Commentary
7:52 am
Tue October 30, 2012

Musical Space: Auto-Tune

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Auto-tune first appeared in the late 1990s and quickly took hold of pop music with its use in Cher’s 1998 hit, “Believe.” She, and other artists, such as T-Pain were responsible for its popularity, its synthetic voice effect in electronic dance music and hip-hop.

Scary, though, is the more subtle use of auto-tune to correct the performance of a less-than pitch perfect singer. A great vocal performance can be accurate and expressive; electronics can often get in the way.

Here’s Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” I’ll pull the other tracks down so you can hear Marvin belt out the chorus.

If I apply auto-tune and change the key, my computer strips the passion and intensity from Marvin’s voice, substituting sterile, robotic precision. Interesting, maybe, but to me it doesn’t sound like he’s singing a love song anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about technology. All I’m saying is that if you hear a really accurate performance from a new song on the radio, it’s probably too good to be true.

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