Is Pitch Correction Cheating?

2010 Apr 05, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Melodyne, the fantastic pitch correction (and manipulation) software from Celemony, and how I believe it to be the best way to touch up vocals. We had a healthy debate brewing about pitch correction, in general, over on my Facebook fan page and some interesting comments surfaced. Today I want to briefly touch on this debate and let you decide for yourself whether or not pitch correction is “cheating.”

Via Mr_Stein Flickr

The Argument Against It

One person, Monique, argued on my post that any kind of pitch correction is cheating. “As a vocalist/musician, Auto Tune and Melodyne should just go away. I believe it is offensive to all real musicians who have been working on their craft.” This sentiment is shared by many people, and I understand why.

Pitch correction software (and hardware) has enabled some vocalists who would potentially struggle in having consistently in tune performances to hang with those “more talented” than themselves. In a way (the argument goes) it removes the need for a lot of practice as well as the challenge of nailing a vocal take in the studio. I can identify with that last point, and in fact I wrote about it in my eBook The #1 Rule of Home Recording. I firmly believe that all the technology afforded us these days has a tendency to make us “lazy” when recording. We lose a sense of urgency and focus because heck, we can record a million more takes or “fix” it later…right?

Like Monique mentions, performing as a musician, even in the studio, is a craft that takes time to hone. If pitch correction makes us progressively more lazy, then music will inevitably suffer.

The Argument For It

On that same Facebook post, many fans were quick to defend pitch correction and gave a slew of reasons. “[Pitch correction]”, Joe says “is no more cheating than using reverb. Or should we all just record in a cavern to get that pure reverb effect?” Toby mentions, “After-the-fact pitch correction is a legitimate time-saving tool that allows for great performances without fussing over a few suspect pitches.”

As I mentioned on Facebook, I believe that there are primarily two reasons anyone would (and should) use pitch correction: to subtly correct pitch, or as an effect. Seems obvious, but here’s the point.

Everyone Needs A Little Help

Even the best musician needs some help in the studio. Whether you realize it or not, right now, in studios all across the world, top talent performances are being edited. What I mean is, drum fills are being tightened a bit, bass lines are being cleaned up, stray guitar hits are being pasted over. It’s a fact of life in the recording process. Even before digital recording, editing was happening. If it were that easy to record everything perfect, every time, there would be no need to edit at all!

But there is no conspiracy in having to edit a recording. It’s simply making it sound the best it can. We do it with movies, photographs, word documents, radio broadcasts, so why not with music? When when I have a vocalist in the studio and he or she is laying down some great takes of the lead but misses a note or two, I can be confident (and grateful) that Melodyne exists because I can keep that fantastic performance with it’s tone and emotional appeal, and then simply tighten up those stray notes so it’s not a distraction to the lyrics.

Using It Creatively

Then there’s the whole other reason to use pitch correction software, as an effect! Despite programs like Auto Tune being invented to fix a problem, it can be used instead to make an obvious (and non-human) effect. One that has clearly gained popularity over the years. If that’s what you’re going for, then I don’t see any reason to debate. It’s no different than using a chorus, phaser, or auto filter effect.

Decide For Yourself…And Then Move On

At the end of the day don’t spend much more than 20 minutes debating pitch correction…then make a decision and get back to creating great music. Melodyne and Auto Tune are simply tools. If you need them (or want them) then use them. If not, great…one less thing you need to purchase!

There is no right or wrong with pitch correction, as one of my readers mentioned on that post: “Perhaps this is more of a matter of doing what’s appropriate than a good vs. bad debate,” Akshay says. “For example, Damien Rice would sound a little strange with Auto Tune. It would detract from the raw and unfiltered mojo many have come to love. Auto Tune can have merit when utilized with artistic intention. When all is said and done, you have to do what is appropriate for the music.”

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