Auto-tune: Is Technology Substituting Talent?

Posted on June 18, 2012 in Media and Culture

By Ankit Varma:

Science and technology have influenced every walk of life. Technological innovations have changed the way we communicate, solve problems, think and also the way we sing. Auto-tune, a pitch correction technology was the brain child of Andy Hildebrand. Andy Hildebrand spent years interpreting seismic data for the oil industry and later put his knowledge to invent auto-tune, a device which later became a topic of raging debate in the music industry.

Auto-tune in its earliest form was an instrument used to automatically correct the pitch of the voice and to fix flubbed notes; saving the recording studios the expense and hassle of redoing it. Auto-tune is often credited with enhancing music, giving artists a new avenue and sound of expression. Auto-tune in its primitive form was used to fix a note or two. But in the current situational matrix, it is being used extensively to surgically improve the vocal character. Rick Rubin, an American record producer and staunch critic of auto-tune says that “Everything is in perfect pitch, perfect time and perfect tune”. Citing reasons for his position Rubin adds that “Sometimes a singer will do lots of takes when they’re recording a song, and you can hear the emotional difference when someone does a great performance versus an average one.” In simple words Rubin accuses auto-tune of promoting complacency; if an artist knows that his melody will be pitch-corrected he or she might not make an effort. But there is a sizeable part of the music industry professing unhindered use of auto-tune.

American artist T-Pain has been an ardent supporter of auto-tune and has acknowledged the active use of the technology. Often criticized for heavy use of auto-tune, T-Pain remains unfazed. His argument is- auto-tune is less a way to hide his voice but to create music in a different way. He has acknowledged the impact of auto-tune on his career and says that “I’d rather be known for something than unknown for something”. He is now a name to reckon with in the American music industry and has created some very popular tracks. T-Pain’s success is a clear indication that the audience is not bothered about whether the music is auto-tuned or authentic; it’s the end product that counts. In a more definite way, it’s just the use of technology to perfect art. The artists often accuse auto-tune of commercialization of music, but music industry like any other sector has become fiercely competitive and no artist can deny the use of technology in some form through out the process. More importantly auto-tune comes into play only after the recording of the melody. Artist still has to be given the complete credit for writing and producing it. Emotional argument is more of an apprehension than a concern. It bears a very close resemblance to the way people reacted on the introduction of technology in sports. For example, Roger Federer termed the debut of Hawk-Eye technology as madness. The degree of emotions an artist puts into his or her performance is independent of the fact that the artist is making use of some form of technology. Does the producer of a 3-D film have the liberty of having an average story line or lack luster acting?

It would not be fair to term auto-tune as a gimmick, it’s an innovation of the highest grade and like all other industries, and the music industry has the complete freedom to incorporate technology to deliver a better product.

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