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Auto-tuned out

Artists are supplementing lack of talent with technology.

Published July 7, 2010

A decade into the 21st century, we’ve entered a technologically futuristic era. From touch-screen phones to 4G networks to 3D televisions, it only makes sense that today’s mainstream music would be similarly computerized.

Originally created by Antares Audio Technologies, auto-tune was used to correct pitch problems in both vocal and instrumental performances. Auto-tune has been used by various mainstream singers, such as country stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, to correct such pitch problems without generating any significant vocal alterations.

The technology has also paved the way for artists to produce a synthesized vocal sound. Hip-hop artist T-Pain is responsible for the revival of the effect formerly used by Roger Troutman and Cher, sparking a wave of synthesized hooks appropriately dubbed the “T-Pain effect.” The use of auto-tune has digitized the sounds of nearly every mainstream artist across numerous genres. In spite of the massive success auto-tune has seen in recent years, its frequent use has hindered the music industry enough to endure its fair share of negative scrutiny.

Despite its prevalence on most mainstream radio channels, auto-tune has served as a musical crutch for multitudes of MySpace musicians who rely heavily on the audio processor to mask and distort vocal imperfections enough to sound like other heavily synthesized songs on the radio. With such a prominent use of the effect sweeping across the music industry, it’s inevitable that its use will slowly begin to outgrow its popularity.

Some artists, though, already see auto-tune as a thing of the past.

Jay-Z’s 2009 release “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” eulogized the effect, disdainfully renouncing its overuse in the music industry, particularly in hip-hop and rap. By allowing excessive accessibility to the music industry, the synthetic talent that auto-tune produces when overused undermines the efforts of artists with genuine vocal and instrumental talents who are forced to compete with the wildly popular sounds of auto-tuned music.

On the other end of the spectrum, up-and-coming artists are willing to embrace auto-tune in order to enjoy the benefits of its convenient assistance. Rapper Andrew “Drew32” Parks, an up-and-coming artist who has enjoyed generous music video play on Comcast On Demand, Fuse TV and at Foot Lockers and FYEs across the nation, commented on his use of auto-tune.

“I just use it as a tool to make me sound on pitch and in tune,” Parks said. “I'm not a big fan of overusing auto-tune. When I use it on my own vocals, I usually put the effect on a medium or light setting.”

Essentially, auto-tune has significantly altered the sounds of today’s mainstream music, synthesizing everyone and everything from hardcore rap to Disney teen pop. Such a major trend is destined to either establish itself as a longstanding presence in the industry or die off as quickly and unglamorously as previous acts, such as the techno sounds of Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” or the bubblegum pop of the late 1990s and early 2000s. If enough artists are willing to go it alone without the effect, auto-tune might very well be on its way out the industry’s back door.

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