The small package arrived by Airborne Express. Hot delivery man (with the huge mustache) handed me the pad so that I could sign for it. I noticed the driver’s name at the top of the sheet and smiled.
The package was from Warner Brothers Records. The last time I had an overnight package from them it was a hard copy of the faxed cease and desist letter I had received for playing Madonna’s “Music” before I was suppose to.
The package contained a cassette tape with no label. Taped to it was a note: “new Cher track. Don’t play it on air.”
I popped the cassette into the tape player and pressed play. Out of my speakers came a track the sounded amazing for it’s day, in fact, a colleague in the other room came in to listen with me.
It was Cher’s “Believe”. We were into the second line of the first verse when I heard this really cool effect they did with her voice. It was like they turned her voice into some electronic instrument. It was definitely not a vocoder, I stopped the tape and rewound, listening to it again.
“That is wicked cool.”
The track played through and I realized I had been blessed by a sneak peek of what would be coming soon. The tape didn’t have the quality necessary to play the track on the air, but I could sneak it into a promo, if it was a really, really brief clip. I did, of course. No cease and desist that time.
By the way, that fresh, inventive sound we were hearing on her voice was auto-tune. It actually was auto-tune being used incorrectly, but it made for a really good effect. Cher demanded it be kept in the song.
And with that the auto-tune revolution was born.
Today, 99% of what you hear on pop radio or in dance tracks is auto-tuned. The folks at “Glee” auto-tune the hell out of their tracks, to the point of where it is so obvious that I want to kick in the television screen. What was once a really cool sounding effect, especially when used in moderation, became a necessity to sound 21st century. What’s worse is that auto-tune has sped up the American acceptance of mediocrity. Anyone can sing now. No talent required, just correct the pitch. Blah.
Back in the day Steve Perry had an amazing ‘arena rock’ voice. His voice is spectacular and is actually known for going a little sharp from time to time. The Human League, bless their hearts, are sometimes so off-key that you have to wonder if they’re in the same room as the instruments. (Listen to the opening ‘oohs’ of “Mirror Man” sometime). The honesty of a person’s singing voice should be celebrated, not electronically corrected.
People give a standing ovation now if the singer has simply made it through the song without forgetting the words and/or the pre recorded vocals haven’t skipped or crashed. This is crazy.
Cher was honest with her use of auto-tune as an effect in “Believe”. I wish more performers celebrated the honest instead of trying to cover up their individuality.
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