Ethical use of Auto-Tune

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by ari, Apr 15, 2005.

  1. ari

    ari Member

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    Well, I don't know about you but I feel uneasy about Auto-Tune. The other day I used to it to fix poorly intonated fiddle track for a client, but my musician's ego doesn't let me use it on anything that I play/sing on my recordings.

    But the other day I was doing some vocals, and I knew I was a little off here and there. I was in a hurry, though, and I was tempted to just fix it with Auto-Tune. Instead, what I did was auto-tune the track, then used it as a guide to sing along with on a new take. That did the trick! By hearing the correct pitch in my ear and trying to match it, I sang with much better intonation. My integrity is not compromised -- what you hear is what I actually sang. ;)

    I think I'll be using it this way quite often. :dude

    ari
     
  2. GaryNattrass

    GaryNattrass Member

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    I have no probs with adjusting the pitch of something when the take is the best one played and it just needs a littl tweak.

    I get most annoyed when lazy engineers and musicians rely on it and accept a sloppy performance in the thought that they can fix it later.

    I also get very angry at the over processed and pitch corrected sound that all of the Pop Idol type singers and bands have, it just doesnt sound natural.
     
  3. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

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    Bingo! I don't have any problem whatsoever using Auto-Tune on ANY track, whether it's a vocal, sax, violin, or even a guitar solo if it's a spot-fix kind of thing to just fix something that's a bit off. Of course, that does kind of imply that the performer has given the best take possible.

    I used this line on my singer a lot - "Yeah, it's pretty good. We could Auto-Tune it or you could do it again". That's all it took to get him to do it again :)

    --chiba
     
  4. onemind

    onemind Member

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    I've used a keyboard to perform the same function, when a singer is having trouble hitting a note, I'll have the synth play a simple patch (flute works well) at the correct pitch into the cue mix, sometimes for just dropping in a part, sometimes for an entire track.
     
  5. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    I have no compunction about doing anything that helps me get the best sounding track I can get. The question is a matter of taste: what's "best?" If it sounds artificial and unnatural, maybe that's not what I want. Sometimes maybe it is. :) On a vocal that's definitely not what I want. However, if a processor results in something that's more pleasing to my ears than what I started with, I won't hesitate for a second. If I don't like it, I undo it. Thank G-d for the digital age!

    Autotune can't repair an off-key vocal, at least not in any way that I like. At most it can tighten up a track that's off a few cents here and there, and for that it's a fantastic tool.

    Here's what I do: Starting with the best overall take as my "base," I create my comped, finished vocal. If I like the way the singer begins a phrase in this take and ends it in another, I'll cut them together. I sometimes do that for a single letter or sibilant. If it's a good singer, the toughest part is deciding which beautifully expressive phrases will not be heard. That can be heartbreaking. :)

    That done, I duplicate the playlist in Protools and set it aside. Then on the original playlist, I process those sections that I think might benefit from Autotune. I do NOT run it as a real-time processor, because I (a) it soaks up a sh*tload of processing power, and (b) I like to maintain strict control of what it does and when, if at all. So I process sections in AudioSuite. I almost never use the default settings; with a good singer I set it to attack much more slowly. If I get any funky wobbles or weirdness, I can cut in the unprocessed take from the original playlist. That might be a whole line, just one word, one syllable or even one vowel. Whatever sounds best is what I want. It's that simple.

    If you want people to like your song, your need a good vocal track. If you want them to LOVE it, you need a GREAT vocal track, and for that you need a great singer and a great mic. There's no shortcut, no fix. If you have a great singer and record him right, no excuses are needed or even necessary for whatever you decide to do after that. People just listen and dig it.

    If I'm working with a client that is not such a great singer, I explain up front what I think I can do, what I maybe can't do, and what it costs to try.
     
  6. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Bingo! It's all over country radio, too. There are trends I don't particularly like but I can understand what they're about (case in point the drum sequencers of the 70s and 80s). But in this case I really don't get it. This is the heart and soul of the song, the vocal. Does the public want and expect that "perfect" mechanical sound on every ballad?? I find that hard to believe. It's just... boring! I can think of no worse epithet!
     
  7. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

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    I don't think there are any ethics at all involved in whether or not to use auto-tune.

    No one gets hurt in any way if you use it.

    That said, I don't use it because I don't think it sounds all that good.
     
  8. Scott Peterson

    Scott Peterson Staff Member

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    I won't argue the ethics of auto-tune, but I am *firmly* with Gary and Michael on this - so many harmony vocals are *so* crystal clean and on it is hard to listen to now.

    Machines making the music and singing the vocals. Ugg.
     
  9. tonefreak

    tonefreak Member

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    I have never considered using auto-tune.

    Then again, I don't track recording for a living, so I can pick and choose the people I would like to work with. And I've always considered a voice that's a little out of tune adds a character to a track.

    Listen to the any of the classics... Journey, Queen and Boston pop in my mind in particular. The harmonies are huge and pretty much dead-on.

    I understand that some vocalists are not as talented, but you're really not doing them any favors by not forcing them to perform at a higher level.
     
