Does Autotune Equal Automatic Trash?
Tuesday night I'm watching TJ Chapman's Live Indie Music Reviews on his Facebook page. It's after 7pm, he's in the middle of a hurricane and he's about to break his record of 750 shares and we're not even halfway through the show! Yes, that's how important live feedback is.
The first song up is an acoustic guitar piece and although the vocals were pitchy and the strumming wasn't in time, the track played a lot longer and received a way better response than some of the auto-tuned tracks that were submitted - It scored a 2.5 while it's autotuned competitors scored between 0-1.5. That's right, the viewers preferred off-tune real vocals than robotic sounding in-tune vocals. It appears autotune is to Singing what Ghostwriting is Rapping - It might get an artist into rotation, but with the growing hate for the aid, it probably will not keep them there and gain them some notable detractors.
The comments flying across TJ's livestream chat are only for the tough skinned with laughing emoji's floating around the trickled in comments of "NOPE" "Aawww Man" and "Another autotuned rapper/singer lol". I wonder if anyone listened past the effect to judge the song itself? Can someone truly analyze the structure, delivery, creativity or production of a project if the moment they hear the autotune effect they scream "NEXT!" is the effect really that hard on the ears? is it an easy way to tell an artist their project needs work without saying they are talentless? is it both?
Let's address first what autotune is. It's a pitch corrector. If you hit an A, but it sounds more like an A Flat, then the autotune (a pro audio pitch correction plug-in) in the RIGHT hands (a trained experienced engineer) will fix it and it will be unnoticeable.
Because autotune was designed to perfect a note, not an entire performance we can agree that autotune doesn't add talent. Therefore, engineers who are using the auto tune effect as a cure all are not using the effect properly. If the artist's delivery is out of tune AND bad (off timing, poorly written lyrics, inconsistent concept, wack beat) then autotune will only make the project sound like trash that's in-tune. DJ Booth wrote an article last year about singer-songwriter & producer SYD stating how if you can't sing to begin with then autotune will only make you sound WORSE. When autotune is over manipulated during the mixing process, the sound is aggravating to both the lost potential fans and the professionally trained ears trying to help break the artist. - The track will get DOUBLE the negative feedback; one time for the artist, two times for the studio. Engineers have to be exceptionally careful when mixing with pitch correction because many artists were receiving just as many "Get a better engineer" or "Change your studio" comments as they were getting the "Please, my ears" and "Trash" remarks while their track was playing in a livestream that had over 26 thousand views.
Poor engineering only plays a part in what's behind the hatred for the effect. I still don't understand why the general assumption that ALL of the artists using autotune lack talent and creativity. In the same year Jay-Z released “Death to Autotune”, MSNBC contributor Tony Sclafani stated in a Today Music article that even though we had singers who can actually sing they could never sing "for real" like the Motown crooners before them - since they were are able to get by on looks, publicity and autotune. Really Tony? I had to research some of Billboards 2009 R&B hits and looking at some of the songs topping charts I don't see why he took that position. There was Jeremih - “Birthday Sex”, Maxwell - “Pretty Wings”, and Trey Songz - “I Invented Sex”, to name a few. YES, all three artists had plenty of looks and publicity but to credit autotune for creating their signature sounds or enhancing their songwriting abilities is quite a reach. Anyone who has heard Maxwell's “Ascension” knows that there'd be no mistaking Maxwell's style, songwriting structure & vocal ability, delivery, pitch or range for another singer's - simply due to an autotune plug-in. Ryan Bassil of Noisey wrote back in 2015 "It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Lil Wayne isn’t coming up with more metaphors and similes than an English language text book because he’s put his voice through a pro-tool."
Music fans and professionals will go back and forth about what autotune is and what autotune isn't doing to music, but we all agree on what it was originally created to do, which is correct a note. It won't write songs, make the songs lyrics make sense, it doesn't help an artist hold a note longer, louder or with emotion. It is an engineer’s tool meant to take an A to an A Flat unnoticeably, when used correctly. Used incorrectly? Results can vary, as with any other tool used outside of it's purpose.