The Continuing Follies of AutoTune
For the past six months, the music business has been aghast and/or enthralled with the AutoTune craze. There seems to be no stopping the phenomenon, which is now crawling into the public's brain at an alarming rate. No one seems to be immune to the 'Tune, with rappers Lil' Wayne and T-Pain seemingly using it the way Stevie Ray Vaughn used a guitar. Kanye West recorded 808's & Heartbreak using the software, giving his Blood On The Tracks-style breakup album a haunted, broken feel. This past week, a hoaxer from the website hellohomo.com took a soundboard recording from a Beyonce gig on the Today Show and manipulated the vocals from her "If I Were A Boy" performance to make her sound like a bunny rabbit being fed through wood chipper. The video caused a massive uproar, and soon the hoaxer made clear that he merely did the project to prove some sort of point (which was never actually made clear).
Either way it was hella entertaining, if only for the first three viewings.
The Saturday Night Live -spawned comedy group The Lonely Island never passes up a chance to sparkle their tracks with AutoTune. "I'm On a Boat", from their self-titled debut features T-Pain and enough AT to sink a Carnival cruise liner. They even managed to shove some onto the Pet Shop Boys-influenced "Jizz In My Pants" jam. Houston's own profane Balls Deep traffics in AT so much that you would think they receive government subsidies to do so. Ten years ago, when Cher used the next-gen vocoder-esque effects software for her late-career smash single "Believe," no one could have guessed how far this peculiar piece of technology would go to hurt or hinder the music industry. Hip-hop and comedy acts aren't the only ones who use the software, though. Plenty of country stars have admitted to dabbling in the dark art, with even older acts like Reba McEntire and Tim McGraw using it to perfect their pitches live, but you would be hard-pressed to notice it unless you were intently listening for it. In bigger venues the effect usually gets drowned out by whoops and hollers. When Rascal Flatts uses it, though, it's painfully obvious. Lead singer Gary LeVox isn't exactly the most charismatic performer out there, with his auto-tuned vocals making him come off like a country robot with a credit line at the Buckle and a wicked addiction to blonde highlights. But it's Rascal Flatts, so what do you expect?
While we were doing pseudo-research for this blog we also stumbled upon a group of people using Microsoft's Songsmith software, pairing a cappella vocals from classic songs with the program's song-creating abilities. The oompah version of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" wouldn't sound out of place at one of Rocks Off's Czech family reunions. Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" turns into a loungey vamp that suits the popper's pin-up style. But it's Billy Idol's Songsmith-tuned "White Wedding" that we can't stop playing. If you ever wanted to know what the King Of Sneer would have sounded like with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe backing him, it's right up your demented alley.
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