The Color of Music

When I wrote the “Old Rock Stars,” post a few days ago, I had not thought of something I’ve heard in several YouTube Reaction videos about the musicians of today versus the musicians of the past.

Musicians now (since 1997) have the ability to “fix” their voices and music , making it more perfect, via something called Auto-Tune (the brand name). There are also other autotune (the process) applications and software that do the same thing. Autotune has become the generic name for correcting the pitch or entire keys of singers and musicians.

I know I am very late to the autotune game, but if I am, others might be, too. Many people on the Internet share their thoughts about autotuning music and instead of an out and out opinion, I would like to share information from three knowledgeable sources: Fil of Wings of Pegasus [YouTube channel], Dr. Brian May, writer, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist for the band Queen as well as of Brian May Official [YouTube channel] and Rick Beato of Rick Beato [YouTube channel].

I Have Miniscule Knowledge or Understanding of Auto-Tune…

…but I have seen the graphics of singers with and without it and am learning to decipher the autotuning just by listening.

What I see with my eyes is how autotuning perfects the singer’s or instrumentalist’s pitch, pulling it from out-of-tune to in tune.

Fil from Wings of Pegasus shared what Freddie Mercury’s voice graph/wave forms without autotuning looks like next to what Michael Bublé’s autotuned singing looks like. Note that Fil said the producers can absolutely autotune without the singer’s knowledge or consent. We don’t know if Bublé asked for it, suggested it, or was surprised by it when he heard the finished product. Please watch this video to get the full explanation from an expert producer and musician instead of my novice and stumbling explanation.

Auto Tune Wings of Pegasus
Freddie Mercury is on the left and Michael Bublé is on the right. See how haphazard Freddie’s voice is on the graph? (Each line represents a musical note.) And then you can see Bublé’s graph is neat and on the lines and not squiggled all over. The squiggly lines are their vibratos. 
Wings of Pegasus Auto-Tune
Again, you can see the neat rises and falls of Bublé’s voice on the right side. If you look at the notes/lines, the program has taken all “out of tune” sounds (off the lines/notes) and brought them into tune (on the lines/notes). On Freddie’s side, there is one time he hits a note/line. Freddie had wonderful pitch, but no person has perfect pitch 100% of the time. Autotune takes that individuality away from voices. Again, the squiggly lines are their vibratos.

Queen’s Multi-Tracks

Yes, Queen and other bands around before Auto-Tune did make course corrections, but they were few and far between because they were working with tape and it was a bitch to cut and tape the recording tape together. Instead, what Brian May has said is Queen would sometimes do 12 tracks and then pick the best one for the record.

When recording moved to digital, it was easier to take the tracks recorded and piece them together like a puzzle, taking the best of each track to create the whole.

If Queen/Freddie Mercury were taking tracks and piecing them together (as some have suggested), why would he still be so “out of tune” that we can see above? Wouldn’t they have corrected it to make it more perfect?

Live Autotune Is Here

I can’t even begin to share my horror (Oh look! I do have an opinion!) at having autotune for live performances. I find it disgusting that during “live” shows, singers are using autotune software that changes their key/pitch as their voices hit the microphone and before it leaves the speakers. Never mind all the other technology “artists” use to shoot for a perfect performances.

Here’s an example of live autotuning gone wrong with a Michael Bublé appearance on TV. Apparently he does know he is being autotuned.

That’s about all I can say about that. (As Forrest Gump would say.)

Voices & Instruments

Autotune does the same thing to instruments as it does to voices; fixes/changes the out-of-tune notes.

In “Inside The Rhapsody – Queen” (Full Documentary) [Queen Official YouTube channel] (video below), Brian May discusses the making of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He takes the different tracks apart so we are able to hear the nuances they created to make this iconic song.

At 14:45, Brian begins sharing how the layering (overdubs) of the voices that made Queen unique were done. Layering over layering over layering, voices can be heard and, for me, it’s flabbergasting how intricate BoRhap is when pulled apart.

I’m bringing this up because Brian specifically talks about parts of voices and instruments that are not in tune:

16:25 – “You might hear a little glitch on the piano, but it would stay that way. That’s the human way it was.”

19:51 – “A little glitch there, but who cares? It’s live.”

35:42 – “It’s not perfectly double-tracked. Freddie could have done that if he wanted to. (It’s) just slightly out. A bit of a different expression track to track.”

Imperfection is Perfect for Music

Brian May speaks throughout the video about the “color” and “size” of the music and voices. He speaks about the layering, but also the different sounds the instruments make and how different placements in the room (and the placement of the microphones around the room) add that uniqueness to the piece. His implication is the differences, no matter how minor, can add color and “fullness” to the finished song.

Therefore, mistakes, while making the musician wince sometimes hearing it with every replay of the record, might be just what the song needs to create the sound of a real human voice/human-played instrument communicating feelings and the messages they want to get across.

Rick Beato Has the Last Word

“Modern Music’s Death By Auto-Tune” – Rick Beato [YouTube channel]