To quote Howard Beale from “Network”:
“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
So what am I so mad as hell about? Freaking “Auto Tune Cher Sounding Shit-Hop” Rap and R&B. That’s what! I’ve had it with that Cher sounding freaky “Auto Tune” crap. Yeah it was interesting at first, but now it makes me want to crash my car into a phone-pole every time I hear it. Before I totally lose a nut and start going off, here’s a little background on the effects. Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder first started experimenting with running a human voice through a keyboard to flatten it out into exact notes in the 1970’s. They did it to create freaky robot singing effects in the 1970’s that no one had ever heard plus they did it without digital effects and without computers. Vocoders give that robot sounding voice effect blended with a human voice (think “Cylon and Garfunkel). Vocoders can only be effectively used by talented musicians and/or producers with perfect pitch who know exactly what notes they are singing and then use the keyboard of the synthesizer to play those notes giving a unique vocal effect.
A lot of people confuse the vocoder with a talk-box, like the ones heard in Frampton’s “Do You Feel?”, Motley Crue’s Mick Mars’ solo during “Kickstart my Heart”, the intro to “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith, and Roger Troutman’s singing in Zapp. With a talk-box, you still have to know how to sing and/or play your instrument, plus you have to manipulate the tube in your mouth (more on that later).
So what is “Auto Tune” and why am I so pissed off about it? According to Wikipedia “Auto-Tune” is a proprietary audio processor created by Antares Audio Technologies that uses a phase vocoder to correct pitch in vocal and instrumental performances. It’s the first pitch correcting software to work in real time, which means that you sing into it and it forces the sound into perfect pitches whether you are in the studio or live. You can also play guitar into it and it tunes the sound to the right pitches. It’s totally digital and it can be used by anyone regardless of their singing and or instrumental skill. Cher first did it in what has got to be one of the worst songs of the last 10 years, “Believe”, but it wasn’t until Kanye West’s use of the software that “Auto Tune” exploded into the newest genre of Hip Hop and R & B that I like to call “Auto Tune Cher Sounding Shit-Hop”. Listen to some examples:
Cher – “Believe” -1998
Lil’ Wayne – “Lollipop” – 2008
Kanye West – “Heartless” – 2008
I could post some more but I think you get the picture. The thing that pisses me off isn’t the fact that it makes you sound like you can actually sing, nor the fact that they are starting to use it in live performances, and not even the fact that it sounds annoying as hell. The thing that pisses me off most is that this software is cheap and anyone who sings into it sounds like Kanye or Lil’ Wayne and thus the imitators are now flooding the airwaves and probably will be for the next ten years or so, if we’re lucky. Do a YouTube search on “Auto Tune” to see what I mean.
Oh and if your still wondering about the “Talk Box Effect” here’s the deal on that. It’s pretty cool and I’ve always wanted to get one. It’s a plastic tube that runs from your mouth to an airtight speaker that vibrates based on how you manipulate it with your mouth. It’s totally analog, the small speaker vibrates which is then run into an amplifier for guitars and vocals or any other instrument. Peter Frampton used one to make his guitar talk, to the utter amazement of stoned teenagers around the world. As far as singing into the Talk Box, Roger Troutman, lead singer of Zapp was probably the most talented Talk Box singer. You may remember him from Zapp hits like “More Bounce to the Ounce” and his guest vocals on Tupac and Dre’s “California Love”.
More Bounce to the Ounce – Zapp – 1980
Peter Frampton apparently still comes alive – 2008
California Love – TuPac and Dre – 1995
So had enough vocal manipulation talk? Here’s one more. This one uses a vocoder synth patch which layers multiple harmonies on top of vocals. Watch her keyboard work, she’s playing the chords and harmonics of what she is singing.
Hide and Seek – Imogen Heap – live on the air – Indie 103.1 – Los Angeles – 7/13/2007
So what’s my point? I guess it’s that snazzy effects will only get you so far. When you combine true singing talent, like Imogen Heap, with cutting edge vocal effects, you can get something truly amazing.