A lot of people seem to think it’s ridiculous to compare the timeless compositions of the Beatles and Frank Sinatra to the chart topping hits of today. Judging by today’s standards, the statement itself makes a lot of sense cause in truth, a lot of today’s pop artists can’t even sing. In the past, musicians were praised for their musicianship and ability to perform live. Today’s fans seem to be more concerned with the artists’ image and how brightly lit their concerts are. So if these artists have no talent, why is it that their songs sell so many copies? Or why is it that their music is deemed credible?
The answer to that question lies inside a proprietary audio processor called Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune was invented by Andy Hildebrand and it involves a mathematical model called autocorrelation that can detect pitch and although it was initially used in the oil industry, it was eventually transitioned into pop music. Since then, Auto-Tune has been frequently used by many artists since the 90’s with Cher to the present with T. I. The interesting thing about Auto-Tune is that it’s not just used to fix vocal pitch, but it’s also used creatively by a lot of artists to make their vocals sound loopy or robotic.
While Cher’s “believe” was the first song that popularized Auto-Tune amongst the masses, some of today’s artists like T Pain, Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi, Usher, Kesha along with many others use it as a creative effect tool for most of their music. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to quantify the use of Auto-Tune in the top 40 singles in the U. S. A. By doing this, I intend to figure out whether today’s artists need auto-tune to aid their lack of talent, or whether it’s something they use as a innovative resource.
The top 40 as it looks right now is mostly dominated by pop, hip hop, rap and some country. After closely listening to each of these singles, I was able to note that twenty one of them openly use Auto-Tune. Identifying Auto-Tune in each of these songs is fairly simple, especially in today’s industry with artists like Sean Kingston for example, whose vocal notes sound extremely loopy and almost inhumane. In his song Dutty Love, Kingston in his repetition of the word dutty, clearly showcases the effect, sounding almost like a high pitched Jamaican robot.
Because the use is not meant to correct vocal pitch but rather to add a dynamic to the song, I decided to label the use of the effect as creative. However, in certain songs, such as a number of Taio Cruz’s singles, the auto-tune effect hogs the entire vocal performance. The effect in such a case may not necessarily be correcting the singers pitch, but one can’t help but notice the lack of effort put into the song by the singer. I would hence group Taio Cruz along with artists like Katy Perry who are responsible for Auto-Tune’s General use.
General auto-tune use (as I see it) occurs to simply correct vocal pitches. In Katy Perry’s “teenage dream” for example (which also happens to be the number one song in the Country), auto-tune shows up subtly at the chorus, which is used to bring her voice in tune and time. It also is present when she aims to hit her high notes, which makes the effect’s present general. In order to organize the data, I have grouped my results. Below you will find the top 40 singles chart in three separate groups, the general auto-tune group, creative auto-tune group and the no auto-tune group.
General Auto-Tune | Creative Auto-Tune | No Auto-Tune| Katy Perry – Teenage Dream| Sean Kingston – Dutty love| Taylor Swift – Mine| Eminem – Love the way you lie| Bruno Mars – Just the way you are| Nelly – Just a dream| Enrique Iglesias – Baby I like it| Usher – D. J got us falling in love. | Kid Cudi – Erase Me| Katy Perry – California Gurls| Little Wayne – Right above it| Katy Perry – E. T| Taio Cruz – Dynamite| Usher – Hot Tottie| Neon Trees – Animal| Taio Cruz – Break your heart| Far east movement – Like a G6| Usher – There goes my baby| Kesha – Take it off| Usher – OMG| Eminem – No Love| B.
O. B – Airplanes| Drake and Lil Wayne –Miss me | Alicia Keys – Un-Thinkable | Justin Breiber – Never say never | | Cee Lo Green – Fuck You| Chris Brown – Deuces| | OneRepublic – Secret| Adam Lambert – If I had you| | John Mayer – Half of my heart| Rascal Flatts – Why wait| | Maroon 5 – Misery | Sugarland – Like glue| | Cali Swag District – Teach me how to Dougiee | | | Lady Gaga – Alejandro| | | Travie McCoy – Billionaire | | | Mike Posner – Cooler Than me| | | Uncle Kracker – Smile| | | Kanye West – Power|
| | Nelly Just A Dream| As you can tell by the results, despite their being a large portion of auto-tune using artists, a lot of singers still prefer to do it the old fashioned way. My initial suspicion was that everybody today uses auto tune, but I was pleasantly surprised to see otherwise. Artists like John Mayer and Alicia Keys, with their critically acclaimed vocals, are good examples of artists who still manage success without having to cave in to the trends and still operate with the same style.
The artists that did use auto tune frequently were either electronic or pop singers, while some rappers used it on occasion. A lot of the new pop sensations like Katy Perry and Justin Breiber used auto-tune to help with their lack of range when hitting high or awkward notes. That’s not to say they can’t sing, as most of the track is sung naturally. But in terms of skill level, it is clear that they have a long way to go. Other artists like Enrique Iglesias (who I never thought could sing and still don’t), Kesha and Taio Cruz apply the effect to every single sung note in each of their songs.
One argument is that the auto-tune sound is creative and it sells, so these artists use it intelligently. My argument is that these artists have a prepackaged image which the public will buy like crazy, no matter how good the song is. In other words, they don’t have to be able to sing which is why they auto-tune the whole vocal and we end up seeing a lot of trash dominate the airways. An artist like Kesha with her bad-ass party girl image is something a lot of teenage girls can relate to and Enrique Iglesias with his Latin good looks
is also something that the public loves. Hence they don’t really have to be able to sing. In terms of creative auto tune use, there obviously is a huge market and most rappers or hip hop artists seem to catch on to that very well. Take someone like Usher for example, who has three songs in the top 40, two with the occasional tasteful use of auto-tune and one sung naturally note for note. I personally am not a big fan, but I do give him credit for applying some form of musical innovation to his music; he mixes his old style with the new.
Another artist that uses the effect tastefully is Lil’ Wayne. Being a rapper, he uses the effect to add a different dimension to his vocals, which combined with his honest and highly profound lyrics make for a very compelling piece of music. Before conducting this analysis, I assumed that auto-tune would be used for most if not all of today’s chart topping hits. The results, however, show that close to half of today’s artists still rely on their natural talents while the other half merely take advantage of the technology they have to their disposal.
Citations: Des. (2008, Feb 5). Auto-tune abuse in pop music. Retrieved from http://www. hometracked. com/2008/02/05/auto-tune-abuse-in-pop-music-10-examples/ Jones, Sasha. “The Gerbil’s revenge. ” New Yorker 9 june 2008: n. pag. Web. 14 Sep 2010. <http://www. newyorker. com/arts/critics/musical/2008/06/09/080609crmu_music_frerejones? currentPage=1> “USA Singles Top 40 Charts. ” Top40charts. com(2010): n. pag. Web. 14 Sep 2010. <http://top40-charts. com/chart. php? cid=27>