Awareness Ribbons, like those for AIDS and Breast Cancer, now being donned to fight Auto-Tune abuse. They’re blue. Credit goes to Death Cab for Cutie.

On that note (pun), I was talking to a software developer friend who happens to know the inventor of Auto-Tune, Andy Hildebrand. Dr. Hildebrand worked on seismic wave analysis for oil exploration. He’s also a musician. Two+two, the rest is history.

As seen in the above-mentioned ribbon campaign, Auto-Tune has a polarizing effect in the music community. But if you look at it with a wider lens, Auto-Tune in its popular usage is no different than the Talk Box of the 70’s, or the synthesizer-based vocoders of the 80’s. These complaints were never voiced (pun?) over the music of Roger or Peter Frampton. Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” hinged around its vocoder harmony parts (thank you, Michael Boddicker), and so on. Voice manipulation is a long-standing gimmick in popular music. Eventually this current trend will run its course only to hibernate and reemerge as a shiny piece of nostalgia–like Disco (and wow, was that hated by 1979!)

Auto-Tune’s intended purpose, and the source of a more legitimate ethical discussion, is to correct pitch issues, both live and on recordings. Is it ethical to apply pitch correction? Is it ethical to use Photoshop? Or spell check? It’s something we, as perfectionists, do to present ourselves in the best light. The karma in these methods appears when they are used to mask inability. There’s the story of the singer who Auto-Tuned the living crap out of her debut CD. Then she had a CD release party and, oops, the jig was up. So it’s a risk one takes. On the other hand, no need to discard an otherwise good performance on account of a missed note.

I like that this tool was the offspring of science. Dr. Hildebrand applied sound mathematics and a little C++ to twist an oil exploration technique into a music revolution. Good for him.

If you’re curious Auto-Tune costs around 600 bucks. Pretty cheap considering…