I’m not what you’d call typical when it comes to my taste in music. Whilst I can easily identify the kinds of music I like (trance, dance and all that. You know, pops/clicks/whistles stuff) I don’t really listen to much of the top 40 or anything similar. If the radio is on in the car on the way to work it’s usually tuned to Triple J, mostly because of their enigmatic hosts and interesting news programs. However recently whilst over at a friends house I was introduced to the current Top 40 on MTV’s music list, and something caught my ear.

One thing that I’m a sucker for in any kind of music is well done vocoding. Making people sound like instruments triggers something in my head that just makes me like the music, no matter who is singing it. I think this is what attracted me to Daft Punk in the first place, as their album Discovery made heavy use of vocoding. Take a gander over at the current ARIA Top 50 and the song currently at the top is The Black Eyed Peas’ Boom Boom Pow. Here’s the film clip to give you an idea of what I’m getting at:


Another one that’s apparently been staying high in the chart’s is the Pussy Cat Dolls Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny):


Now these songs aren’t exactly vocoded, but they use something that runs along very similar lines and indeed most artists who were using such effects for a long time were using vocoders. The product I’m referring to is AutoTune, made famous most recently by T-Pain who has used it extensively through all his songs. This I believe is what has lead to many of these chart topping hits to start using it again not only to give the singers perfect pitch, but to also give them that vocoded “Cher” effect that everyone is talking about.

It was an interesting bit of technology for me to come across. I initially heard about it through a few news articles mentioning its wide spread use throughout the pop music industry. Since I had dabbled in music creation before I knew once I had a fiddle with the software (which I did, and it’s very interesting) I could easily identify who was using it and who wasn’t. After sitting through about 10 songs of the top 40 I was surprised at just how many of them were not only using it, but blatantly copying each other’s effects.

I guess this is indicative of what pop culture encapsulates. New and different doesn’t last that long as it either goes one of two ways. The first the “new” idea is something that catches on and then everyone else in the industry tries to emulate that success. The second being that it isn’t popular and it falls by the wayside, forgotten until someone tries it again. The use of Autotune to produce pitch perfect and augmented vocals for songs used to be a small niche typically relegated to the electronic and alternative music styles. Thanks to the popularisation from T-Pain and other AutoTune cohorts we’re seeing everyone latching onto this idea. However, I can’t help but think that this is only a temporary phase and given another year or two there will be another popular sound or effect that will start making the rounds.

For now though I don’t mind people abusing this piece of tech at all. Whilst the songs I’ve posted aren’t my usual kind of thing they’re easy for me to listen to, and I enjoy the effect that AutoTune provides. Granted there are some instances where they should be banned from AutoTune life for trying to (and horribly failing) emulate the more experienced players, but you’re bound to get that with anything popular. It seems though for at least a little while longer I may be delving into the realms of popular music and seeing if they attempt to be innovative with this new bit of pop tech, or they just keep abusing it like they do with everything else in their industry.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that the owners of the videos posted don’t like embedding. I’ve added links to the videos so you may click through to them. Enjoy!

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

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