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Post under scrutiny after X Factor row

The X Factor has come out of the Auto-Tune row with an even higher media profile but the whole affair obscures the fact that pitch-changing technology is now as much an established tool in TV post-production as it is in music recording, writes Kevin Hilton.

The X Factor has come out of the Auto-Tune “scandal” with an even higher media profile but the whole affair obscures the fact that pitch-changing technology is now as much an established tool in TV post-production as it is in music recording, writes Kevin Hilton. The row was not really about the Antares correction software itself but how and why it was used. The new series of the ITV talent show kicked off with the usual mix of singers with genuine potential and the now obligatory delusional wannabes who are put in the televisual pillory. Auditions included 18-year Gamu Nhengu (pictured), who could clearly sing but whose vocal sounded unnatural. This sparked a media debate over whether an “Auto-tune mic” was being used. ITV was quick to clarify the situation: “The judges make their decisions at the audition stage based on what they hear on the day, live in the arena. The footage and sound is then edited and dubbed into a finished programme, to deliver the most entertaining experience possible for viewers.” The reasoning was that the number of mics used during the recording potentially coloured the sound-track, which had to be cleaned up before transmission. This is common in TV post-production of “as live” programmes but does not explain the decision to use Auto-Tune. Simon Cowell, chief judge, tormentor and mastermind of The X Factor, declared himself “furious” at the producers for using Auto-Tune and banned them from using it again. With the degree of control Cowell exerts over the show, it is unlikely he did not know what was going on and was trying to distance himself from blame. The X Factor is post-produced by The Farm Group in London, which was approached for comment. A response had not been received at the time of going to press. Toby Alington of Richmond Studios Productions, sound mixer on The BRITS, among other broadcast and DVD productions, describes post-production of TV music productions as a “grey area”. “Everyone has his own moral view,” he says, “but if a band’s management or producer asks you to fix a vocal, or have a singer lip-sync to a pre-record, then we have to do what the artist wants.” Alington accepts the point about producing the best possible end result for broadcast but says the type of show is a consideration. “If something is going to be on DVD for years you want to iron out some or all the imperfections,” he says. “But The X Factor is a talent contest and most of what is shown is not for posterity. We need curative techniques on soundtracks and even just mixing something could be seen as tinkering. But with Auto-Tune there is arguably a time and place for it.” The general. concern is that Auto-Tune creates an unfair playing field on a show like The X Factor – but one suspects the producers, and even Simon Cowell, would say that was all part of the journey. www.antarestech.com

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