As I am enjoying this Christmas break, I pondered a blog post. If you have been kind enough to read this blog, you may know that in addition to my Assistant Principal position, I happily teach a class of vocal music. (I reference teaching admins here)
So as the voice instructor at our school and the long time director of our theatre program, I thought I might do a mild holiday rant on a topic that drives me insane.
The common, overused, and blindly accepted use of pitch correction on both recorded and live music is the topic at hand. I am going to hazard a guess that many people don’t even know that the singer they are listening to has had their voice completely altered electronically to make it perfectly on pitch. But most of what we hear today is pitch corrected.
It is so easy to do. It is not expensive. It is easy to use and overuse.
Take the hit show Glee. The show has a cast of very talented singers. My students love it. I like the show as well. But listen carefully. The producers have chosen to make the pitch perfect. On certain notes, you hear the warbly robotic sound caused by pitch correction
Here is an example of some artists using autotune. Listen closely.
And now the cast of glee uncorrected live at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia duting the World Series. Sound great, don’t they?
Most producers use a product called autotune. It makes life easy in the studio. All you need is for the singer to do one take, and then leave. The engineer then can correct all of the flaws and there you have it, perfectly in tune vocals! But isn’t that what we want?
Think of the Beatles, Motown, live theatre, good old cover bands, and all of the acts that have done it without being altered. Think about it, if Bob Dylan was autotuned, would he be special? No he would not. His different tonality and imperfection makes the music real.
If the producer only asks the singer for one take, is that their best? Is that the one with the most passion? Not likely. And we teach kids to sing. We guide them on the path to good technique. We have them sing in groups and solo. We celebrate the unique sounds of their voices. We want them to sing in tune. We want them to harmonize well. And you know what? They can do it! All on their own. They audition, perform, take on roles perform in front of audiences.
But if we, as a listening society, accept the use of pitch correction as a positive use of technology, then what are we saying about the craft of singing? Will our students be measured against altered voices? I hope not.
A talented singer should be a talented singer. Not someone who has been packaged and processed into one. And when I read of performers using autotune in live concerts, well that is simply cheating. You either can sing your songs or you can’t. Pitch correction needs to be rejected. We need to demand true performances. Perfectly tuned singing does not mean it is better. Those who believe that accepting a bit of a robotic sound is acceptable because there will be no “off; notes doesn’t understand the power and passion of an unaltered voice, flaws and all.
To my students, keep singing! Really singing.
Happy New Year!