a golden age...

    That said, autotune is the oldschool. Melodyne [youtube.com] is the Real Deal and it kicks ass. Direct note Access is freakin' nuts.

    RS

  • Sounds familiar... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Miseph (979059) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @04:29PM (#26766463) Journal

    'I never figured anyone in their right mind would want to do that'

    I read a history of rock music at one pint, and I can't remember the author's name, but he had an apogryphal quote from the guy generally credited as the first guitarist to ever install a pickup and plug into an amplifier to that same effect... this genius had found a way to make a guitar loud enough to fill any sort of space and facilitate large venue shows, but he couldn't fathom turning the amplification up "too high" and causing distortion as an artistic decision... let alone getting rid of the hollow body altogether and using his invention exclusively to actually generate audible sound.

    It never fails to surprise how unimaginative visionaries can be.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Saturday February 07, 2009 @05:34PM (#26766897) Journal

    Sasha Frere of The New Yorker wrote an article on this several months ago. It's here [newyorker.com] and talks about the place that autotune has in modern music and how it's being used and misused.
    Among other things discussed in the article is the zero-time adjustment setting, which is often referred to as the Cher setting, based on her use of it in her 1998 hit "Believe". It's a better read, in MY opinion, than TFA.

The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell. -- Confucius

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