Monday, February 16, 2015

Recording Tip 49: When tuning remember the doctor’s oath. DO NO HARM! Don’t overdo it

If a little bit is good, a lot more must be gooder!

Speaking of tuned vocals, over-tuning a vocal is one of my pet peeves. While tuning can be a great thing and turn a great take into a spectacular performance, we all know too well the misuses of the technology. Some may say it’s not a real performance. I disagree unless they mean a whole take with no fixes, and that rarely happens with any artist. I’ve sat for hours with a singer singing a tough phrase over and over on multiple passes and then comp five or more takes to make the final version. In my view that’s no more an honest performance than a good emotional take which needs some pitch correction in places.

I recall a country hit a few years ago which had a vocal so over-tuned I could hardly believe it was released. I couldn’t tell if she was a good singer because her vocal was tuned so hard it was unlistenable. It was a hit, but I think it would have a much longer life had the vocal not been tuned so hard. It just sounded too much like a fad, and made no sense for the genre.

Thinking of this brings to mind a story an artist friend told me about an album she did a number of years ago. Now this gal is one of the top female singers in Christian music and has won several “Vocalist of the Year” and Grammy awards. I’ve recorded her a number of times and believe me...she doesn’t need much help in the tuning department. I once recorded her singing live on a tracking session and her performance was so good it was released without a single punch or tuning. Well in this particular case her producer was one who tended to go overboard with auto-tune. She came in to hear how things were going and was horrified to hear the over-the-top the tuning which had been done. She immediately cried foul, saying she hated it. The producer, thinking on his feet said, “Wait! That’s not the right vocal. That’s for the Electronica version!” Well she knew there was not going to be such a version...she wasn’t that kind of artist. The producer mumbled a bit about the right vocal not being in that session. “Can you come back tomorrow? I’ll have it for you then.”  

We’ve all heard the T-Pain effect. When that’s the case, then, yeah...go for it. But when it’s not that kind of song sometimes a bit of sliding into a note can really carry emotion. Flat-lining the note can perhaps be more technically right, but doing too much of that can suck the life right out of the performance. Most often we don’t get to work with a killer talent like the gal in my story. But I still find it better to err on the side of doing less when tuning. You can always go back and tweak a line that isn’t right. And it’s much easier to tweak something again than it is to work backward. Once you flatline that note you can’t undo it. You have to go back and get the untuned vocal and start all over.

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