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Autotune: Is it an Improvement or a Problem?

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Lena Cakarnis, Millennials Dep. Lead

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As a species humans are always trying to improve something about themselves, may it be their skin, hair, style, diet, etc. With improvement, however, there is a line that, while very gray and very blurred depending on the situation and personal opinions, is considered no longer improving but rather detrimental. With certain technologies that line is clearly defined such as cosmetic uses and plastic surgery, yet with others that line is still being heavily negotiated with no clear ending yet in sight.

Apple’s iPhone updates is a classic example. Is a thinner phone worth a lower quality material that bends in your pocket? Or is a new app row on your screen enough to charge an extra hundred dollars? Depending on personal opinion, and maybe your income, maybe it is, or maybe it’s not. One of the more prominent gray-line negotiations is with autotune. We use it to enhance or change our voices but have we crossed the line with auto tune or is it still seen as an improvement?

For those of us that are music listeners and vocalists or musicians it’s not difficult to tell when someone’s voice or an instrument has been technologically altered to sound better in order to fit a song.

Even though this has been an ongoing debate for some time now, it was never more recognized and openly discussed as it was in February of 2011 when hit band The Black Eyed Peas performed at the super bowl halftime show along with Usher and Slash. ESPN took a poll after their performance asking the states to grade their performance on a scale from A to F, luckily for the band this wasn’t an actual school project since no state I repeat no state gave them anything higher than an F. Ouch. Talk about hurting your career and reputation. For good.

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Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl Halftime Show 2013 Nation’s backlash to live performance

That being said, once people found out the band sounds absolutely nothing like their music in concert there became an issue. “I feel like I’ve been lied to my whole childhood life, I thought they were good but they actually suck. A lot. It makes me question how much money they would have made if they actually sang for real,” Oceana Lee, a senior at Cleveland High School, commented.

Autotune is something that can be used by anyone with a computer and a headset or mic at home, making it possible for anyone to sound like a pop-sensation. Posing the question, “should we as a people believe that the use of autotune moral?” When you hear your favorite artist singing live and there is no comparison to when they are using autotune should it be considered false performing. As you may remember, at the end of the year in 2016 on New Year’s Eve, Mariah Carey’s revealed lip sync performance caused a number of people to question our world’s top artists in Hollywood and beyond. 

Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve 2016 escort off stage after lip syncing was revealed

Why was it was it so bad though? There were over all some mixed reviews ranging from Usher’s terrible fashion sense in camo to the random lyrics to “Sweet Child of Mine” which Fergie belted into the crowd. Overwhelmingly one thing stood out that resonated in everyone’s head, as in literally the country was thinking the same thing, the vocals were terrible. According to sbnation.com some people went as far as saying their vocals were the musical equivalent tear gas.

The problem lies with one simple improvement that a lot of artists, (or non-artists), use to make themselves popular in the music world. Autotune. Like many others Black Eyed Peas used autotune in the studio before ever producing a song so when their biggest hits such as “Where is the Love,” “Boom Boom Pow,” and “I Gotta Feeling” hit the radio everything from their vocals to the digital beats were perfect and Americans loved it.

On Spotify The Black Eyed Peas have over 7 hundred thousand listeners per month. Their songs became iconic and the key hit song “Where is the Love” became a symbol many millennials stand by today as our country tries to figure out where we stand in certain political policies and human rights.

This doesn’t mean all artists are secretly horrible singers, many of them started off in music long before autotune was available and have raw incredible talent when they perform it live.

So then, what does this mean for our autotune complex? It’s not that we should bag on all works that involve autotune or get rid of autotune all together since there are many reasons to use autotune. For example, autotune could be used to cover up voices in interviews by the media in which the participant does not wish to be recognized and for sound effects in movies, videogames, etc. but there comes to be a point where we take things too far.

Instead of changing the way music is produced and perfected, maybe there needs to be a change in the mindset of our listeners. Because, as we know, consumers have quite a lot of power in these industries which rely on consumer approval. In this case looking at the values and actual talent of a performer, not just their perfected recordings could change a lot about how music is developed.

We will never get rid of autotune in its entirety, but we can change the way we view it. By utilizing the power we have as consumers of products, we can lead our vocalists to exposing more of their actual voices instead of producing records with more autotune than true voice. It would not be a quick process by any means, as we’ve come to rely on autotune so much to make things perfect. In reality there’s no such thing as perfect (especially in music) not make things that sound good and are authentic so we as people can appreciate those who have amazing talent over those who simply fake it.

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Autotune: Is it an Improvement or a Problem?