Monday, October 01, 2007

Auto-Tuning the National Anthem


I don't know if anyone else noticed, but there was a lot of Auto-Tune on Billy Joel's voice when he did the national anthem tonight for the Super Bowl.

Auto-Tune is the pitch correction effect that is used a lot on radio hits to make bad singing sound a little bit sweeter and in-tune. If you have ever used it, you probably know what it sounds like. Once you understand what it sounds like, you start to hear it all over the place. It kind of makes people sound robotic, like a musical Stephen Hawking (as Steve Albini once put it). It's all over pop radio and in particular on a lot of country music vocals. Extreme examples of it (to the point where it is used as an effect) include "Life After Love" by Cher and that one crappy ballad by crappy Kid Rock. When used in an extreme way, it is often mistakenly thought to be a vocoder. That's how bad it sounds.

Isn't Billy Joel a good singer though? Does he really need this kind of help? Yeah, he seemed to be struggling at first (he was after all, being rained upon) but then they seemed to have switched the Auto-Tune on mid-song because it seemed that someone made the decision that he was not cutting it. It was pretty audible to me. It's too bad we don't get the real BJ, but his voice filtered through the vocoder-esque safety of pitch correction. That stuff did not exist back when "For the Longest Time" was recorded, and we can all be thankful for that. The song is perfect as it is, in all its human perfection and mathematical imperfection.

It's kind of funny, because Billy Joel was saying on TV yesterday that he doesn't even really think that "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a good song. I don't know, I think it's about as good as any other national anthem. It at least has a bass line that moves in an interesting way. An example of a really bad national anthem is Japan's "Kimi ga Yo." Ugh. A really weird one is the Brazilian nationa anthem. It sounds like it's from some adventure scene in an opera. I remember learning it as a kid in Brazil and just thinking how far-out it was. Point being, we don't have it that bad at all, BJ. Yeah, compared to "Uptown Girl" it might not really rock that much, but it's better than what some countries have to work with.

Anyway, Auto-Tune. Maybe I will post a quiz called Auto-Tune or No Auto-Tune so that everyone can train themselves to be able to pick it out in a recording. Then we can all be bothered for the rest of our lives.

P.S. Thanks to Project WikiHairCut, my hair now looks like a pegasus.

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