  10. partytrain

    partytrain Member

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    For me, recording in a studio is not about showing off how talented a musician you are, or how well you can sing or play a part. I want to make the song sound as good as it possibly can. If that means I have to tweek a note here or there, that is fine with me. I refuse to completley tune an entire performance (Linkin Park), but a few spots are fine.

    I did have a band through my studio who begged me to auto-tune an entire song, because their lead singer was bad. REALLY BAD. I actually tried it, but in my opinion, it sounded worse than the out of tune singing. The auto-tune took out all the feeling. I should post a copy of the song for you guys to hear, it didn't turn out well at all.

    OH, and as far as out of tune harmonies are concerned. Listen to the beach boys, I don't think they ever sang their harmonies in tune, and they are awesome. Sometimes that can be part of a band or singer's character.
     
  11. Bassomatic

    Bassomatic Silver Supporting Member

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    That's because they, like so many vocal groups when left to their own devices, tend toward just (or rational) intonation. In fact, they're often more "in tune" than the equal tempered instruments that accompany them.

    ;)
     
  12. johnspeck

    johnspeck Member

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    Our bassist is a full-time producer. He said he's seeing younger bands coming in where the singer has learned to sing emulating the obviously audible horrid auto-tune.

    :(
     
  13. tonefreak

    tonefreak Member

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    I understand what you're saying here, but I'm getting conflicting messages from that statement.

    My goal, and I believe it's every engineer and performer's goal, is to make the song sound as good as it possibly can. I totally agree with you there.

    But for me, it starts with the performance, and it's not about showing-off or singing in perfect pitch on every little note. It's all about making the song sound good. Your Beach Boys example is perfect. Are they all in tune... no, because no one is perfect. Do they sound good... most definitely yes!

    From an engineer's perspective, eveyone has the right to record their music and use whatever technology to ensure the best sounding song.

    But from a producer/performer perspective, I'm very quick to point out a performers limitations... as well as mine.

    I once worked with a guy who wrote killer songs, but could not sing in tune or play guitar consistently to save his life. I quickly pointed out that if he really wanted his songs to sound it's best, we're going to have to bring in another vocalist and guitar player.

    Sure, feelings were hurt... heck mine would be too! But it was a call I had to make for the song's sake. Then we brought in a friend to sing, and she has a to-die-for voice. It took the song up to the next level, and the guy was just floored on just how good it sounded. Then I layed down all the guitar tracks with his supervision, and boom, he was floored again! We ended up with 4 of his songs that sounded much better than if he performed it, and ultimately he was very happy because his songs sounded great!

    Again, I don't do this for a living, so if a client walks away, no problem. If my income was making great recordings with just about any performer, then I would use everything and anything at my disposal.
     
  14. Rich T Fingers

    Rich T Fingers Member

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    Or the Grateful Dead ... their character shone through into the music but Autotune would have killed it.

    Actually I think that Autotune is a valid tool, but be careful you don't get carried away with it and kill off the musical (human) essence.
    I kinda suspect that, before long the public will get fed up with all this machine-based pop music and real artists will come back into vogue.
     
  15. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Byrds, too.

    They were highly skilled singers who had trained for years and worked their asses off. Those harmonies were carefully constructed and well-rehearsed. Also, they sang those harmonies facing each other around one mic. They didn't track one or two guys overdubbing each other (except the Beatles, whom George Martin said were exceptionally skilled at that).

    Send me a band like that and I could skip on Auto-tune, you bet.
     
  16. elambo

    elambo Member

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    Will anyone really care HOW you achieved the sound of your song? It's a potential brain troll for yourself if you had to fix YOUR vocal this way, but that's ultimately up to you and no one else.
     
  17. Rich T Fingers

    Rich T Fingers Member

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    I guess I meant that The Grateful Dead were not always spot on with their harmonies, but it gave their records character.
    My thought is not that Autotune is invalid or "unethical" but that it can, particularly if overused lead to an insipid vocal track lacking in character.
     
  18. GaryNattrass

    GaryNattrass Member

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    Interesting discussion but I also think that a few things are being missed.

    The whole point of music in my opinion is to express an emotion and feeling at whatever time it is being played.

    I listen to Jimi Hendrix and to my painfully critical sound engineers ear his guitar is out of tune a lot of the time but the songs just work on and emotional level.

    Theres that famous clip of Dennis Wilson singing you are so beauitiful just before he died and his voice is dreadful but the sentiment in his voice cracks it.

    Surely music is about instilling emotion in the listener and not worrying about being pich perfect and making sure that the corporate record company can ensure a hit.

    I think a lot of it is down to expericence and confidence and the probelm lies in that a lot of music producers these days know very little about performance and too much about Pro Tools and Computers.
     
  19. Rich T Fingers

    Rich T Fingers Member

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    Hundred per cent agree with you Gary.
    But what exactly is "music"?
    We know what we mean by it but would you wrap in a "teen pop record" into this definitiion?
    Surely something like Kylie, produced for the mass pop market doesn't need to "expresss emotion"? Be nice if it did but it's a "product" in the music industry, it's entertainment, not pure music. Sounds an elitist remark but I am not proposing that one end of the industry is better than the other, merely different.
    For discussion purposes I guess we have to separate these genres....?
     

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