Difference between singing live, a recording, or just plain voice.

I am a super-amateur singer, like I just bought a cheap $100 USB mic and uploaded a few songs on Youtube. (10 views in 2 weeks… woohoo lol).

Anyway, I’ve noticed a big difference in the way I sound depending on the mic and if there’s any tinkering being done by the DJ such as at a few good karaoke places I frequent.

So, this means that digital manipulation of the voice can have a huge effect on the quality and tone of a singer. I was wondering what bands this is really noticeable in, and even if there are some bands who can’t sing worth a damn but make up for it in special effects so to speak.

I hope that made sense.

God, there are likely a thousand bands we could bring up in which the singer is enhanced to sound better. If nothing else the appearance of a touch of echo on the vocal line enhances the singers ‘presence’ in the mix.’

I’d just as soon not get into studio created ‘superstars’ who owe their career to such effects, both live and in the studio.

So, yes, digital and analog effects can make you sound as if you were a better singer than you are. But the same applies to all instruments. I once had a guitar instructor who referred to effects pedals as ‘talent enhancers’ because of their ability to do so.

Hell, they can fix everything in the studio - tuning, volume, voice quality.

You know that odd electronic-y effect Cher used in “Believe”? That’s the autotune effect. And frankly Cher’s the only one I give a pass to for using it, given her previous 30 years of demonstrating that she can actually sing. If you hear it anywhere else, odds are that the singer(s) in question can’t carry a tune without help.

I just want to clarify that ‘digital manipulation’ doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it. Even before the digital age, differences in equipment and recording medium would give different color to identical performances.

The fact that there are choices to be made whenever you’re going to record someone or put them through a PA system means that no two set-ups are likely to produce the same sound.

Also, using autotune doesn’t mean the singer’s bad. You can have a great take, feel-wise, but be a bit pitchy in a couple of spots. Instead of trying to recreate feel with several takes yielding diminishing returns, you can save time/money and voice with it. And pretty much everyone does it.

Fair enough, but sometimes the odd wobbly notes are what add character to a song. And the fact that “everyone does it” is why so much recorded music sounds the same.

If the singer can’t stay on pitch, that means the singer’s bad, by definition.

Yes and no. Many folks leave in the odd wobbly notes that sound good (that’s part of the"feel")

Then all singers are bad. If you’ve ever been in a studio, then you should know this is a fallacy.

Kate Bush used to do this cool thing with the auto-tune - she’d do these fast, swooping glissandos and the auto-tune would slice them into precise chromatic runs. Then she’d switch it on and off so you could hear what she was doing.

One of the beauties of the human voice is that we don’t have to be chromatically precise like a piano. It’s only bad when it’s unintentional and/or has no musical meaning.

Autolycus - whatever you’re recording with probably has some kind of EQ and mix possibilities. I only know Garage Band from Mac, but it has all kinds of stuff to mess with, and you’ll see what a difference the electronics can make.

There’s a difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘doesn’t always’. Or even ‘can’t always’.

You’re also getting into the trap of judging actual singing against a norm which mainly consists of studio-produced recordings. The ‘perfection’ this offers becomes what you want to her achieved by these and other performers, and you get disappointed, perhaps when hearing them live, that it’s not as precise and (perhaps) predictible as you’re used to.

That sounds really cool. Do you have an example of a song where she does this?

I had a friend who went to school for music production, and he said the teachers there all held up Shania Twain as the most produced voice of all time. I would have thought Britney or something.

I have no problem at all with pop singers who have faulty intonation, it’s part of a style or a form of expression. But if the singer or producer feels that it’s necessary to hide an intonation flaw with technology, it means the singer did not perform up to the standard required for that performance. Barbra Streisand in her prime had incredible intonation with no digital assist (haven’t heard her lately). Now there’s a great singer.

If you depend on technology to cover up your flaws, and leaving the flaws in would just sound bad instead of adding character, you’re just not that good.

