Vocal tuning – Why?

With so much publicity surrounding the revelations that contestants are routinely auto-tuned on X-Factor and the abuse of auto-tuning systems on pop and dance tunes, it is easy to demonize the practise and view it as a bad thing. However, its success is all in the application. Any effect if overdone will quickly overshadow the material it treats, often to its detriment.

So why bother? When applied correctly with care and intelligence, it can enhance any vocal performance without the listener even realising it has been done at all. There is a real psychology to the way we hear musical tones and the way we perceive pitch. A lot of our determining whether or not a note is in tune happens within the first few milliseconds of the note starting. Herein lies the key to effective and transparent “machine tuning” of a human vocal performance. Correct the starting pitch of any errant or mis-hit notes and you are well on the way to a perfected vocal take.

Further treatment can be made to the sustained and tail-end portions of each note. A sustained note that drifts too far away from the starting pitch can be “straightened” up, but care must be taken not to remove the character and natural wanderings and vibrato of the original performance. The direction and tail-ends of notes that dip or rise can equally be directed to a musically appropriate end-point so that they sit comfortably within the key of the song.

As with any effect or treatment, a light touch is key. It is far too easy to overdo it and remove all traces of character, emotion and performance from the piece.