Perfect pitch for the not-so-perfect musician

Music historians may look back to 1998 as a landmark year in the recording industry. That’s when Cher released her song “Believe.” Listeners were fascinated by the use of a vocoder on the vocals, especially in the chorus line “Do you believe in life after love.” Prior to that vocoders had been used primarily for extreme sci-fi sounding effects.

notesWhile Cher’s engineers still used the vocoder as a more subtle effect, the evolution of the technology has led to auto-tune pitch correction. Today, it’s common for engineers to use this to give perfect pitch to vocal tracks, and some singers are using it for live performances as well. Simply put, it’s become a trick to give the illusion of perfect pitch rather than a studio effect.

Although I thought Aretha Franklin sounded great during her performance at Obama’s inauguration, a few critics complained she was a bit off pitch. As Josh Tyrangiel discusses in Time magazine, because auto-tune has become almost ubiquitous in the music industry, many casual music listeners have become so accustomed to perfection that they don’t hear the beauty of a real voice. This forces an inevitable comparison between a singer using auto-tune to a woman having breast implants.

Ultimately, I wonder if auto-tune may eventually stunt the musical growth of some singers. Why should they keep concentrating on pitch control when close enough is good enough for digital perfection?

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~ by bakerumedia on August 4, 2009.

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