No, my recollection of it was on The New Music or a similar program on MuchMusic. I did see the same footage twice, once in a special on Kate Bush and once in a special on unusual uses of technology in pop music. In the Kate Bush thing, someone had been talking about things that Kate did live on stage but nowhere else, like improvising strange linking material between songs. In the tech special was where someone talked about her using what was essentially there to ameliorate bad intonation and her using it to a totally different artistic effect. This then segued into David Gilmour talking about Kate Bush, and then talking about some of the tech that Pink Floyd used to get up to. Must have been mid-nineties or so. Some more serious Kate Bush fans might be more use than I am - I have to make apologies for being so vague.

I’m about as big a Kate Bush fan as exists…and I’ve never heard of this. As she only toured the once, back in 1979, her opportunities for doing any manipulation of her voice on stage were severely limited. I can only assume you’ve conflated a video about Kate with someone else. She does do a lot of manipulation of her voice in the studio - her basic vocal sound is a Neumann U47 microphone processed through an SSL compressor, and spends a lot of time doubling and tripling her vocals. She eased up a lot on the compression on her latest album “Aerial”. But she does not have to be pitch-tweezed, and is perfectly capable of singing live with no processing, as I was able to witness at the 1990 Kate Bush Club Convention.

Wonderfully spoofed by Bill Bailey.

I would argue this. I have been involved in hours upon hours of studio sessions. It is quite rare that anyone has a single take or the take you hear is from only one take.

Most vocal tracks and many guitar tracks are made up from several different tracks. Vocals almost never hit the first verse with a run you’ll want to keep. The second chorus is often a keeper. Sometimes depending on the way the verse and chorus mix, the second chorus is copied to the first chorus.

I’ve worked with musicians that, on stage, they belt it out with no (or next to no) sour notes. In the studio, with the headphones on and a sterile enviroment, many musicians don’t “feel it”. I’ve also worked with the flip side. Musicians that are more at home in the studio but if you put them on stage and they gak like crazy.

Some tracks will sound fine to everyone else, but the artist or producer think they can do better. They spend the next hour tracking the vocals and piece the best bits together. They are skilled enough to capture the track the same as the pieced together bit, but why bother when you’ve already got it.

Time in the studio isn’t like a paint by numbers picture. It’s more like working with oil on canvas. You continue to shove and blend the colours until the image in your mind is in front of you.

Your comment is almost like saying if an artist has to erase a line, repaint over an area, or start the painting again… then they just aren’t that good of an artist.

True enough…but a talented singer is one who can move people in a live setting with no effects or even amplification. I’ve been lucky enough to encounter that type of talent at some house concerts. That the talents were unknown enough to be performing house concerts is just another annoyance.

In Australia at least Peter Andre and Jordan’s duet exposes music industry technology (second last item) got a lot of coverage a couple of years ago. Listen as Auto-Tune works it’s magic.

To be fair to Cher, Auto-tune was used as a deliberate effect in Believe. But for many pop vocalists, it is an essential. :rolleyes:


The most depressing job in music? Playing the keyboard connected to the computer running AutoTune to supply the notes Britney Spears is supposed to be singing. AutoTune can correct pitch within a limited range - you have to be singing somewhere in the neighborhood of the note. If you’re singing the wrong note entirely, the AutoTune operator has to supply the correct one. “Believe” used this facility to change the melody Cher was singing to totally different notes. As pointed out, Cher can obviously sing perfectly well.

There is a video floating around out there featuring Britney (or some other talentless pop-tart) with the vocal pre-AutoTune. It is not pretty.

I don’t like having to be fair to Britney, but if it’s the video I have seen, the vocal (which is awful) is not an attempt at singing the song, and never makes it into the mix (processed or otherwise). It is only to ensure that her lips move at the right time and that she keeps the dance moves in sync. The vocals are coming from the backing track. Few artists can manage the physical exertion required for that sort of choreography and sing with any measure of skill. So a backing track is not that unusual, but the artists lips should keep moving.