This is the death of real singing. Any half-decent singer can now sound “decent”, that is, on pitch. The penalty is obvious if you know what to listen for: that odd ambient tunnelling of the voice, the weird tiny echo, the synthesis of algorithm and vocal expression.
From the point of view of an “artist”–but especially a producer or engineer– the appeal is irresistible. A singer only has to be close– not perfect. Before Autotune, you needed twenty, thirty, or forty takes to get something “right”. Now a take or two and a software application can do it in 20 minutes or less. It will iron out the flaws and fluctuations and produce perfect pitch with a tiny smidgeon of robotic tone, for the lead, for harmonies, for background vocals. But the cost is the hard to describe: the feeling of authenticity, of humanity, of real human tone.
Most people in the industry would find my distaste for it bewildering. Don’t you want perfect pitch? Don’t you want flawless musicality? Don’t you want that style that buzzes by your ear without the slightest hint of variation or personality or character or the richness of the random? Don’t you want music that anesthetizes and soothes and washes over you like silky bubbles of insubstantial gloss?
No, I don’t. I would rather listen to Frank Watkinson. Give me his all too human flaws any day over Beyonce or Katie Perry or Taylor Swift and all the other manufactured factory drones that pass for artistry nowadays. And what do I love about Frank more than anything else? This comment:
“I’ve never had an ambition to go out at night, traveling, going to places and playing and that, because I personally wouldn’t pay to see myself.”
There will be a small constituency for the real out there. But most pop has succumbed to the Autotune disease.
Give me Leonard Cohen and Neil Young and Iron & Wine and the Civil Wars and Tom Waits and Neutral Milk Hotel and Bruce Springsteen and, yes, Bob Dylan, instead. And the next time you listen to one of the drones and think they sound just great, thank you, remember: you’ve been cheated.