An Asterisk for Auto Tune

Merle HaggardThey say war makes strange bedfellows. I guess this is a good example.

In a recent Edmonton Journal article, country music legend Merle Haggard held little back when sharing his thoughts on “Auto Tune”:

“They fix a person’s voice when it’s out of tune, and then they have to do it live when they can’t sing. I can’t stand it. Well, I don’t allow my music to be tampered with; it goes directly to tape with very little sweetening. I don’t believe in a producer; God is my producer. Anyways, I want it to be real so we can do it properly onstage.

It wasn’t very long ago that the words “Auto Tune” were only known by music industry types and recording engineers. When I wrote about it back in October of 2008, word was starting to spread about this piece of cheater technology that bends the pitch of imperfect singers.

Well now “Auto Tune” is a household word, not because of the mainstream pop and pop country acts like Rascal Flatts, who openly admit using the off-key disguiser; they would probably like to go back to 2008, when Auto-Tune was their little secret. The people exposing it are hip-hoppers, principally T Pain and his ilk, who turn the Auto Tune to 10 till their voice sounds like a computer, using it to disguise their heroic lack of talent.

Another hip-hopper helping to expose Auto Tune is Jay-Z, but he doesn’t look upon it so kindly. In his song Death of Auto Tune, he puts the “superstar in a can,” in it’s place:

“This is anti-autotune, death of the ringtone. This ain’t for Itunes, this ain’t for sing-along. . . I know we facin a recession, But the music yall makin gonna make it the great depression . . .”

He’s sold thousands of “Death of Auto Tune” shirts. The song won a Grammy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not glorifying Jay-Z or his music. Jay-Z funded his music career by selling crack cocaine on the streets of New York and New Jersey. He pushed his way to the top by pushing others down, and now he owns record labels, clothing lines, a pro basketball team, and is worth $150 million as he raps about “keeping it real.” But even a confessed criminal can see the absurdity of Auto Tune, how it is fundamentally immoral.

Even Taylor Swift can see it, because God knows, one thing we can all agree on is she doesn’t use it.

In baseball they talk about the “steroid era,” how a big asterisk will be put beside the records of people like Barry Bonds. Maybe a big asterisk needs to be placed beside the records of top pop performers of our era who use Auto Tune to disguise their lack of talent, training, or heart. Is it a coincidence that the era that has seen the rise of Auto Tune has also seen a plummet in music sales?

Only when the use of Auto Tune becomes a pariah will there be the possibility of a Renaissance in the blighted and battered music industry, but my guess is that as the pool of talent that is willing to deal with the overbearing nature of the music industry dries up, it’s use will only become more widespread.