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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Column: Auto-tuned

Why is that when you don’t want to like a song, it gets stuck your head? When someone says “It’s Friday”, does the infamous tune of “It’s fried-egg, fried-egg” (as Black pronounces it) suddenly resonate in your head?

As I was listening to the radio yesterday, I was [not] surprised by the predictability of the songs playing. I’m sure you’ve played the “guess what song is coming up next” and probably got it right. And, I don’t know about you, but at some point or another, I just have to turn the dial and find another station – or heck, the sound of tires scraping pavement is even better.

But really, my love and hate relationship for the radio isn’t necessarily about the artist or the genre or even the fact that it’s considered “mainstream”.

Two years ago at the Museum of Modern Arts in San Francisco, I saw a newspaper cut out with a mug of music producer Rick Rubin being quoted with: “What’s unfortunate is when different artists start to sound the same and they seem completely interchangeable, with no point of view and it’s all about the production. I don’t like the trend of non-writing artists. Dylan and the Beatles came along and made it cool for artists to write their own stuff, and that was a good thing.”

Rubin had a major point. It’s not a surprise that music goes by trends – particularly popular music. But this new trend – the trashy-electronica-laced stuff – is becoming quite an interesting and complicated entity of its own when it comes to production.

The aspect of the musician, such as their vocals, is becoming secondary. Instead of hearing the artist’s voice, you hear more of the production side of a song; whether it is auto-tune or the heavy beats produced with repetitive lyrics layered behind it.

I always think of this trend as the ’90s R&B Usher versus the “new” dance-pop Usher. In which, I prefer the ’90s Usher a lot more.

With the trend of this new sub-genre of dance and techno trash, how does it translate live? Would the artists need to constantly sing with equipment that allows their voice to be auto-tuned? What if you bumped into them on the street and asked them to sing for you, unplugged, would you still like their music?

Point is, whether an artist can perform and replicate their music live should define their credibility as a musician. And by relying on sound equipment to digitally enhance their sound, where is the credibility in that?

These artists who are selling by the millions are, in a lot of ways, slaves to a trend that limit their creative freedom to make music. But with all that money, why should they complain?

Here are some jokes about “auto-tune” posted on urban dictionary that you might enjoy:

-My sister let out the tarzan jungle call. I auto-tuned it and it sounded like Ke$ha.

-Auto-tune: T Pain’s voice in songs.

-“Dude, Katy Perry uses auto-tune a lot in her album. You can tell when you see her live.

-Remember before auto-tune, when singers could actually sing?

UYEN CAO would like to know what you think about auto-tune and its contribution to the slow death of popular music. Let her know by e-mailing arts@theaggie.org.


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