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Auto-Tune... (10 Years Later)

This is something that I’ve wanted to talk about for the longest time. It’s something that both; helps people create and is slowly killing the music industry, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on Auto-tune. Now let me get one thing clear, when it comes to certain styles and genres, most producers and artists would be completely lost and unsuccessful without Auto-tune. For anthems and remixes it’s the perfect tool to either sculpt the formants of the voice to fit the project or completely change the key of an original sample whilst maintaining the integrity of the audio. The issue now however, is that the use of Auto-tune and ‘Pitch Correction Engines’ (same thing, different name) is taking a distinct toll on the way we perceive a persons voice.

Without trying to ‘out’ certain artists, I was fortunate to land a co-mixer session for a British band who fuses classical music, dub step and hard rock. The singer is well known and so I won’t mention the band name or his real name, but it is suffice to say, every single track that he recorded for his vocals had an auto tune plugin on the first insert. Literally everything. This was both extremely revealing and incredibly disappointing. After a lengthy discussion with the singer, I realised that not only was auto tune applied in the studio, but it was applied on tour. Auto-tune rigs have been used on tour for years and so it’s not a ‘new endeavour’ however, the way that this particular singer uses auto-tune is not ‘standard’. 

The ‘standard’ auto tune procedure was designed to move a melody ‘more’ in tune. This can be done manually, by clicking and dragging the notes into their correct positions or it can be done automatically, set to a specific key or series of notes. This singer however, didn’t have an issue with tuning, he had an issue with the vibrato on his voice… After prolonged periods of singing (studio and live) he would simply lose his ability to add vibrato to his legato notes. The clever trick that he used was to feed a slow moving sine wave (I believe it was at 600Hz) through the audio engine, which would manufacture a vibrato effect on his voice. It was rather ingenious if I’m honest. This was clearly a scenario that needed to use an auto tune based engine, because otherwise his notes would not hold.

I’ve not been a stranger to auto tune and it’s uses. For the longest time my band mates Callum, Aiden and I were experimenting with various types of auto tune. I’ve even made entire albums (a long, long time ago) using auto-tune. For me, it’s great for the more synthetic side of my productions. I could never dream of using it on my more recent projects, for me, auto tune reminds me of a specific time in my quest to be a better musician and producer. Fortunately for me, my iLok license keys were stolen recently and therefore I couldn’t use it even if I wanted to (Dat Cold Turkey Studio Massive). It wasn’t that long ago that I wanted to try and achieve the ‘auto-tune’ effect without using auto tune. The best example I have (without sounding like a dick who is trying to get you to buy his music, don’t, donate it to war child instead) was on a recent album I created with a few friends from a AAA gaming studio called ‘Extinction’. The example is on the beginning of the chorus of a song called ‘The Apostle’s Gaze’ where I really wanted that classic, immediate uplift to a note that auto-tune would normally create. It’s the part that sings;

"We’ll lo-ok into Apostle’s Gaze…”

For this effect, I ended up tracking the chorus about 40 times, always trying to get two perfect notes, the first for the first half of look and the second for the second half of look. The result was then cut together to make the traditional auto-tune effect, but without compromising the integrity of the sound recording. I use this technique sometimes when I’m making more industrial music, it really helps drive a melody and it cuts through a mix well too. It’s strange, I did my singing grades when I was young and joined a choir, I was a solo singer and then joined an acapella group, but then I toured a lot with a hard rock ground who no longer exist and my voice became this unusual and unrefined anomaly that I now live with. The reason that I wanted to talk about auto-tune is because my ‘production’ quest is now in full force and my mind has now regained clarity and I realise that I am in love with the musical ideology of ‘imperfection’. If I think of my three favourite songwriters, Cohen, Mason and Carrabas, I don’t think of vocal perfection, I think of the natural delivery and the fact that they don’t give a solitary fuck whether something is 100% in tune with A 440.

Be good.

- Benn

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