Ever since Jay-Z’s “Death Of Autotune” record hit the radio and internet there has been a considerable amount of chatter about who he is referring to and who shouldn’t be using what. Quite a few artists have taken to using the software to alter their voices but in the spirit of Black Music Month I wanted to take a moment to clarify some common misconceptions.
The late Roger Troutman did NOT use Autotune, he used a device known as a Talk box. A Talk Box is an actual piece of equipment where you whisper into a tube and have to play the notes you want your voice to make on a keyboard or guitar. It requires some actual skill to master. It is used to make music, not simply alter your voice. However, while Snoop Dogg was seen with a Talk Box in his “Sexual Eruption” video, he did not use that device to record his song. It was a simply a prop. He used Autotune.
Another mistake is referring to Autotune as a Vocoder. A Vocoder is a machine originally developed as a speech coder for telecommunications applications in the 1930s, the idea being to code speech for transmission. In the late 1960s musical Vocoders were developed by musicians like Robert Moog and many artists, including Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and the band Kraftwerk have performed with it. Teddy Riley uses both a Talk Box and a Vocoder.
Autotune mimics what a Vocoder does but it is a proprietary audio processor created by Antares Audio Technologies that uses a phase vocoder to correct pitch in vocal and instrumental performances. It is used to disguise inaccuracies and mistakes, and has allowed many artists (like Cher, Britney Spears, etc.) to produce more precisely tuned recordings.
That all being said, let’s hope that this discussion and debate over the use of Autotune results in better music being made and not just heated discussion. I don’t care if you bang on a trash can with a rubber chicken, just make it sound good.