Why The Fuss Over Auto-Tune? Every Band Cheats In The Studio

In a recent guest column for NME.COM, producer Stephen Street argued that auto-tune is ruining modern pop.

Here, musician and writer John Robb argues that auto-tune is in fact a vital tool in any performer’s armoury

And so the auto-tune controversy rages on.

Of course cheating is naughty. And of course we know all the best singers sing slightly out of tune. Of course Stephen Street is one of the great producers with a track record that reads like the history of UK indie.

But like the use of drugs in sport, auto-tuning is one of the necessary evils that infest the modern world. Making a fuss about what is just another effect for the studio technician is futile.

Auto-tune has been around for a long time now and is now so sophisticated, it’s hard to believe that most people can even spot it on a recording.

Auto-tune is everywhere. And not just on pop records – it’s probably slapped all over your favorite indie underground outsider recordings as well. In this context it’s probably because they were recording ten songs in half an hour – or whatever the tiny budget that bands work in demanded – and it saved a lot of time getting the vocals in tune.

The studio is a hive of cheating. That’s why people pay a fortune to go in there. That’s why bands hire Stephen Street – he is the genius who turns their fumblings into gems. Is there anything ‘pure’ about slapping a load of reverb or compression on the vocals?

Or what about these ‘comped vocals’ which are six or seven takes of vocals laboriously chopped up and stuck back together again using the best bits? That’s hardly ‘pure’ either.

What about the effects units on guitars, the bass and treble on amps? It’s all part of the same process. What about tuning machines for guitars?

Some people make recordings with very little effects on them, and this has to be applauded – but the singers can sound awful. Steve Albini makes amazing recordings but sometimes, like on the recent Stooges album, you wish he had done something with the singing.


Some of the greatest records are ‘cheats’ – it’s the effects and the tweaking that make them work. Music is all smoke and mirrors, my friend, but if it hits you in the gut and works then the process of creation is irrelevant.

Surely the real argument here is that Cowell and X Factor have little to do with music anyway, and the squirming non-singers shoved through the auto-tune are merely bit-part players in brand Cowell.

The more fuss there is about auto-tuning, the more Cowell and his gimp-like fellow judges get talked about. Perhaps it’s time we stopped giving them the oxygen of publicity.