Counting The Cost Of Cher’s Autotunes

Getting a good vocal track is possibly one of the most difficult parts of creating a record; in most cases, the finished vocal will be composited from the best bits of several different takes. However, there is one vocal treatment device that has risen to prominence over the last few years – the autotuner. The original idea of autotune was to correct bad notes in a vocal performance, but pushing the unit to extremes leads to what has become known as the ‘Cher effect’…
(from Music Technology)

Too Much Of A Bad Thing

I’m sure you’re familiar with the vocal warblings featured in Cher’s song “Believe” – this is an example of an effect being used in a way other than what it was designed for. Such experimentation is of course a vital and natural part of music; although anyone using an autotune in such an explicit way now would instantly cause a listener to think of the Cher song.

Hometracked has a good post about this very issue, and even includes a compilation of ten pop tracks that use autotune in a fairly crude manner.

Is It A Product Or Is It Art?

When listening to these examples, it is pretty obvious that the vocals have been tuned, but you can also understand how people could listen to these tracks hundreds of times and never notice – and if you pointed it out to them, they probably wouldn’t care.

From a sound engineering or production point of view, these may be regarded as serious blunders or sloppy work, but ultimately the audience for such music doesn’t care how the music was made, or how technically proficient its creators are. If it sounds good on the surface, that’s quite enough to get by most listeners. Ultimately, this is all that really matters – there is no objective definition of what constitutes ‘good’ music. The only barometer of quality any individual needs is whether they like it or not, although different people will use vastly differing standards and perspectives to determine this subjective fact.

However, for producers, the basic rule of mixing still applies – if an effect doesn’t make the track better, then you should leave it out altogether.


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