The X Factor in Auto-Tune furore31 August 2010
Western civilisation has been rocked to its foundations by the revelation that TV talent show The X Factor is employing pitch correction technology, writes David Davies. The news – broken last week – has prompted extensive mainstream media discussion of Auto-Tune, with even venerable Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow being inspired to demonstrate the proprietary audio processing technology via his own stirring rendition of Hey Jude (view the clip here http://bit.ly/bkYA6U.
Developed by Antares Audio Technologies and brought to market in 1997, Auto-Tune is available as both a plug-in and a standalone, rack-mounted processor. The brainchild of Andy Hildebrand, Auto-Tune arguably broke mainstream cover in 1998 with its use on Cher’s hit single, Believe, since when it has been conspicuously audible on tracks by Janet Jackson and T-Pain (the latter even lending his name to an Auto-Tune iPhone app: www.antarestech.com/products/I-am-t-pain.shtml).
Not surprisingly, the technology’s deployment in broadcast and live performance has been highly controversial, particularly in the high-gloss world of modern country music. But now the debate has been ratcheted up a gear by the confirmation that UK TV talent show The X Factor has made use of Auto-Tune to enhance the audition pieces of some participants, notably a heavily-processed sortie through Walking On Sunshine by 18-year-old Gamu Nhengu (the masochistically-inclined can find it here www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRG7N_koxF0).
Whilst acknowledging the post-production use of Auto-Tune at during the auditions process, an X Factor spokesperson initially told the BBC that “when it gets to the live shows, it will be all live.” However, on 26 August, the show said that it would no longer apply sound filters to any contestants’ performances.
As for Auto-Tune’s developer, Antares seems to be keeping tabs on the furore, posting multiple links to clips and debate surrounding the issue on its website (link below). But VP marketing Marco Alpert says the company has no official view on the use of Auto-Tune in this way, telling PSN-e that “our goal is simply to make innovative audio tools that focus on the human voice (of which Auto-Tune is only the most well-known). The X Factor’s use of Auto-Tune is an issue between their producers, their contestants and their audience.”
Meanwhile, Billboard.com reports a statement by Fox that its US TV talent contest, American Idol, has made no use of Auto-Tune: “We have never, nor would we ever, use Auto-Tuning during the American Idol competition.”
This one, as the old saying goes, looks destined to run and run.