Pitch Correction? – Can Singers Actually Sing Anymore?

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Michael Oliphant

Not all that long ago, record producers and engineers used to spend long hours with singers in the studio making sure that they got the best possible take of their performance. It was very important to make sure that the singer sang everything in tune and that there was no ‘pitchiness’ or parts of the melody that were sung a little flat or sharp. This was critical for it meant that when it came time to mix the track, there was simply no way to correct a performance for pitch.

This all changed with the invention of pitch correction software. Most studio recordings these days are done on what is known as a ‘DAW.’ This stands for Digital Audio Workstation and has become the standard throughout the music industry replacing tape based multitrack machines. Because the process is entirely digital it means that the recorded audio can be processed in ways that most musicians never even dreamed of in years passed.

Remember when Cher had a huge hit with a song called ‘Believe’? That strange warbling effect on the vocal is actually created by the pitch correction software. Someone discovered that by setting it to over-correct it would actually produce a pleasing effect. Like all these things it has been over-used since by many artists.

Pitch correction works by analyzing the audio and resampling it back to correct pitch. It operates in real time which means that a studio engineer can apply pitch correction to a vocal where and when it is needed. Many regard pitch correction as a lifesaver in the studio. Singers often feel relieved that a great performance need not be erased and redone simply because one or two notes may have been a little flat or sharp. Studios often see it as a great time saver as it reduces the need to record many takes in the hope of getting a performance that is completely in key.

There is however, a downside to all this. Many studio producers now argue that singers have become overly reliant on this technology and have almost forgotten one of the most basic requirements of great singing – singing in key.
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Can you tell when pitch correction has been used on a singer in a recording? The software is now so good that, in experienced hands, it is nearly impossible to tell when it is used subtly. Many vocal recordings made these days on current CDs use some form of pitch correction. Does that surprise you? From the singer’s perspective it is a very seductive technology. It can certainly make a “pitchy” singer sound very much in key without revealing any lack of ability in that area.

We have become so used to the effect of technology on our music that much of this technological innovation becomes the norm in a very short while. Remember a band called Milli Vanilli? They became the laughing stock of the music business and ended their careers when it was discovered that they had not even sung on their own recordings! Yet we seem completely comfortable now with the idea that singers don’t need to be able to sing in tune when they record.

The funny thing is that singing in key is just a learned technique like most other musical skills. It requires practice and solid singing technique but there are few people who cannot do it at all. Singing in a recording studio can be an unnerving experience for the first timer. The studio environment is designed to reveal all the nuances of the human voice and can tax even an accomplished singer at times.

Pitch correction is one of the most practical and useful tools in recording today but remember that it won’t make you a great singer. Only you can do that.

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About the author: Michael Oliphant is a successful musician, producer, songwriter and web developer.

He is co-producer of Explore Your Voice, the innovative and successful online singing course that streams to your pc.

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