4 Producers Discuss Auto Tuning Voices On Record

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The Christian Science Monitor
Stephen Humphries

The panel includes Arif Mardin (Norah Jones, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand); Bill Bottrell (Sheryl Crow, Shelby Lynne, Five for Fighting); Phil Ramone (Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Elton John), all of whom spoke by phone; and, corresponding via e-mail, Tim Palmer (David Bowie, Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne).

What do you think of the idea of digitally fixing the pitch of a performer’s voice?

Bottrell: I don’t have strong feelings about any sort of technology. Toys come and go, you know. I wouldn’t do it, because I try and avoid any technology that identifies the three-year period we’re in.

Ramone: I’m much more interested in the performance. A lot of us had to go through the case where an artist knew they could re-punch or re-sing an area that was out of tune. I much prefer the ability to have the editing between two or three takes. And if you chose a phrase because it was sung so brilliantly, but it’s slightly out of tune or it needs some correction, then so be it. I don’t think it’s cheating. It’s subtle; it’s like makeup.

Palmer: I think we rely way too much on vocal autotune these days. Today’s sessions are usually kept way too close to perfect pitch, and by the time you go to put the vocals on top of this perfect track, you have cut down your tuning flexibility…. In the old days, the vocalist had a much wider sounding track – pitch-wise – to sing to, and therefore could add some emotion and some bends in his performance.

Mardin: You can do anything with voices today. People in the pop world who wear fancy clothes and dance aren’t singers. They’re entertainers. They’re the mouthpieces of producers. I’m pleased to see a return of emphasis on the singer-songwriter. Norah Jones went into [Blue Note president] Bruce Lundvall’s office and played a few songs on a piano and he said, ‘Get a lawyer. I’m signing you on the spot.’ I’m pleased to see that Bette Midler’s tribute to Rosemary Clooney is doing well. So is Rod Stewart’s album of standards, and Josh Groban. I’m working with Queen Latifah on a standards album – not the ones that you’re used to from Porter or Gershwin – but forgotten songs.

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