How Electronic Effects Became Overdone in Pop Music
by Alex Cosper (11/24/14)

The sound of Autotune could not be found on recordings prior to the late 90s. In fact, the song "Believe" by Cher was the first hit to showcase the sound of Autotune, an electronic tone correcting device that has been overused as a vocal effect. While the Cher record only used the effect sparingly, a long list of hits have used the effect entirely throughout the song. Even though these records have sold many units in the past, 2014 has been a bad year for music sales of all genres.

Autotune turned out to not be the savior of music sales, as Taylor Swift became the first artist of the year in November to sell a million units, which traditionally has been the break-even level of sales. The sound of Autotune is not only the sound of falling music sales, it's a sound that's a reminder of the oil industry. Autotune was originally invented by researchers for ExxonMobil as submarine technology for oil exploration.

The main problem with the overuse of Autotune in the new century of pop music is that it doesn't feel human. The synthetic sound is a reminder that we surround ourselves with synthetic products and that we live in a world detached from nature. Vocals that exclusively use the effect often sound robotic instead of human. That's another sign of the times as machines and robots are taking over the workforce. Almost no industry knows better than the radio industry how automation is replacing people.

When too many robotic songs are played back to back it starts to create a world counter to the real world. Many people have been asking "what's happened to music?" The answer is that it has lost its soul through too much electronic layering. Some audophiles argue that today's music uses too much compression, which may be true. But the main problem seems to be the content, which has become a set of old formulas. When an electronic effect that's supposed to sound futuristic becomes so overused to the point it sounds like an old formula, it's time to look for a new electronic effect.

At one time listeners of pop music were generally not conscious of studio effects. But now even pop fans know the term Autotune and what it means. To many people it means a sound designed to obscure the lack of vocal skill of a beginner or someone who sings offkey. The software is designed to correct sour notes. But when the effect becomes the entire vocal track, it creates the awareness that the authentic voice is being disguised.

The fact that there are still big sales for artists such as Foo Fighters and Pink Floyd without resorting to underwater vocal effects, shows that there's no reason to include the effect just to sound modern. So for indie artists who are actually basing their arrangements on what happens in the pop scene, it's a good idea to use vocal effects sparingly or with an artistic intent to stand out.

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