It has become a cliche in today’s music world that people don’t need to sing that well, cause autotune will fix any pitch foibles in post-production. While this is an oversimplification of the process (from the perspective of anyone who knows anything about music production), this explains much about the way the average person perceives popular musicians’ singing ability these days. People tend to think that their favorite singers can sing pretty well…but who needs to sing perfectly anyway?
Even in the day of autotune, there’s still a strong argument to be made for vocal training. There are two ways to think about this argument. One is from the audience’s perspective, and one is from the musician’s perspective.
Vocal Training From the Audience’s Perspective
There is something inherently comforting about listening to someone who can sing well and in tune. What’s more, this feeling isn’t purely subjective. In recent research about Zebra Finches, these little birds were proven to experience a burst of dopamine when they heard Finch songs sung in key. The study also showed that these finches learn to sing properly through trial and error, only learning the correct intervals between notes after practice. Once they can sing well, the finches literally experience pleasure from hearing the beautiful sound of their own voice.
The same is true for people. Even if you (the audience) don’t know how to sing well, you recognize good singing in others, even if it’s just instinctive. People derive the same kind of pleasure that Zebra Finches do from hearing good singing. Autotune cannot turn bad singing into good singing. All it can do is create a voice that sounds autotuned. While this has its time and place, it simply won’t produce the emotional reaction that a person has when they head natural singing performed at its very best. It’s an argument for Ken Tamplin vocal academy, and for strong singing with or without the use of autotune.
From the Musician’s Perspective
Autotune is a tool that can be used to achieve interesting effects. It is used by people who can sing well and by people who can’t. In the studio, there is a rule that a good performance is always better than a sloppy one. The average person might know this instinctively, but the musician knows exactly why this is the case: recording mistakes accumulate and become harder to correct as recordings become more complex.
The stronger each individual element of a recording is, the easier it will be to mix and polish that recording, and the greater the chance that it will be easy and pleasurable to listen to. For vocalists who rely on vocal correction software to make their voices passable to the ear, these mistakes and digital corrections have a way of accumulating in the final mix, often creating a sound that doesn’t resemble natural performance.
In the end, strong vocals sound better, for audiences and in the studio. It’s always possible to alter them after the fact to achieve effects and interesting sounds, but no one ever complained about having too strong a vocal source before such effects were put into place. It’s a good argument for strong singing, even in the age of Autotune.