Not everybody who listens to Lights Action will be aware of this, but I am actually a big time Hip-Hop geek.
I listened to Hip-Hop and Soul long before I ever touched rock music, and so it is a huge influence on the way I think about music, the way I think about lyrics, and the way I think about performance.
Now... I haven't really blogged about it much, as nothing seemed particularly appropriate to what we do. That is, until Jay-Z brought his new track "D.O.A." to the world.
D.O.A. is his battle cry against the increasingly saturated pop & Hip-Hop market's use of the studio trick "Auto-Tune". If you don't know what it is, you will definitely have heard it on the radio. It is basically a computer program that, when used correctly, will make any voice sound 'in tune' with a song. It can literally make the worst singer in the world sound in tune.
This practice has become very popular within pop music in recent years, partially I think, because it makes recording things a lot quicker and cheaper, but also because there are more and more acts signed for their looks and not their talent. The bi-product of this use in chart-topping singles, is that it has spilled over into the realms of Hip-Hop.
Hip-Hop has always been known for it's ability to change with trends. Unlike in other styles of music where bands will make the same style of music time after time, with great success, in Hip-Hop... You are encouraged to constantly change your sound and flow, or else you are seen as becoming stale. Seeing the successes of Auto tuned songs on the radio. Hip Hop artists like T-Pain, and Lil' Wayne (Both mentioned in Jay-Z's track) wanted a piece of it for themselves.
Both of those artists have garnered worldwide hits by using this studio trick, and neither of them actually record without it any more. Lil' Wayne even gets a lot of critical acclaim. He was recently featured on the front cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, quoted as being the 'genius of Hip-Hop'. And while I'll concede that he actually has some decent lyrics, his constant auto tune raps make him sound like a sleepy robot.
The only Rap Artist who I will give credit to for his use of Auto tune is Kanye West. To me, he's more of an artist trying out a new set of paints... And although I found some of his last album "808's and Heartbreaks" a bit of a challenge to get through (on account of all the auto tune), I could see what he was getting at. He came through with some quite emotional performances, and well written songs which, yes, got through after repeated listens. I do hope though, that if he intends to sing on his next record, that he puts the effort in to condition his voice so that he can sing naturally. I think that would be a great step forward for him.
There are a lot of Rock bands who use auto tune as well. In fact, the vast majority of them do, but they use a much subtler version than you hear in the pop world. Makes it more difficult to detect.
Much of them use it because the can't really sing that well, and they want a nice sheen to the sound. Or because they've heard it on the big American records, and they want to sound like that etc etc.
And in my experiences of recording, I have had to begrudgingly use it on a few occasions. Mostly because we don't have a lot of money, and we can't spend loads of time in the studio getting the perfect take. So sometimes the best performance emotion-wise is chosen over the best performance tuning-wise etc. People who have seen my band live, know that I can sing in tune, and that I don't really need that stuff. But in the past I have been party to it's use.
However, As I learn more about the art of studio singing, It becomes less and less of a threat. For example, we recently recorded a song in a day with a producer called Romesh. A situation which usually would neccessitate the use of shortcuts. But when it came down to it, I nailed the vocal in a few takes. Absolutely no tuning required. Which, to me, spells good things about the upcoming recordings.
I'm hoping that this 'call out' of Jay-Z's will make producers start to think more about the negative implications of using Auto-tune. And perhaps turn the tides of music, in some small way, back towards those with actual talent.
Here's Jay-Z's perfomance of D.O.A. on BET