We Break Down the Truth Behind Auto-Tune on Talent Shows
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Singing competition shows have been criticized for their use of sound editing and auto-tune for as long as they’ve been on the air. Though it isn’t made public, it is an issue that producers have had to deal with since these shows started. This came back into light last week when YouTuber and vocal coach Tristan Paredes posted a video about it. The video already has over 450,000 views in barely a week! So does auto-tuning really happen on these shows? And if it does, why do producers feel the need to do it?
Well if you’re not in the mood to read the whole explanation, I’ll give it to you straight. Yes. Virtually every single talent show on television uses auto-tune.
For those of you who want to hear the long version, here’s why. Producers on shows like American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, and The Four are most concerned with the production of their show. If you are constantly airing mediocre singers and just okay performances, no one will tune in. It’s as simple as that. Producers are in the business of getting people to watch every week. While it’s impossible for all performances to come across well, producers want to make the production quality of their show the highest it can be. In a lot of cases, that means editing the sound, or auto-tuning, to raise the bar.
Keep in mind these shows are dealing with amateur singers. The contestants are singing live in front of the largest audiences they’ve ever performed for, so there are a lot of factors in play. Nerves, a lack of confidence, and a lack of experience are just a few of those. This is especially true as of late, with the age requirement dropping on these shows. The producers want to make sure the contestants’ singing and performances are as flawless as possible. That’s what gets the views and the viral moments! That also leads the songs to sell better on iTunes, something The Voice specifically prioritizes. If the song is performed well on the show, people are more likely to purchase the studio version of it.
But the producers of these shows have a difficult balancing act to maintain. They can’t make any editing too obvious or casual viewers will catch on and the performances will sound entirely fake, like a T-Pain song. The performances still have to come across as being genuine.
So Why Do These Shows Use Auto-Tune?
For me, this becomes especially obvious in the pre-recorded rounds versus the live rounds on these shows. Due to editing restrictions, there is a lot less that producers can do with the live performances compared to the pre-recorded ones. That’s why, on The Voice for example, the Blind Auditions and Knockouts always seem to showcase the best of the artists. I would go as far as to say that the majority of contestants never have a better performance on the show. Once the Live Rounds start, you can really start to separate the stars from the fodder.
I’ve had two experiences seeing singing competition contestants perform live. The first was in 2009, when I went to the “American Idols LIVE!” Tour. This featured the Top 10 contestants from Season 8 of American Idol. For high school me, it was a very exciting experience. First of all, let me just say that Adam Lambert lives up to the hype. No questions there. He was incredible live, as were Kris Allen, Danny Gokey, and Allison Iraheta. Then there was a clear gap between the top four and the rest of the performers. Scott MacIntyre and Anoop Desai were my least favorite that season and I still remember being unimpressed with them on tour. So while I knew auto-tuning was probably happening, my thoughts on each artist stayed pretty much the same. Some things simply can’t be altered, like tone and energy.
The second experience was when I went to the Top 12 party for Season 5 of The Voice. Season 5 was and probably still is my favorite season of the show ever. I was surprisingly most impressed by Will Champlin! I didn’t think he would make it very far in the pre-live shows, but that proved to me he could go far. He is an artist that really benefitted from the even playing field of the Live Rounds, where auto-tune isn’t as much of a factor. The other standouts were obviously Tessanne Chin, Jacquie Lee, James Wolpert, and Matthew Schuler. No surprises there!
So next time you’re tuning in to one of these shows, just realize that these performances may not be exactly what they seem. Sound editing and auto-tune is almost always in effect. That’s not to say that these singers aren’t talented though! They, without a doubt, are but the producers also perfect the vocals to create the best shows possible. The point of these singing competitions first and foremost is to entertain. And as Russell Crowe would say: “Are you not entertained?”