The Other Way Autotune Ruins Singers

Being lazy is just so much easier.

Auto-Tune can ruin singers, but not just the way most people think. The standard lament was expressed in passing by Raph Koster:

We disdain Auto-Tune because it does something for you that you cannot do yourself, and thereby also removes all the personal expression from the process. But we don’t disdain singing on pitch, or tuning your guitar, in the name of “personal expression.”

Koster was writing about something completely different, but the the point he made was the usual one. Rock music in general–and I’m using the term in a fairly wide, Frithian sense–is still obsessed with authenticity, leading to such generalizations as “using tools to fake human expressions is bad.” (I’m not saying this is what Koster claims per se, just that he is on the continuum.)

But there’s a much subtler effect, too. It’s that Auto-Tune can make singers stop practicing.

I’m by no means a professional singer, barely even an amateur. There’s been a band or two, and we even made a demo cd way back when a 4-track was the best piece of recording equipment we could borrow. It meant most of my vocals were done in a single take, with maybe a chorus spliced in every now and then.

Recently we’ve set up a new virtual band by the name of Franz Humanist. We work online, sharing ideas and demo tracks, and meet occasionally to massage something coherent out of all these bits.

Recording our first demo was the first time I saw someone put my singing through the miracle machine that is Auto-Tune (actually it’s Melodyne, but tomato tomato). Correcting pitch–sure. Removing unneccessary vibrato–done and done. Lengthening short vowels and shortening long ones–yup. The end result sounded much better than any of my half a dozen takes, and it only took a couple of hours.

Listening to it, my first idea was, “okay, I’ll use this as a reference track and really nail the vocals on the next take.”

My second idea was, “oh why bother, it’s already there, and it’s not like we’re ever going to perform this live, and even if we did, people wouldn’t notice if I sang it in a different way.”

I’m pretty sure I could sing it the way it sounds now, but I’m just too lazy to practice. And you should never underestimate the power of the lazy side.