Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Technological Pitch Correction: Controversy, Contexts, and Considerations

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Technological Pitch Correction: Controversy, Contexts, and Considerations

Article excerpt


THE PERCEPTION AND REPLICATION OF PITCH are fundamental to singing ability. In popular culture musics (PCM),1 where the acoustic singing voice is typically technologically processed or treated to produce a resultant sound,2 singing "ability" now has the potential to be artificially created. The application and adjustment of technological effects such as compression,3 reverb,4 and graphic equalization5 can dramatically alter vocal sound and its placement within any given mix.6 Consider also the ability to apply tools such as Antares Audio Technologies' Throat Modelling software that enables modification of vocal "character by passing it through a precise physical model of the human vocal tract,"7 and perhaps contributing to the debate on whether the use of digital pitch correction seems somewhat passé. However, the animated discussion on social media and reports in the popular press about the overt use of digital pitch correction8 in first episode of The X Factor in the United Kingdom in 2010 suggest that discussion on technological pitch correction is timely.9 It was reported five days after the episode aired that Simon Cowell (Executive Producer and Judge)10 was also "very angry" about the use of pitch correction.11 Viewer indignation also resulted in a spokesperson for The X Factor acknowledging that the episode was prerecorded and that Auto-Tune had been applied in postproduction on some vocals due to the audible interference caused by the use of several microphones during the filming of the episode.12 As artistic ability and related audience perception/voting underpin programs like The X Factor, technological pitch correction in this context is undeniably controversial.13


Pitch correction software became widely available through the use of Antares Audio Technologies' Auto-Tune launched in 1997.14 Prior to its development, pitch correction in recording was achievable through complicated analogue processes such as to "record a flat or sharp word into a sampling keyboard, change the pitch in the sampler, and then 'play' the pitch corrected word back into the vocal track."15 Contrastingly, the ease of Auto-Tune applications enables pitch to be altered in real time, that is, without changing the speed of playback. Antares Audio Technologies promotes Auto-Tune as being "the worldwide standard in professional pitch correction"16 and highlights its corrective and creative capabilities that "save studio and editing time, ease the frustration of endless retakes, save that otherwise once-in-a-lifetime performance, or even to create unique special effects."17 Over time, other pitch correction plug-ins have been developed, including Melodyne18 and Waves Tune.19 So widespread is the use of contemporary pitch correction technologies (recording software/hardware for live performance) that public opposition to its use is now documented in a variety of contexts.

In 2002, five years after the introduction of AutoTune, a sticker on an album called Miss Fortune, by singer-songwriter Allison Moorer, poignantly revealed that "absolutely no vocal tuning or pitch correction was used in the making of this record."20 By 2009, other artists were beginning to publically question the use of pitch correction. In February of that year, Death Cab for Cutie vocalist/guitarist, Ben Gibbard, announced:

I think over the last 10 years, we've seen a lot of good musicians being affected by this newfound digital manipulation [pitch correction] ... Let's stop this, let's bring back the blue note, and let's really try to get music back to its roots of actual people singing and sounding like human beings.21

In June, 2009, Jay-Z released "DOA (Death of AutoTune)" with its lyrics and sentiment levelled firmly against the overuse of pitch correction.22 The following October, an online petition titled "A Call to Stop Vocal Pitch Correction Abuse in the Fox TV series "Glee" (October 18,2009)" was launched:

By using software such as Auto Tune [sic] or Melodyne one can make a singer's vocals pitch perfect. …

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