Almost all of the music appearing on the top of the charts these days seem to be autotuned. And it seems that even the Rock genre has embraced the technology, so many Rock music fans might be wondering if there are Rock singers that use autotune to alter the flaws in their vocal performance. We have the answer!
Autotune is a device used in the music industry to measure and alter pitch in vocal and instrumental recordings and performances. The technology is widely used in Rock to some extent or another, but some artists make a point of not using autotune and preserving the “purity” of their music.
Rock music fans of some legendary bands like Queen or Led Zeppelin may be upset about Rock bands failing to embrace their voices’ natural imperfections and flaws. But the truth is that times have changed, and this form of “cheating” can simply save bands a lot of time in the recording studio. And, if done subtly, the untrained ear wouldn’t even notice many of the minor tweaks used in the production of studio albums.
The audio processing technology known as autotune was first introduced to the world in 1997 by Antares Audio Technologies. It was intended to turn slightly off-pitch vocal tracks to be perfectly tuned and to disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies.
Cher’s song “Believe” was the first big hit to popularize the use of autotune to distort her vocals, and ever since, it has become a mainstay in the music industry – particularly in the Pop genre, but also, to some extent or another, in other genres as well.
Katy Perry, Will.I.am, Ke$ha, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, and Nicki Minaj are among some of the most successful artists to incorporate autotune in their music at various stages of their careers.
However, it is important to note the difference between autotune and vocoders, which are devices used to transform an artist’s voice through synthesized sounds that use audio data compression, multiplexing, and voice encryption in telecommunications. It was invented way back in 1938 by Bell Labs for the purpose of coding speech but has since been used widely as an electronic instrument in the music industry.
Most of the artists mentioned above use vocoders to some extent or another, but the artist credited with the earliest use of a vocoder is Alvino Rey, who incorporated it into his 1944 album, St-Louis Blues. Other notable artists to use vocoders include Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Imogen Heap, Mogwai, Phil Collins, Black Sabbath, Daft Punk, The Beastie Boys, LCD Sound System, Dr. Dre, and Stevie Wonder.
The obvious reason for Rock Singers to use autotune is simply to sound better, perfect their voices’ shortcomings, and correct their pitch/tune. Audiences have become so accustomed to “perfect” vocals that anything recorded with imperfections doesn’t resonate at all these days, outside of a relatively small demographic of purists that demand more pure sounds with imperfections, which was the industry standard when artists like Bob Dylan, whose out-of-tune, the limited vocal range was not part of the essence of his music –his songwriting was.
However, times have changed, and music has evolved beyond the years when Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, and the likes could release music with a sound that was a little bit rougher around the edges.
But the primary reason that Rock Singers might use autotune to “cheat”, so to speak, is that it can save hours of time (and therefore money) in the studio. In the past, bands would have to record and re-record several times over to get the perfect take if there was even the smallest imperfection in a song.
Autotune can save hours and hours and hours that would otherwise have been spent correcting the vocals manually like it was done in the past.
Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda has admitted in interviews that autotune was used to correct the slight deviations from perfect pitch and tune by the band’s former frontman, the late Chester Bennington, who was objectively a remarkable singer with an incredible voice. It wasn’t that Bennington lacked the talent. It simply saved time for the days when the singer’s voice may not be at its best – which happens when you’re spending up to 14 hours a day in a recording studio. And, for record labels, this saves money as well.
Nonetheless, it’s not necessarily the case that a band’s singer using autotune means that their voices are overmodulated and lack talent. Artists use autotune to varying degrees. They may use it in one song but not another.
While autotune has been popularized and is widely used, there are still artists out there that make a point of not using it to maintain the ostensive integrity of their music. Alicia Keys, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Adam Lambert, and John Legend are among the artists that claim not to use autotune, and it reflects in their live performances, which set them apart from other artists.
However, it is also possible for bands these days to use autotune to correct their pitch during live performances subtly or just for stylistic purposes.
If an artist cannot produce the same vocals in a live performance that they do on studio-recorded tracks, they can do so by controlling a live autotune with either a rack mount or a foot pedal, turning it off between songs. At times, artists may also be tempted to use backing tracks during live performances or lipsyncing, but they usually can’t get away with it.
At other times, older artists like The Beatles Paul McCartney may not be able to achieve the same vocal range that they did in the past, and many fans have complained about the seemingly “fake” performance from McCartney’s Live in New York album. Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne has also been accused of using autotune to compensate for his deteriorated voice.
So if we’ve established that most artists use autotune to improve their vocals in studio albums these days, the real question that most Rock fans will be asking is, “if Rock singers use autotune, is it cheating?”
This is a subject of wide debate among the so-called purists that believe autotune compensates for artists’ lack of talent. But, the truth is that audiences demand vocal perfection, and it sells. The times have changed. Way back in the 1960s, audiences also debated over whether using electric guitars rather than acoustic guitars was affecting the purity of the music as well; but that debate has long since been settled. Music had to evolve. Artists had to embrace the new technologies, or else they would risk falling behind and fading into obscurity.
So, Rock singers do use autotune, but it’s shortsighted to consider it a shortcoming in one’s music. It’s merely a sign of the times and a way to give the fans what they want.