Monday, January 9, 2012

(empo-tuulwey) How "Believe" by Cher Became an Auto-Tune Pioneer

I do not believe that tools are bad. I just believe that sometimes tools are badly used.

Take Auto-Tune. There have been some atrocious things done with that. But one of the first uses of Auto-Tune still stands up as one of the best - despite the fact that the tool was used on the voice of a singer who doesn't NEED Auto-Tune.

I am speaking of the Cher song "Believe." The song has an interesting history and took several years and a ton of songwriters to write it. But even after an acceptable version of the song was written, there was still something missing. Cher and her team got tired of struggling with the song, and took a break to listen to some music on a CD. (An explanation to my younger listeners: back in the 20th century, the "stores" at which people bought music were real physical stores, and music was sold on physical media rather than as downloads. Those were the days, my friend.)

On one song the vocals were processed through a vocoder to sound mechanical. Cher remembers suggesting that they add something like that to '"Believe.'"

English songwriter Mark Taylor tried doing something with the then-new Auto-Tune...and then he got cold feet. Anyone who has heard Cher knows that she has a strong, distinctive voice. How would she feel about her voice being altered?

"We high-fived," Cher said. "It was like some stupid 'Rocky' film."

Cher's admiration for the result, however, was not universal. But Cher has been around some forceful people in her life (Phil Spector, Sonny Bono) and knew how to wield power.

Cher said. "I said, 'You can change that part of it, over my dead body!' And that was the end of the discussion. I said to Mark before I left, 'Don't let anyone touch this track, or I'm going to rip your throat out.'"

And no one changed the track. That rough mix became the final version of the song.

And a successful final version it was. Hear it for yourself:

Once Cher's song became a hit, a lot of people began using Auto-Tune for a variety of reasons, so much that it became like the Comic Sans font - another tool that has its place in certain situations, but it not good for universal use.

This guideline from a Hometracked post has merit:

If an effect significantly changes the sound of a track, especially one so important as the lead vocal, be sure that change improves the song before committing it to the mix.

Take a look at this list of ten songs (including "Believe" and Daft Punk's "One More Time") and decide for yourself if Auto-Tune improved the songs listed.
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