April 27, 2003

PITCH CORRECTION IS THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET of pop music. Now R.S. Field, one of my favorite record producers (he produces Webb Wilder, John Mayall, and has worked with Steve Earle), is blowing things wide open with a sticker on the latest album he’s produced:

Pitch correction is actually one of many computer-based tools that producers use to make singers sound better. Using increasingly common studio software such as Pro Tools, flat notes can be fixed, off-key vocals can be spruced up and entire performances can be cut and pasted together from several different takes.

According to industry insiders, many successful mainstream artists in most genres of music — perhaps a majority of artists — are using pitch correction. Now some in the music industry think the focus on perfection has gone too far.

“Vocal tuning is contributing to the Milli Vanilli-fication of modern music,” says R.S. Field, who produced Moorer’s record. Putting the sticker on the record, he says, “was sort of our little freak flag.”

The software is, I have to say, very cool. You can program in the scale and it’ll force someone’s voice to it, or you can put it in automatic mode and it will just move the voice to the nearest “real” interval. I don’t use it (don’t believe me? Just listen to any record I ever produced!) but I’ve been tempted from time to time.

The problem is that — like quantization, which does the same thing, essentially, for beats — while a little bit of it may save an otherwise great take, more than a little tends to make everything sound the same: perfect, but lifeless. And the temptation is to overdo it. There’s a lot of that out there.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus is waiting for the blog application!