C L A R K  S O R L E Y

•   m u s i c   r e c o r d i n g s   •

(placeholder)

AUTO-TUNE                                  

I wish they would stop saying that using Auto-tune somehow slights your artistry. The idea is uninformed and only shows the ignorance of those who propound it. There are even some who will choose not to like a singer’s work any longer should they learn the despicable tuning software was used on a recording.


I hate to bust their bunny-rabbit world but studio people have been fixing the intonation of performers for decades. The process was called editing. Initially it was done by cutting tape, by choosing from multiple takes and splicing the best of them together. When multi-tracking appeared it was “dropping in” that took care of it - i.e. dubbing over offending lines with improved ones. Sometimes several takes of a vocal were recorded on separate tracks and the best ones chosen from the many to form a composite. This process survived into the digital age and became known as “comping”, easily done with ProTools and the likes.


Tuning software, appropriately used, further assists that rather mundane process of fixing intonation. It is only a different and more effective way of doing what has long since been a common-place procedure. Using software to perform the task means less fussing at the voice recording stage in favour of the more important aspects of performance. Pitch problems can be identified by ear in the time honoured way and the software used simply to make the correction, painlessly and undetectable even by the singer. It is a perfectly legitimate practice with nothing necessarily fake about it, at least no more fake than music recording has ever been.


If there is a contentious issue it is overuse. It is tempting when using the eye rather than the ear - when being able to actually see on the screen that a note is off centre - to correct everything. I think that is to be avoided. A vocal too perfectly pitched feels unnatural. I suppose the worst culprit is “auto” mode when the corrections are quite audible. Of course the artificiality of “auto” may well be the effect that does it for you in which case artistic license presides. At that point the two finger gesture is the appropriate one towards critics.


Yes, there is an awful lot of rubbish talked about how studio tech is used, as if the recording techniques themselves conferred a legitimacy on a work. I don’t agree with that at all. The beginning and end of artistry is connection. It doesn’t matter how music is recorded: using a laptop or an SSL console, one microphone or fifty, digital or analogue, professional or amateur, it is impact that counts, whether listeners are touched or not. The tools and instruments employed to get there are of no consequence to anyone other than the train-spotters.


Auto-tune when used skilfully is transparent and undetectable. It is therefore legitimate. Overused, then like any badly executed technique it can be called out. To condemn its usage absolutely is unhelpful and uninformed. It is time for those who do to shut up and let a useful tool have its place.

tuning software is an alternative way of doing what

has long since been a common-place procedure