The music industry has given birth to some of the most deplorable trends in history but there is one that may stand above all the others as the undisputed champion of tactless scheming – Auto-Tune.
This musical abortion called Auto-Tune first became available to recording engineers in 1997 and by 1998 this “industry secret” made its way into the cultural landscape thanks to the one and only Cher. It is important to note that Cher should never be used as a barometer for quality musical production. Why? Because it’s fucking Cher.
Auto-Tune was initially developed from oiling technology and, like most things oiling companies do, it served to destroy something beautiful.
Auto-Tune acted as a much-needed platform enabling major labels and bullshit “artists” to build careers. Gimmickry and lackadaisical work ethics have always permeated the music industry, but Auto-Tune significantly furthered such practices. Platinum selling artists from a multitude of genres quickly took notice of Cher’s success. Country artists like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw began using Auto-Tune in live performances and it became a staple of modern, commercially driven rap music. T-Pain and Kanye West saturated their voices with the plug-in’s robot-esque sound and allowed their already awful music to take a step into a truly abysmal realm all its own.
While it is incredibly easy to take a jab at these artists for embracing Auto-Tune, it’s difficult to blame them. With dollar signs gleaming in their pupils it is easy to understand why they did it, but the real issue is the mediocrity it promotes. Instead of singers putting every last drop of passion and energy into a recording they are complacent, sounding akin to a robot slowly losing battery life.
Auto-Tune has left a mark upon our culture that tells both fans and aspiring musicians to play it safe. By advising the masses that progression and hard work are things to be scoffed at, it serves as a gigantic slap in the face to any artist with an ounce of dignity. Auto-Tune is telling our culture that these artists don’t give a shit. They could literally phone in their performances, slap some Auto-Tune on their vocals, package it and make millions (it already happened under the moniker 808’s and Heartbreak).
One of the few bands to rally against many of the atrocities within the music industry is Canada’s Propagandhi. On the band’s 2005 album Potemkin City Limits the progressive thrash-punk band waved the flag of “art-before-profit” with the track “Rock for Sustainable Capitalism.” While the song predominantly takes aim at punk rock and its new found marketability, the lyrics are much more grandiose. The fury floods through the speakers and dares the listener to examine with whom they will align – those who give in to corporate interest or those who believe in music’s transcendental power. “Anyone remember when we used to believe music was a sacred place not some fucking bank machine/Not something you just bought and sold,” sings Chris Hannah, with beautiful defiance. This is all subtle compared to Bomb the Music Industry!’s “It Ceases to be ‘whining’ if You’re Still ‘shitting blood,’” which features a crescendo that proclaims “Write a song without a hook/Remember why you wrote songs in the first place/Not for a man that runs a fucking focus group.” It may be blunt, but it needed to be said.
We exist in a world where the marketplace promotes mindless conformity and it is something people are sadly buying into en masse. When one of the oldest and purest forms of communication – one that in fact predates language – becomes reduced to a shell of its former self we must respond in the appropriate manner. We have genuine emotions, real concerns and functioning brains.
To allow a soulless industry to dictate what constitutes quality art is unacceptable.
But let there be no misunderstanding, this is not a call for musicians to be perfect. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. Every cracked note from a singer’s voice is more enchanting and brilliant than the perfectly executed ones. A poor quality home recording can be more impressive than an album with a multi-million dollar budget. Off key singing, sloppy musicianship and rough recordings will always mean more because they have heart and soul, without concern for marketability.
Auto-Tune may be a passing phase, but it is one that has caused a complete shift in the modern cultural lexicon. By attempting to make each singer sound like their predecessor, we are being robbed of what makes music unique and continually interesting.
Auto-Tune is stealing music’s soul one artist at a time and it’s a painful realization to think that the majority of music fans have no problem fully endorsing this marginalization of beauty.