Have you noticed that Auto-Tune has changed the way we sing when we sing without it? We=Artists, Demo Singers, Us.
Our brains have become wired to believe that that’s the way voices sound naturally. The Auto-Tuned vibe—that jiggly vibrato and the slippery robotic swoop when the processor is trying to locate the actual note it thinks the voice is supposed to be on—has become something we strive for whether or not the actual device is engaged.
That “supposed to be” is arguable. If the voice didn’t want to be there, there’s a reason it didn’t go there. (Perhaps it didn’t feel it.)
Yesterday I was listening to Classic Rock (what else is new?)—and heard songs that were recorded long before the idea of having a plug-in that tuned a vocal was a sparkle in a techie’s eye—and I thought to myself: wow…a little flat here…a little sharp there. So what. It never bothered me back then. I don’t think I even noticed. There was a soulfulness to those imperfect vocals…just like the humans who sang them. Full of sharps and flats. Nobody’s life is perfectly on pitch.
But with all the technology we have on hand post millennium, there’s no excuse for anyone to be off-key. If my co-writer and I realize that the singer we’re in the studio with is not as flawless as she sounded on the songs she posted on YouTube (hmm, how can that possibly be?) we just flip the switch…and voila. Hey, even when I sing a vocal, I ask the engineer to crank it so I won’t have to try so hard to sound like everybody else. Because I don’t. Why is that bad? It’s not. It’s just that most mainstream vocals do sound the same. Same tone, same cadence, same swoop. There’s an expectation. And if I want in, it behooves me to when-in-Rome-it.
This is akin, I guess, to how I’ve felt living in a town (humor me), where so many breasts are firmer, rounder and higher than anatomically plausible. It used to look strange to the eye. It doesn’t any more. I invested in a more substantial bra (or two). I can easily return to lycra when the au natural look comes back. And it will.
Just like breasts, the fashion of recorded vocals evolves. We go from reverb to dry to reverb again. Like everything else that is energized by change, so too, are our ears. If everything was as it was when we were growing up, we would be bored out of our minds. Even if we were sure that that era of music was superior. We need change.
It’s safe to assume that when we’ve had enough of the artificially tuned, we (Artists, Demo Singers, Us), will entertain venturing slightly sharp or flat again, on purpose, even those of us who have perfect pitch. And everyone’s gonna go… “cool.”
It’ll sound strange at first, just like the first time we heard Cher warble on “Believe,” and we thought WTF? But then we’ll all get used to it and that will be the new norm. Again.
Personally I look forward to it. I am in favor of anything being a little rough around the edges.
Of course, in some future decade, pitch correction will resurface. Like flair to skinny to flair. But by that time I’ll be a grandmother. And I’m not sure how much I’ll care about my singing voice. Or the cut of my jeans. Or a more substantial bra. Until then…crank up the Melodyne.
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